Two Davenport Lyons lawyers suspended for sending 'intimidating letters'
Davenport Lyons came to the fore as a law firm back in 2009 when Which? raised a complaint over the actions of the firm in pursuing people for alleged copyright infringement on material ranging from video games to adult movies.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has announced the result of its investigation, though there is a 21 day window for David Gore and former partner Brain Miller to appeal. The two lawyers, if any appeal is unsuccessful, will be fined £20,000 each, and have to pay estimated costs of £150,000, in addition to being suspended from practicing.
The judgment covers the sending out of some 6,000 letters on behalf of various copyright holders between 2006 and 2009, where the letter claimed based on IP address evidence that the account holder had been involved in unlawful file-sharing in breach of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1998. The letter would generally name the material involved and some bits of the evidence, then demand compensation and costs generally amounting to £500, with the possibility of further action if the matter was not settled quickly.
The problems arose when lots of people protested their innocence, which was how Which? got involved. The six areas that have been upheld against the two lawyers are:
- the men allowed their independence to be compromised;
- they failed to act in the best interests of their clients;
- their actions were likely to diminish the trust placed in them and the legal profession by the public;
- they broke the rules on contingency fee agreements; and
- that there was a risk of conflict of interest.
- Finally, the two men were found to have used their position as solicitors to take or attempt to take an unfair advantage of other persons
When Davenport Lyons stopped sending out the letters, they passed on the work to ACS:Law and Andrew Crossley. Andrew Crossley also faces investigations by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, and will appear before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in October.
Whether these investigations will have any impact on the forthcoming letter writing campaign by Ofcom and the DCMS is unclear. The three strikes and infringers list certainly are bourne out of an attempt to reduce copyright infringement, the big question that has always been unanswered is how reliable are the evidence gathering systems that copyright holders will use.