As the U.S. struggles with the prospect that thousands of file-sharers will receive threatening letters in the now-famous Hurt Locker lawsuit case, over the pond in the UK there is a continuing escalation of the ‘turn piracy into profit’ bandwagon. A new firm of lawyers has entered the market and while their business model appears identical, they are attempting to sugar-coat their actions.
While all the main tech news sites and blogs have extensively covered the ‘Hurt Locker’ lawsuits in the U.S., over in the UK the ‘turn piracy into profit’ business model is making stateside efforts seem small by comparison, but with nowhere near the levels of publicity.
For 3 years threatening letters have been dropping through the doors of UK Internet users warning them that unless they pay up a huge fee, they could be ruined through the courts. As we now know, those threats have continually come to nothing and the lawyers involved have been subjected to unprecedented levels of complaints and bad publicity.
But as they say in Britain, “where there’s muck, there’s brass”, and that’s enough to attract more lawyers and more rightsholders to this most profitable of honeypots.
Last week, BeingThreatened, a consumer group dedicated to supporting those wrongfully accused in these cases, informed us of a new entrant to the market.
According to their website, Gallant Macmillan “is a niche media and litigation law practice with an international focus,” which claims to offer lawyers with skills in “reputation management, commercial litigation and intellectual property.”
The law firm lists many high-profile companies as its clients including The Jerusalem Post, Claims Direct, Ted Baker, Kookai and airport giants Servisair, but of current interest is its work with night club and dance label, Ministry of Sound.
“Unlawful file-sharing is a serious problem for Ministry of Sound, reducing income for the musicians and composers it works with and diminishing the funds needed to invest in new talent,” states the settlement letter sent out to unlucky recipients during the last week.
Accused of sharing the £8.75 Ministry of Sound – The Annual 2010, recipients are given the option to settle out of court for £375, an amount Gallant Macmillan says is intended to cover various costs including damages, evidence collection, dealing with ISPs, court attendances and sending the letter of claim.
“This offer to settle remains open only 21 days from the date of this letter,” warn the lawyers. Failure to comply, of course, means that they “reserve the right” to commence proceedings.
It has been well documented that other lawyers previously involved in this type of work, such as ACS:Law, have been heavily reported both to the government and to organizations such as the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA). Indeed, ACS:Law have proven record-breaking in this respect.
However, when looking at the website set up by Gallant Macmillan (GM) for the purposes of this work, it seems that they have done their homework on the problems and criticisms faced by other companies.
Perhaps in a preemptive move, rather than hiding the fact that they are regulated by the SRA, the company mention it prominently on every page of their site, often twice.
While ACS:Law act on behalf of “middle man” companies behind which rights-holders have the opportunity to shield their identities and reputations to some extent, GM say they will only act for brand owners “who are prepared to sue in their own names” and will not represent companies seeking settlements over porn movies.
GM also appear to be trying to show a more, for want of a better word, ‘humane’ approach to their dealings with settlement recipients.
“We understand that threatening legal proceedings can be distressing. Whilst committed to act in our client’s best interests, we strive to communicate with the recipients of our letters in a respectful and courteous fashion,” write the company.
Although thus far GM only detail a time and date for single infringement on the letters seen by us, the company claim that their focus is the pursuit of what they describe as “multiple offenders”.
A huge criticism of both ACS:Law and previously Davenport Lyons is that the companies make threats of taking people to court but never do. It seems that GM wish to address this too.
“If we are unable to reach an agreement with the recipient of our letters, and still consider that our client has a good claim, we shall sue,” they state. “We recognise that it is not appropriate to make threats of proceedings and to not then follow through with those threats in appropriate cases.”
Another little twist to the approach is that while other lawyers demand that letter recipients delete the material they are accused of sharing from their hard drives, Gallant Macmillan say that as part of the settlement those accused can keep the album they are accused of sharing, in this case a Ministry of Sound compilation. At £375, this must be the most expensive album ever.
Despite the very clear attempts at presenting a more acceptable side to the copyright settlement business, thus far the ‘meat’ of this operation seems to be no different to those that have gone before. It will remain to be seen if Gallant Macmillan will weather the storm that caused lawyers Tilly Bailey and Irvine to jump ship.
All letter recipients are advised to read the Speculative Invoicing Handbook. It was written with earlier cases in mind, but is just as relevant today.