Since late last week, people have been submitting the news that ACS:Law's email archives were revealed and spread widely across the internet late last week. Once again, I find this action somewhat troubling. Like the DDoS attacks
that resulted in this leak, I do worry about the backlash that it creates, and I find it a bit shameful that people feel the need to stoop to dirty tricks to try to prove a point or make a statement. I've been debating whether it's worth reporting about the leak at all, or any of what's been found out, and I'll certainly skip over the mundane or merely salacious bits. However, some of the information that's being reported is important in understanding how these "pre-settlement or we'll sue" businesses work, and that's information worth sharing.
ACS:Law, of course, was one of the first, and certainly the most well-known, of the law firms practicing this form of "legal threats as a business model." Since then, however, many other law firms (in Europe and the US) have jumped into the game with much fanfare. ACS:Law's principle, Andrew Crossley, regularly bragged about how profitable his enterprise was, and that certainly was likely some of the thinking behind others trying to get in on the action. However, it appears that, from the data gleaned in the leaked emails, the effort really hasn't been all that profitable.
TorrentFreak has a detailed breakdown
showing not only what percentage of people actually responded or paid up to the threat letters, but also what the revenue splits were, and how much everyone made -- covering a period of two years. The results are seen below:
||Paid to Client
||Paid to monitoring company
||Paid to Firm
If this truly is an accurate accounting of the money collected and split up, it's really not that impressive. The total amount collected is just a smidgen over $1 million dollars, which means an average of about $500,000 per year. And while it's noteworthy that the law firm ends up with more than the actual copyright holder (funny how that works, huh?), the numbers indicate that Crossley's firm brought in about $350,000 in revenue to his firm over two years -- or about $175,000 per year. It's worth pointing out that Crossley did not appear to work alone, but had at least some staff, so you'd have to reduce that even further -- and you're basically talking about what your average young attorney can make on a job. It's not bad
, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not exactly rolling in the dough. A report from a few years ago about UK starting
legal salaries for lawyers fresh out of school put the amount at £63,000 to £65,000
(basically, around $100,000 US), and noted that it was rising quickly. So depending on Crossley's costs for rent, staff and other expenses, it sounds like he might be making a bit over what a recent law school grad can make.
That said, it's also worth pointing out that the biggest copycat firm in the US, which goes by the name US Copyright Group, appears to be sending out a much higher number of letters early on and is asking for noticeably higher fees to "settle," though it's also filing an actual lawsuit (which entails additional costs). ACS:Law, of course, is famous for sending out letters and never actually suing, which helps keep its costs lower.