Committee (4th Day)

Part of Digital Economy Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 20th January 2010.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport 6:30 pm, 20th January 2010

My Lords, I support the amendment. Whether or not it stands up legally, it is a good peg on which to hang a short debate about the activities of this operation, ACS Law. Like many noble Lords, I have had an enormous postbag about the activities of this law firm. It is easy to say "of certain law firms", but this is the only one that I have been written to about. That is the interesting aspect of this.

ACS seems to specialise in picking up bogus copyright claims and then harassing innocent householders and demanding £500, £650 or whatever-a round sum, in any event-in order to settle. Some people have been fighting off this firm's claims for several years. One letter says that a close friend of the writer's has been the target of regular bullying by ACS Law since September 2007 for alleged illegal file-sharing and currently has no means by which to prove his innocence, and so on; I could go through a whole series of letters on the subject. Someone has written eight letters to protest their innocence and answer the questions but the case has yet to be dropped. Someone has been asked how old their daughter is and what games console she has, when they have only a Nintendo DS.

This amount of intrusion is unacceptable. If someone has a claim, they need to issue a summons and go to court; but this bullying, which never results in a court action that can be tested, is the worst kind of harassment. This is only too common. Even though the Government may not favour this particular way of dealing with it, I hope that in some creative way, whether by direction, by ministerial statement or by some other mechanism, they can deter bodies such as ACS Law from engaging in this kind of activity.

I do not know quite how such firms get hold of these claims. We understand that they get hold of them by the Norwich pharmacal procedure, by which they get hold of information about these claims and then proceed to prosecute them. I admit, though, that I am somewhat hazy about how these cases are made against innocent people. People would not take the trouble to write these kinds of letters unless they felt really angry and that these cases were wholly unjustified.

I commend the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who I know is cognisant of the activities of this particular firm, and I hope that the Minister will have something to say on the subject.