A law firm which previously sent threatening letters to alleged file-sharers in order to receive cash settlements has complained to WordPress over a hosted blog. According to the complaint, Automattic Inc. can be held liable for copyright infringement and defamation due to the fact it hosted a FaceBook-sourced picture of one of the firm’s lawyers which had been Photoshopped into a ‘Wanted’ poster.
British law firm Tilly Bailey & Irvine (TBI) which began a file-sharing settlement letters scheme earlier this year, later withdrew from the business due to masses of bad publicity. A staff member from the company later tried to rewrite history on its Wikipedia page by removing any references which showed its connection to this work.
While we have covered developments with these type of schemes closely here with numerous Davenport Lyons, ACS:Law and latterly TBI articles, there are other sites which concentrate purely on them. The excellent BeingThreatened consumer site is an excellent resource, but for those who prefer a more tabloid-style take on events, the ACSBore blog can be quite an eye-opener.
After an earlier site, BeingScammed, was threatened by ACS:Law and was eventually taken down, a guy called ‘Hickster’ – himself wrongfully accused of file-sharing by the company – became motivated to launch a replacement.
“Really the aim of the site is to put pressure on the law firms that are falsely accusing people of filesharing,” Hickster told.
“Imagine when an internet connection is in a wife’s name and she receives a letter from these people accusing her of downloading and watching some vile pornography. I mean does she look at her husband in the same manner? Especially when it is gay pornography, what could that do to a marriage?”
Although Hickster maintains that he only publishes the truth, he does admit that his blog takes a ‘Red-Top Tabloid” approach. Anyone familiar with the British tabloids will know that they are not averse to a bit of image Photoshopping should the need arise, and it is that type of activity that has caused Tilly Bailey & Irvine to complain about the ACSBore blog.
Back in January we reported that Lord Lucas had labeled the type of scheme run by these law firms as “straightforward legal blackmail“. It was this statement that inspired Hickster into action.
After culling a photograph from the FaceBook page of a lawyer who handled file-sharing cases at TBI, Hickster transformed it into a Wild-West style ‘Wanted’ poster which declared “Wanted: For Legal BlackMail” and offered a $1000 reward – an amount similar to the settlement fees demanded by these companies. This image was then included in an article on his WordPress-hosted blog.
This week in correspondence with WordPress, Tilly Bailey & Irvine complained about the image claiming “Copyright Infringement and Libellous statements”. The section describing the complaint reads:
The copyright image of Ms Amanda Mitten is framed in a ‘Wanted’ poster with the word “Wanted for Legal Blackmail”. We consider this statement to be defamatory in terms of the wording used and the way in which the copyright image has been framed in a ‘Wanted’ poster. There is no truth in the statement that Amanda Mitten personally or Tilly Bailey & Irvine LLP has been involved in “Legal Blackmail”. Such a statement is misleading and false.
This blog entry can be viewed by general members of the public who have access to the internet and as such cause injury to the reputation of Ms Mitten. This blog entry has caused great distress to Ms Mitten personally. It is generally accepted under English law that defamatory statements on web pages are to be regarded as libel.
The company also claims that the displaying of the image constitutes copyright infringement and goes on to state that as the publisher Automattic, Inc. can be held liable for defamation. TBI then formally put the company “on notice of our claim for copyright infringement and defamation” while demanding an immediate takedown of the image.
Interestingly, TBI then threatened to use a Norwich Pharamacal Order against Automattic, Inc. to obtain the identity of Hickster – the same technique it used to obtain the identities of alleged file-sharers – so it can take further action against him. Although the WordPress operator took down the image, it isn’t going to play games with their users’ identities.
“We only dealt with the DMCA notice contained within the e-mail sent to us,” said WordPress in correspondence. “We will not, under any circumstance, disclose any contact/personal/private details of our bloggers without a U.S. Court Order, and this has not been presented to us.”
This isn’t the first time that Hickster’s actions have drawn the attention of lawyers acting against file-sharers in the UK. He was named in the legal threat made by ACS:Law to file-sharing forum Slyck.com earlier this year, after he referred to a law firm employee as “a wanker“