A major law firm knew it sometimes had no reliable evidence of unlawful filesharing when it demanded hundreds of pounds damages from internet users, according to the solicitors' watchdog.
London-based Davenport Lyons threatened thousands of people with legal action for alleged copyright infringement between 2006 and 2009. They were told that by quickly paying around £500 damages, plus costs, they could avoid court.
Following complaints to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Davenport Lyons now stands accused of deliberately ignoring concerns over the standard of its evidence. It matched IP addresses captured from movie and videogame BitTorrent swarms with customer records obtained from ISPs by court order.
David Gore and Brian Miller, two Davenport Lyons partners, will face disciplinary proceedings in March.
In a submission to the Tribunal, the SRA says: "Each of the respondents knew that in conducting generic campaigns against those identified as IP holders whose IP numeric had been used for downloading or uploading of material that they might in such generic campaigns be targeting people innocent of any copyright breach."
"An IP address does not however necessarily lead to a conclusion that the ISP account holder has infringed copyright or authorised another person to infringe copyright. There were other factual possibilities known to [Gore and Miller] such as unauthorised access or a change in IP address after a 24-hour gap following modem switch off follow or other such occurence."
The submission highlights customers' use of poorly-secured Wi-Fi routers and ISPs' deployment of DHCP as problems with the evidence that were allegedly known to Davenport Lyons.
The pair are also accused of acting in the interests of Davenport Lyons, rather than those of their copyright-holding clients. They sent 6,113 demands for money and were "regarding the scheme which they were operating as a revenue-generating scheme", according to the SRA.
Gore and Miller also disregarded the harm the campaign of legal threats might do to Davenport Lyons' reputation, regulators claim, in breach of the Solicitors Code of Conduct.
Davenport Lyons declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Amid public controversy, Davenport Lyons passed the business to another legal firm, ACS:Law, in 2009. ACS:Law's founder, Andrew Crossley, also faces SRA disciplinary action over the demands next year.
He recently hit headlines when a DDoS attack by 4Chan users led to the leak of company records online. ®