ACS Law has said it will stop sending letters requesting money from suspected file sharers. If someone wrongly accused you of something, and asked for £500, would you pay up to avoid going to court?
I’m the sort of person who likes to make a fuss. Working for Which?, that’s not surprising. I’ll complain about poor customer service, claim my money back if I’m sold something dodgy, and scribble reams of strongly-worded letters like they’re post-it notes.
But I think even I might tremble upon being threatened with legal action, as hundreds of Which? readers were.
ACS Law asked net users to pay up
Back in 2008 consumers made us aware of a solicitor’s firm, ACS Law, which was sending letters accusing people of illegal file sharing. ACS was asking for a hefty payment of around £500 if the recipient wanted to avoid court action.
The main issue is that although the claimant (a firm called Media CAT, who claimed their copyright had been breached) said they had evidence that these people had illegally shared files, their evidence consisted of IP addresses, which aren’t unique to internet accounts and certainly not to individuals. In fact, in some cases people had been accused of file sharing while they were out at work, or even out of the country!
£500 is a lot of money. If a company wrongly demanded that much cash from me you can bet I’d be making a claim before you could screech “I know my consumer rights”. But with the threat of legal action, it can seem like a small price to pay to make the accusations go away. I mean, £500 wouldn’t buy you much court time and if you end up losing you could end up with a bill far heftier than that.
To pay or not to pay
We’ve heard from people who were wrongly accused of file sharing but paid up anyway. Some were frightened of the legal action, others didn’t understand how IP addresses worked, and many thought that they were responsible for what someone else downloaded over their connection.
It sounds surprising, but these cases aren’t rare. Thousands of people received a letter from ACS Law, and around a third of them paid up.
Depressing maybe, but there’s good news at the end of this – after immense pressure from Which?, consumers and the law, Andrew Crossley, head of ACS Law, has agreed to stop work on all file sharing cases. It’s not such great news for those who paid – they won’t get their money back, innocent or not.
In this situation it clearly made sense for innocent people to respond to the file sharing accusations. But in other situations would it be worth taking the risk? Would you pay £500 to avoid a court case, or would you challenge the accusations and risk an even bigger payout?