[This is ostensibly about music, but it clearly is also about the general issue of “intellectual property.” Some people classify robotics and electronics as the new industry. In reality, they represent a shift in technology away from industry even though they are part of the capitalist corporate entities of today. They are the enigma of the contradiction that is exploding capital itself. And the heart of robotics/electronics is information technology, the heart of the intellectual property debate. This story is only a blip on that issue, but an ironic and significant blip it is! — Lew Rosenbaum].
Antipiracy lawyers pirate from other antipiracy lawyers
Sure, going after file-swappers has the potential to be hugely lucrative, but there are problems. Problem number one: someone needs to write all of the warning letters and response letter templates and all sorts of other legal miscellania. Sound simple? It’s not, and even anti-piracy lawyers aren’t above (allegedly) nicking the letters drawn up by other antipiracy lawyers.
Thanks to an astute Ars reader and the massive e-mail leak from ACS Law, the main UK law firm sending out P2P “settlement letters” to alleged infringers in that country, we have the juicy details.
The piratical anti-pirates?
Lawyers from Tilly, Bailey and Irvine decided to get into the settlement letter business, too, and they got in touch with ACS Law’s leader, Andrew Crossley. Crossley helped them out and shared information with them. In an e-mail to another lawyer, he even referred to them as “very nice people.”
The magic wore off quickly. By March 5 of this year, Crossley learned that Tilly, Bailey and Irvine had appropriated bits of his own settlement letters and generic follow-up response templates. He blasted off an e-mail to the firm in which he stressed just how much he had been wronged—despite being nothing but helpful and open.
But that helpfulness had some clear limits. “My cooperation does not extend to allowing, without my prior knowledge, licence or permission, to use my firm’s range of precedent letters, paragraphs and responses. These have been developed over a long period of time and are not available for use by others,” he wrote.
“I have worked tirelessly and at great personal financial cost over the past year to perfect my firm’s business model and it would appear that you have chosen a lazy short cut to ape my business model by utilising my firm’s carefully prepared and bespoke precedents. For the avoidance of any doubt, I have not ever and will not now or in the future grant to you any licence to use my firm’s precedents.”
Fair enough—though as Crossley admits, he hadn’t even developed these letters. Instead, they came from another law firm called Davenport Lyons, which pioneered the concept in the UK but eventually exited the business. (It turns out that the settlement letter business is terrible for the corporate image.)
When Davenport Lyons cut its settlement letter program, a couple of key staffers migrated to ACS Law and helped Crossley set up his own operation. As part of taking over the P2P unit, Crossley also “acquired all necessary precedents prepared by them and I am aware that they have not licensed to any other party the right to use those precedents.”
Crossley demanded that Tilly, Bailey and Irvine cease using his work. A bit ironically, he also suggested that he might complain to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority—a regulator which was currently investigating Crossley after being deluged with hundreds of complaints about his tactics.
By April 1, Tilly, Bailey and Irvine had left the anti-P2P business behind. In a letter, the firm said it was “surprised and disappointed at the amount of adverse publicity that our firm has attracted in relation to this work and the extra time and resources that have been required to deal solely with this issue. We are concerned that the adverse publicity could affect other areas of our practice and therefore following discussions with our clients, we have reluctantly agreed that we will cease sending out further letters of claim.”
Crafting original content takes real time and effort; it’s much easier to customize something created by others (see, for instance, the copyright page for Dunlap, Grubb, & Weaver, the law firm behind the US Copyright Group; then compare to this and this).
So many people license material, as Crossley did (and as Ars does with the stock photo elements that our graphic design genius, Aurich Lawson, turns into pictures of, say, a tie-wearing praying mantis). Others just take it without permission—but grabbing it from a firm that specializes in copyright prosecutions seems like a pretty dim idea.