It doesn’t take much to get people riled up about peer-to-peer file sharing and everything that goes along with it. Who is the RIAA is suing or not suing? Which Oscar-winning director thinks illegal downloading is maybe kind of OK after all? The list goes on and on.
Often file-sharing doesn’t much concern us here at Above the Law, but sometimes the P2P attorneys themselves become important and/or easily despicable characters within the always-hot topic. A few months ago, I wrote about an attorney named John Steele. A court found his methods of going after P2P porn downloaders to be unsound.
Last week, two more British attorneys were fined almost £200,000 and suspended from practicing law for their unacceptable Internet pirate-baiting schemes.
Let’s see who these guys are and what they did….
Ars Technica tells us that for several years, the law firm would go to court with a list of IP addresses it had gathered from file-sharing networks. It would secure a judicial order that forced Internet providers to match the addresses to real names. Then warning letters would go out, threatening alleged Internet pirates with lawsuits and possible $150,000 fines unless they quickly paid smaller amounts “to make the whole mess go away.”
This made many people angry. Nate Anderson at Ars Techica explains:
Consumer groups screamed loudly about the whole campaign, especially as people kept coming forward expressing ignorance or bafflement about the movies or video games they were charged with downloading.
But consumer group Which? saw the tactics as little above blackmail and filed a complaint with the UK’s Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). The SRA investigated two Davenport Lyons partners and turned its material over the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT), which has the power to try to punish lawyers. At a hearing earlier this summer, the SDT found lawyers David Gore and Brian Miller at fault for their actions regarding the 6,000 letters they oversaw.
The SRA was not kind to Gore and Miller. In its press release, the organization claimed the two lawyers put profit ahead of ethics and their clients’ needs. They were fined hundreds of thousands of pounds and suspended from practicing law for three months each:
An investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority found that the concerns of those who had received letters and protested their innocence were disregarded. The SDT found, in effect, that Mr. Miller and Mr. Gore became too concerned about making the scheme profitable for themselves and their firm. Their judgment became distorted and they pursued the scheme regardless of the impact on the people receiving the letters and even of their own clients.
If any good came from the whole mess, it’s that the firm apparently learned its lesson when the clients it was supposedly protecting began to balk. Atari fired Davenport Lyons in 2008 because the video game maker was “shocked and extremely disappointed” in the firm’s actions. The firm got out out of the “settlement letter” biz soon thereafter.
It just goes to show, You can’t just do whatever it takes to make a name for yourself as a corporate attorney, no matter how many friends you lose or people you left dead and bloodied along the way, just so long as you make a name for yourself as a corporate attorney, no matter how many friends you lose or people you left dead and bloodied along the way.
Christopher Danzig is a writer in Oakland, California. He previously covered legal technology for InsideCounsel magazine. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisdanzig or email him at [email protected]. You can read more of his work at chrisdanzig.com.