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File-sharing solicitors under investigation

Watchdog to investigate Davenport Lyons

Judiciary scales

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has said it will refer a former and existing partner at law firm Davenport Lyons (DL) to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal over claims that it sent ‘bullying’ letters accusing people of illegal file-sharing.

The move follows a decision by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to pursue a complaint lodged by Which? that while acting on behalf of a number of copyright holders including Atari and Topware Interactive, DL engaged in ‘bullying’ and ‘excessive’ conduct. 

Read our advice guide on how to respond to file-sharing accusations

Which? also claimed that DL made incorrect assertions about the nature of copyright infringement; ignored the evidence presented in defence; and increased the level of compensation claimed over the period of correspondence. Which? also said the letters stated, incorrectly, that failing to properly secure an internet connection was grounds for legal action.

Deborah Prince, Which’s head of legal affairs, welcomed the SRA’s decision. ‘This is great news. This is a really serious step for these solicitors and for Davenport Lyons generally,’ she said. ‘Had the SRA decided not to pursue our complaint, its decision would have been very serious for the regulation of the legal profession.’

Solicitors will face disciplinary hearing

As a result of the SRA’s ruling Davenport Lyons’ former intellectual property partner Brian Miller, and equity partner David Gore may face a hearing with the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), provided that the SRA accepts the case .

If the case proceeds, it will be heard later this year or early next year. If found guilty, the pair could face a fine, suspension or see them struck off the solicitor’s roll. 

Thousands have received ‘bullying letter’

Since the letters went out in 2007, thousands of people have received letters accusing them of illegally file-sharing copyrighted material from Davenport Lyons.

The letters demanded £500 compensation in damages and costs for copyright infringements and threatened court action if recipients did not pay the fine or prove their innocence.

Two other solicitors’ firms, ACS Law and Tilly Bailey & Irvine are sending similar letters accusing people of illegally file-sharing material.

‘We really hope that ACS: Law Solicitors and Tilly Bailey & Irvine (TBI) Solicitors take notice of this decision and put the brakes on sending out further letters or engaging in similar conduct,’ said Prince.

File-sharing letters set to continue

Andrew Crossley, sole principal at London law firm ACS: Law said the SRA’s decision would not impact on his file-sharing litigation practice and that he would continue to pursue alleged file-sharers on behalf of his clients.

‘I’m not changing a thing in relation to my file-sharing litigation practice. My processes, practices and procedures are not the same as DLs,’ he said.

‘The fact that the SRA has indicated that Which’s complaint against DL’s is being taken further does not mean to say that a complaint has been upheld against anybody. This particular investigation and the decision to take matters further relates to partners of DLs; it does not relate to me or my firm,’ he added.

‘I will continue to do the work I do for my clients unless and until somebody tells me that I can’t do it anymore. I strongly believe that what I’m doing is compliant; is an appropriate procedure key aspects of which have been reviewed and approved by the High Court; and that I’m conducting my business correctly and in the best interests of my clients.’

‘I am in communication with the SRA, and have been since 8 May 2009 and will continue to assist them fully with their investigation.’

Martin Levinson, Head of Commercial for TBI Solicitors said: ‘We vehemently deny any allegations that our letters are bullying or heavy handed. We endeavour to ensure that the letters comply with the Code of Practice for Pre-Action Conduct in Intellectual Property Disputes (January 2004). We are currently liaising with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and we are satisfied that we have acted appropriately at all times in relation to these claims.’

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