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The Almighty Buck The Courts United Kingdom

UK Anti-Piracy Firm E-mails Reveal Cavalier Attitude Toward Legal Threats 200

Posted by timothy
from the who-would-have-thought dept.
Khyber writes "A recent DDoS attack against a UK-based anti-pirating firm, ACS:Law, has resulted in a large backup archive of the server contents being made available for download, [and this archive] is now being hosted by the Pirate Bay. Within this archive are e-mails from Andrew Crossley basically admitting that he is running a scam job, sending out thousands of frivolous legal threats on the premise that a percentage pay up immediately to avoid legal hassles."
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UK Anti-Piracy Firm E-mails Reveal Cavalier Attitude Toward Legal Threats

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  • Wow. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cryolithic (563545) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:21AM (#33696026)
    Is this surprising at all? I don't think anyone would be shocked at this...
    • Re:Wow. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gilesjuk (604902) <.ku.oc.nez. .ta. .senoj.selig.> on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:27AM (#33696054)

      What is surprising is that it seems that there is little or no involvement of the police or law enforcement agencies in this.

      What appears to have happened is private companies have been granted permission to sample Internet traffic and this information is then made available to these dubious legal firms who just spam people with demands for payment.

      • I once read on the Internet about a guy who sent a bunch of random invoices to mid-size companies and a few of them got paid.

        Don't know if it's true or just an Internet story ...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by poly_pusher (1004145)
      Whether anyone is surprised doesn't really matter. What matters is that this is proof of their intentions and motivations. Unfortunately information obtained through this manner can not be used in a legal setting. However, now that there are documents clearly showing intent and that there is a story making the rounds, hopefully a few more people won't cave to this kind of extortion and public outrage over these practices can continue to build.
    • Re:Wow. (Score:4, Informative)

      by timeOday (582209) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:37AM (#33696116)
      Is what surprising? After reading the linked articles, they don't support the blurb, particularly the claim Crossley is "admitting that he is running a scam job, sending out thousands of frivolous legal threats on the premise that a percentage pay up immediately to avoid legal hassles." He does come across as something of a jerk, but then, a lot of people probably say things about ex-wives.
  • Duh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:26AM (#33696050) Homepage Journal

    I've gotten, umm.. a dozen or so cease and desist letters over the years.. my response to every single one of them has been to ignore it. No response. They never follow up. Why would they? It's a fishing game, the only way they can get you on the hook is if you take the bait.

    • Cease and Desist

      To QuantumG it may concern,
      We do hereby demand that you stop ignoring us!! Come on! How are we supposed to pay our immoral & unethical investigators and attorneys if you just ignore us? Is that really fair?

      We shall consider your lack of reply acknowledgement of your complete agreement with our claims and that your check is in the mail. We look forward to not hearing from you.

      Sinisterly,
      Asshat and Associates
    • by hedwards (940851)
      That's a risky tactic to take. At very least you ought to be running it by an attorney and probably have them send a response to the note requesting appropriate information. Not sure about the second half, but the attorney should know how to appropriately respond.

      The problem is that if you ignore it and they do proceed, they could have you confused with somebody else you could end up making things worse by ignoring it.
  • As many suspected. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:29AM (#33696062)
    I think many people have long suspected that firms like this were running a 'threaten first, confirm later' policy. After all, there is no penalty for ACS:Law if they mistakenly threaten a non-infringer, so what incentive is there for them to be accurate?

    The submission is a little inaccurate. Crossley didn't admit, even implicitly, to deliberatly running a scam. What he has admitted is that the data upon which ACS sends out it's threatening letters is of poor quality and riddled with inaccuracies so severe even the clients are complaining - but even though he knows that many of those he accuses are innocent, he threatens them anyway because it's faster and cheaper than producing accurate data. Instead, ACS just threatens to sue anyone who criticises this practice for libel. I imagine that works very well, given that the UK arrangement of libel law is quite infamously written in favor of the plaintiff.

  • Pointless. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ledow (319597) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:29AM (#33696064) Homepage

    And probably all rendered inadmissible in court because they were obtained illegally. Way to immunise a guy against an awful lot of evidence.

    I know someone who was threatened by ACS:Law. As with all things serious, we researched it and discovered it was likely a scam, and this was WAY before they were news-worthy. The threat was ignored, except for a polite response, and nothing else happened. If you pay up, you're a moron. If you think this will stop such companies, there are no shortage of other morons willing to pick up such easy work, and they don't even need to be anywhere near a lawyer themselves.

