Law firm organises potential group action against ACS: Law Solicitors

27 August 2010

File sharing

Sharing copyrighted files is illegal

A legal practice which specialises in harassment law is urging consumers who have received letters from ACS: Law Solicitors (ACS Law) to come forward so they can be included in a possible group action it is organising against the firm.

Ralli Solicitors LLP claims that the letters sent out by ACS Law, accusing people of illegal file sharing, are ‘bullying’ and ‘excessive’ and as such the recipients may be entitled to claim compensation for harassment.

Michael Forrester, a solicitor with Ralli’s intellectual property and harassment law teams, said: ‘The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 prohibits a course of conduct which amounts to harassment, and which the harasser knows, or ought to know, amounts to harassment.’

He explained that harassment is defined by the Act as including causing a person alarm or distress, but is widely drafted to include a range of situations.

‘There are a large number of cases dealing with what amounts to harassment, with the most recent case suggesting that conduct which is “oppressive and unacceptable” will satisfy the test,’ he continued.

‘Anyone who can provide evidence to prove that they have been subject to such behaviour may have a potential compensation claim for harassment.’

Read our advice on how to respond to file sharing allegations

Last year, ACS Law, on behalf of a number of its clients, began sending out thousands of letters to people accusing them of illegally downloading and sharing copyright protected material over the internet via peer-to-peer networks.

These letters demanded that the recipients pay approximately £500 compensation in damages and costs or face the prospect of legal action.

In May 2009, Which? complained to the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) that it believed that by acting in this way, ACS Law was engaging in ‘bullying’ and ‘excessive’ behaviour. Earlier this week, the SRA decided that there may be a case to answer and referred Andrew Crossley, ACS Law’s sole proprietor, to the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal.

Potential group action

‘Our present aim is to gather people together, see what letters they have received and their effect upon those individuals. From there, we will assess what claims they have, if any, against ACS Law and other firms [sending out similar letters],’ explained Mr Forrester.

‘We are keen to assist people who have been affected by these letters. Our intention is if there are viable cases to run with, then we are going to pursue them. We will go down this route if everything [the conditions are] is right.’

Mr Forrester said Ralli would not be charging consumers for any of the initial work, or at any point until it had assessed and discussed their personal situation, and that of the group.

‘They have nothing to lose. The law also allows individuals to obtain injunctions in certain specific circumstances, which, if obtained would prevent the harassment from continuing. This is another avenue being considered for our clients,' he added.

ACS Law declined to comment on the story when contacted by Which?

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