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Sue the fans lawyer suspended for two years

By | Published on Tuesday 17 January 2012


Andrew Crossley, the London-based lawyer who, for a short time, led the sue-the-fans charge on behalf of smaller and often pornographic content owners, sending threatening legal letters to suspected file-sharers in return for a cut of any damages recipients were pressured into paying, has been suspended from the legal profession for two years by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Crossley’s sue-the-fans adventure was one of the more comical episodes in the bigger file-sharing story, though, while his services were never engaged by any big music company, his activities did damage the credibility of the wider content industries as they lobby for tougher rules to help to tackle online piracy.

Having seen the UK record industry, and one of the sector’s leading law firms Davenport Lyons, dabble with sue-the-fans litigation, suing individual file-sharers who access unlicensed content online for copyright infringement, Crossley decided to try to build a business on the back of it all, offering to send legal letters on behalf of content owners on a commission basis. Said business was called ACS:Law.

ACS’s tactics were quickly criticised by consumer rights groups and some other lawyers specialising in intellectual property. Critics said that the ACS approach was designed to pressure individuals into making quick damages payments (to avoid the cost of taking legal advice and the embarrassment of public exposure when the content allegedly accessed was pornographic), with no actual intent on the lawyers’ part to pursue copyright actions against the accused file-sharers in court. Such an approach risked turning infringement litigation into a business in itself, rather than a way to try and stop the infringing activity.

Crossley was initially vocal in shouting down his critics, insisting that his operations were legit, and that he’d take any suspected file-sharer who refused to settle to court. Having to make good on that pledge, Crossley did eventually sue a small group of alleged file-sharers, but his case against them quickly untangled as it became clear the legal man’s grasp of intellectual property law was weak, and in many cases there was no evidence that the defendants had failed to respond to his legal letters, as the legal man claimed. In some cases there was firm proof that they had.

Concurrent to all this, and having made himself enemy number one of the file-sharing community, the ACS:Law servers were targeted with a Distributed Denial Of Service attack, taking the company’s website offline. For reasons best known to no one, when the law firm’s IT people tried to deal with the attack, they accidentally published confidential information about over 6000 people who had been targeted with ACS’s dodgy legal letters. One of the UK’s biggest ever data spills, it ensured Crossley’s business was in free fall before even the farcical court hearing began.

Anyway, the whole matter was referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal which considered no less than seven charges against Crossley, including that he let his independence be compromised, damaged the reputation of the legal profession and used his position as a solicitor to gain unfair advantage over the people he sent letters to.

According to Torrentfreak, a now much more humble Crossley accepted all the charges without contest, except one relating to the data spill incident, which he blamed on his former company’s web hosts, saying the publication of all those people’s personal information was not the result of improper conduct on his part.

The tribunal banned Crossley from operating as a lawyer for two years and ordered him to pay costs of £77,000. According to Torrentfreak, the former lawyer remains bankrupt, and, presumably as a result of all the stress this shambles has caused, has now split from his partner of fifteen years. Which, you know, however big an arse he may have been, is sad nonetheless. There is a moral in all this somewhere. And when I write ‘ACS:Law The Musical’, I’ll make sure that’s the theme of the final number.

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