    DDOS, hacking, etc. isn't doing anything but legitimising their actions should they go to the mainstream media. Just ignoring their threats and/or inviting them to court, as any sensible person would do (and have done - ACS:Law are under investigation by various high-level UK legal authorities for legal irregularities) does infinitely more.

    The guys an scamming idiot, but it's like a playground fight here - I can guess how much a moron he is without having to break into his personal emails and just because they might reveal he is an asshole doesn't mean that you've "won" anything against anti-piracy lawsuits or even against legal threats with zero evidence. All you've done is become nothing more than a publicity generator. How long before I see on the news: "Pirates hack into law-firm's servers, distribute private emails, law-firm says it's represents the mindset of the people they are chasing".

    • by unity100 (970058)
      inadmissible in court, but opinion-shaping in public eye.
    • Re:Pointless. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:36AM (#33696106)

      That's actually an excellent question - is a file that was visible in the root directory of a web server for download, illegally obtained?

      • Re:Pointless. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by NotBornYesterday (1093817) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @09:45AM (#33696394) Journal
        I wonder if this would meet the threshold for "making available" that RIAA et al base their lawsuits on.
    • Not pointless (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In what dream world would there ever have been a case against him to begin with? "oh noes, it's rendered inadmissable". Wake up from your fantasy, it's this or it'd never even surface AT ALL.

      No, it's a safe bet that destroying his business and his name IS in fact the winning move. As can be seen, he was already being doubted by his clients ("rights holders"), this will likely mean he's dropped like a hot potato. No clients, no income, no income no "Lambo".

      Not saying it'll really change anything, but at leas

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Umm, I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that under UK law (as opposed to US law) evidence that has appeared as a result of an illegal act, especially if the illegal act was by a third party unconnected to any investigation/civil action began, is not blanket rendered inadmissible in court. (That's not to argue about whether it should be or not, just what the law is.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kurokame (1764228)

      And probably all rendered inadmissible in court because they were obtained illegally.

      Bullpocky. They posted it to a public server, even if it was through incompetence. They're being presented in courts as technical experts, so that little detail should be absolutely no defense.

    • by DavidTC (10147)

      How was it obtained illegally?

      It was downloaded from a publicly accessible web server by following links on their front page!

      Granted, those links only existed because there was a DoS and the real front page was taken down, leaving a directory index.

      But if someone commits arson against me, burning down a a wall and exposing stolen artwork to the world, I might be able to get it thrown out if the arsonist takes a pictures of it and tries to have me arrested from that, but anyone else who sees it and takes

    • And probably all rendered inadmissible in court because they were obtained illegally.

      Ignoring the issue of whether or not this would make the evidence inadmissible (after all, the police can always go and demand the original data via a warrant), which law has been broken by those who obtained the data?

      The data was made available to the public by the website's back-up system (likely breaking some laws), not by any hack, and there is no necessity that those who initially downloaded it also carried out the DDoS attack. So there wouldn't seem to be any "misuse of a computer"-type offence.

      Distri

      • Just for the record (should have posted this originally), I am law student, but not a lawyer, so no guarantees about the accuracy of all of that.

    • by Moryath (553296)

      Not inadmissible in court. Anyone competent can file a records/discovery request now, if they are facing him in court, and the court can compel revelation of the same data.

      This "ill-gotten" data can still be used to show whether or not Crossley is going back (as he's likely to do) and trying to "cleanse" his own records, as can a discovery request for the email of the recipient.

      Was it gotten in a shady manner? Maybe. Is it useful? Oh, Fuck Yes.

  • by bobstay (137547) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:31AM (#33696070) Homepage

    From TFA: "Email evidence that ACS:Law deliberately does not target two UK ISPs, TalkTalk and Virgin Media"

    That's interesting. I'm with Virgin so that's nice to know. I wonder why these two?

    Perhaps they don't cave as easily as the others.

    • by Ynot_82 (1023749)

      Or perhaps those ISPs *have* caved, and started passing information direct to the studios
      meaning there's no need for ACS:Law to target their customers

      • by unity100 (970058)
        can it be that because virgin is also a big boy music/media player ?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          No, you're being confused by the Virgin name. Virgin Media (the broadband provider) was sold to NTL. Although Branson owns shares in the company, it's not the same company as the record label -- indeed Virgin Media pay Branson a yearly fee just to use the Virgin brand. Further, the Virgin record label was sold off to EMI years ago.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by MattBD (1157291)
        TalkTalk definitely haven't - they were quite vocally opposed to the Digital Economy Act, and have publicly stated that they will never surrender customer's details unless presented with a court order.
    • by Spad (470073) <slashdotNO@SPAMspad.co.uk> on Saturday September 25, 2010 @02:29PM (#33697838) Homepage

      It's because they've both publicly stated that they will challenge requests for subscriber information that don't come complete with a court order - see this Torrentfreak article [torrentfreak.com] from a few days ago.

