ACS:Law, the firm thatdemanding they pay a £500 fine, has attempted to drop the 27 cases it brought to court on behalf of copyright holder MediaCAT, claiming it had received death threats.
"I have ceased my work. I have been subject to criminal attack," said Andrew Crossley, the firm's founder and lead solicitor, in a statement to the Patents County Court in London yesterday, the Guardian reports. "My emails have been hacked. I have had death threats and bomb threats. It has caused immense hassle to me and my family."
Judge Colin Birss criticised ACS:Law's conduct in the case, accusing it of trying to "avoid any judicial scrutiny" and comparing the number of letters it had sent to the cases it finally brought to court. "Copyright infringement is a serious matter, but this is just mindboggling," he said.
The company is currently under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority -- Crossley's third disciplinary tribunal -- over its letters. It's also being investigated by the Information Commissioner after the details of 8,000 Sky customers and 400 PlusNet users it was investigating were made publicly available in the wake of a DDoS attack on the company.
A further twist in the case emerged when a different law firm, GCB Ltd, which was founded by two former ACS employees, also began issuing demands for payment on behalf of MediaCAT. One of the recipients of this new request was a defendant who had been told no further action would be taken, according to the BBC.
MediaCAT is a holding firm acting for the real copyright holder, which the Guardian understands to be Sheptonhurst, a company owned by David Sullivan, owner of West Ham United football club and a stable of, er, gentlemen's publications, as well as Private, the UK's largest chain of sex shops.
Judge Birss is considering stopping MediaCAT or whoever is representing it from making any more demands of alleged infringers until its claims are clarified. "It would be an extraordinary order to make, but these are extraordinary circumstances," he said.
The court is expected to rule later this week on whether ACS:Law should be allowed to ditch the cases, and whether Sheptonhurst is forced to become a claimant.