London law firm may pay dearly for pornography

The cost of pornography is not usually a prominent line item in the profit and loss accounts of London law firms, but events in the past week may lead to IP law specialist’s “ACS:Law” having to account for a fine of up to £500,000 for precisely that cost, if they are found guilty of a serious data protection breach by the Information Commissioner that they are alleged to have committed.
The firm acts for copyright holders seeking compensation from individuals who have illegally downloaded and shared copyright protected works over the internet, these works include films, television shows, music and also pornographic movies.
ACS:Law has attracted criticism for its allegedly overly aggressive and (in some cases) wrongful pursuit of purported pirates. In some cases alleged copyright infringers are so embarrassed by claims made in letters from ACS:Law that they have shared adult films over the internet, they agree to pay around £500 demanded in compensation in order to settle the claim and avoid court action, even in circumstances where they believe that they have been falsely accused.
These alleged practices have not only prompted an investigation into the firm’s conduct by the Solicitors Regulation Authority but are also, its seems, behind a retaliatory “denial of service” attack by hackers on the ACS:Law website which led to the a total collapse of the firm’s website earlier this month.
The attack turned out to be the least of the firm’s problems. When the website was eventually restored to service, ACS:Law inadvertently made available for download, a file which contained personal details (including names and addresses) of more than 5,300 BSkyB broadband subscribers who have allegedly engaged in internet piracy and even included the titles of pornographic films they had allegedly downloaded. In the time taken for the firm to identify and address the leak, the database was downloaded and shared online enough times that it was impossible to contain and had permeated the internet.
Unsurprisingly the leak has caused outrage amongst consumer groups and privacy advocates and prompted a stern response from the Information Commissioner who pledged to carry out a full investigation. Christopher Graham took the step of highlighting that ACS:Law could face a fine of up to £500,000 if it is found guilty of Data Protection Act breaches relating to the leak. Speaking to the BBC he said “I can’t put ACS: Law out of business, but a company that is hit by a fine of up to half a million pounds suffers real reputation damage.”
Datonomy promises to keep a close eye on this story over the coming weeks and months to see how it climaxes! Links to articles from some of the major news organisations covering this incident are below:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11418970
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/sep/28/filesharing-acs-law
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/8029691/ACSLaw-could-face-500000-fine-over-porn-list-leak.html

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