      "While we all know that an ISP must comply with a court order once it’s issued, Plusnet and virtually every other ISP in the UK are giving the likes of Gallant Macmillan and ACS:Law a free ride by agreeing not to contest in advance."

  • Common strategy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Andy Smith (55346) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:35AM (#33696088) Homepage

    It's the same strategy used by police and councils, sending out fines with threats of prosecution for minor motoring offences. Realistically the case is unlikely to go to court, but people pay up anyway because: (1) they want to avoid the months of worry, waiting to find out if they are taken to court or not; (2) often the case would be heard hundred of miles from their home and, even if they win, they can't recover their travel / accommodation expenses; and (3) the court system is notoriously biased against the motorist and appeals are expensive and complicated.

    This isn't as off-topic as you may think. People have been convinced by government / police campaigns that paying the fine is "the done thing". For example, someone driving at 67mph in a 60mph zone may be faced with a £30 fine, but if they let it go to court they risk getting 6 points on their license (halfway to losing it!) and a fine in the thousands.

    This is what the copyright enforcement industry is now trying to achieve: A form of "justice" based on fear. Not fear of a fair punishment for a genuine offence, but fear of being put in to a situation where right or wrong, win or lose, people suffer significant financial loss and a great deal of worry.

    • Other thing is applying a ridiculous intrest rate while the motorist is not paying. (Hungary)

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      This is what's wrong with all these threats - the "if you settle now it won't cost much but if you dare to contest it you could be in big trouble and owe a lot of money" approach. The RIAA is a big fan of this approach.

      If governments want to pass some laws they should be passing them against people like this, not the paid-for laws they're so fond of lately.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Andy Smith (55346)

        If governments want to pass some laws they should be passing them against people like this

        Aside from being hypocritical, it would be self-damaging for any government to pass laws against this type of scam, because it's exactly this type of scam that governments use as a source of income.

        As governments lower taxes to gain popularity and/or win votes, they increasingly criminalise every aspect of our lives so they can fine us.

        Have you noticed that nearly every new offence is punishable by a fine, not jail time?

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by SuricouRaven (1897204)
          The jails are getting full. They've reached the point in both the US and UK where rehabilitation is being ignored in the desperate attempt to just cram everyone into the limited space somehow.
          • by russotto (537200)

            They've reached the point in both the US and UK where rehabilitation is being ignored in the desperate attempt to just cram everyone into the limited space somehow.

            Rehabilitation never worked in the first place, so that's no great loss. Prison is debilitating.

            • by dkf (304284)

              Rehabilitation never worked in the first place, so that's no great loss.

              The evidence is that for many people, quite possibly even a majority of those in custody, the rehabilitation works just fine. However, there is a significant minority for whom it doesn't work. This sucks, but it's how the world is.

              However, the UK government at least is going to try to cut the prison population hard, despite imprisonment being very popular with the Tories, because it's so damned expensive. I don't know what the result of that will be, but I worry.

            • by Bert64 (520050)

              Prison turns minor offenders into hardened criminals... Not only is prison hard and unpleasant, but you meet lots of useful criminal contacts who can get you into all kinds of other illegal activities when you get out.

              Fines on the other hand, just mean the rich don't have to bother with the law because they can easily afford to pay the fine and carry on.

              Neither strategy is effective at rehabilitating or deterring crime.

    • Re:Common strategy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Inda (580031) <slash.20.inda@spamgourmet.com> on Saturday September 25, 2010 @09:05AM (#33696226) Journal
      The same happens with debt collection agencies. They buy huge lists of names and send threatening letters to them all, multiple times. Some people pay, some ignore, some fight.

      I keep getting chased for debts that aren't mine. The lists get sold, I get a letter. The agencies have never replied to a CCA letter (a legal requesting for information). Bunch of criminal chancers.
    • by jez9999 (618189)

      This isn't as off-topic as you may think. People have been convinced by government / police campaigns that paying the fine is "the done thing". For example, someone driving at 67mph in a 60mph zone may be faced with a £30 fine, but if they let it go to court they risk getting 6 points on their license (halfway to losing it!) and a fine in the thousands.

      You get 3 points on your licence in any case. I got 3 automated 'average speed camera' charges against me in the course of 2 weeks, for going probably

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Andy Smith (55346)

        You get 3 points on your licence in any case

        Sorry, yes, you're right. My only brush with the law was driving on a poorly-marked bus lane, which you don't get points for. Speeding offences do have mandatory points, yes.

        An interesting point I've heard about speed cameras: To get permission for a speed camera placement, the police must show that a _majority_ of people speed at that location. How absurd is that? Surely if a majority of people consider it safe to speed there, it probably is. The police should be putting speed cameras where the dangerous _

        • When was the last time you ever saw a police officer with a speed camera outside a school?

          Areas around schools tend to be too packed with cars for anyone to speed. My mother lives on a hill between two tiny villages. One of the villages has a 20 mile an hour speed limit, but the limit on the road between them is much higher. The reason for the low limit is that it's a narrow road with a blind bend and frequently has pedestrians (often small children) crossing. The doesn't seem to stop people driving into it at around 40. I have seen police with handheld radar guns there.

    • by hedwards (940851)
      Do they do that in the UK? Around here the only offense I can think of where they do that is with those red light cameras and you do get your chance to take it to court if you'd like, people can and do get out of it from time to time.
    • by jimicus (737525)

      I wouldn't say that's entirely fair, because if you ignore a speeding ticket they can and will take you to court and sting you. Countless people can attest to this.

      It's more like the private parking companies that issue "tickets" in car parks on private land (eg. supermarkets, leisure and retail parks) - these companies will send you a series of rude letters demanding about £60 for a "fine" because you were in the car park for 5 minutes too long - and if you don't pay up they'll take you to court, ta

    • by David Off (101038)

      It's the same strategy used by police and councils, sending out fines with threats of prosecution for minor motoring offences. Realistically the case is unlikely to go to court...

      For example, someone driving at 67mph in a 60mph zone may be faced with a £30 fine, but if they let it go to court they risk getting 6 points on their license (halfway to losing it!) and a fine in the thousands.

      You are contradicting yourself. You say that the case in unlikely to go to court then you say that it will go to court and they risk fines in the thousands.

      The latter is more accurate, the case will go to court if you don't pay or contest the fine and you will face additional costs if you lose. Parking and speeding fines are no brainers for the police and councils.

  • Can you hear that? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Torinir (870836) <torinir.gmail@com> on Saturday September 25, 2010 @08:36AM (#33696094) Homepage Journal
    It's the sound of the copyright lobby having another heart attack.

    When will the governments of the world finally say "Enough is enough" to these clowns?

    It's not like all this litigation and threats are profitable or anything. I believe /. had an article on the fact that RIAA spent $16m to recover $391,000 in 2008. It was worse in 2007, when they spent $21m and only recovered $516,000. I know it's been all over the place at various points. Add in the frivolous lawsuits, DDoS attacks and harassment of uninvolved individuals, and the whole copyright lobby looks like an organized crime syndicate.
    • by funkatron (912521)

      It's the sound of the copyright lobby having another heart attack. When will the governments of the world finally say "Enough is enough" to these clowns?

      The lobbying will stop when the money runs out. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to make that happen quickly.

  • by Stu101 (1031686) on Saturday September 25, 2010 @09:10AM (#33696244) Homepage

    Just a thought, and I am not really too up on it, but by allowing peoples details to be leaked, including address, phone number, account numbers etc isn't this company negligent in its duty to keep such information confidential.

    If I was an "Infringer" I would be asking how much for ME to go away after you really screwed up by not even having rudimentary security in place as is required by the DPA and peoples details downloadable my poor data hygiene.

  • But the fact that this firms emails might be the first part of showing a pattern of improper behavior by these firms in general.

    If you could show that these firms tend to behave recklessly you might be able to have a shorter trial, hit them for damages, etc.

    Not sure, but in some countries, breaking the law removes the corporate shield from your assets too so people can go after your personal assets.

    • by MarkvW (1037596)

      You have it bass ackwards. If you can prove a pattern of recklessness, you can jack up the damages.

      Using prior recklessness to prove present recklessness is problematical. Read Federal Evidence Rule 404(b). If you could get the evidence in (a considerable 'if'), it would make the trial longer, not shorter. No lawyer is going to leave evidence on the table if they can help it.

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