Undeterred, it appears, by previous unsuccessful attempts to file thousands of “John Doe” suits against owners of IP addresses where illegal downloading has occurred, PCWorld reports the lawyers at U.S. Copyright Group this week are planning to sue over 23,000 BitTorrent users who allegedly downloaded The Expendables without permission. Statutory damages for copyright infringement are high ($150,000 per incident), and so clearly the shock of being sued coupled with such a potentially crippling outcome is designed to induce early settlement. The Electronic Frontier Foundation states USCG is willing to settle most claims for a one-time payment of from $1,500 - $2,500. And USCG makes is easy to pay through this portal.
Thus far, the mass-defendant suits haven’t succeeded for USCG (owned by the law firm Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver in D.C.), as courts have ruled against them on jurisdictional grounds (see the brouhaha regarding The Hurt Locker last year).
How are the movies being downloaded? BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer, file sharing protocol that has been around for about a decade. The technology is ingenious, and legal; that it can be used for infringement purposes is what makes it controversial.
How does USCG find the offending IP addresses? According the Gardner, as reported last year, they use technology from Guardaley IT which allows them to see in real time what movies are being downloaded.
Why now? Wired is reporting on these developments daily; according to them, perhaps solving the jurisdictional problems that have plagued previous suits, on March 17, USCG received the go-ahead from a federal judge to get from Internet Service Providers the names, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of those they believe have illegally downloaded The Expendables.
As distasteful as this copyright troll/mass lawsuit behavior might be, it is clear the problem of pirating intellectual property is real and it wreaks untold havoc on the value of movie owners’ rights. That in turn lowers the ROI for individual movie projects, which limits the types of movies produced, and which will ultimately affect consumer prices. Perhaps the turmoil the mass lawsuit activity causes will force an alternate solution. (On a positive side, entrepreneurs have realized the out-of-home movie experience must be made greater than the in-home experience, and movie theaters today have comforts/foods/ambience and visual and audio stimulation...and price tags...we could only dream of 15 years ago.)
What’s in it for the law firm? One lawyer's claim in 2010 that it was a new revenue stream doesn't appear to be working out for them. If the mass suits don’t work, why put in the effort? And what is the benefit to the movie studio engaging USCG? Perhaps there is data that shows that of the 20,000 lawsuits filed and subsequently dropped in The Hurt Locker mess, say, only 1/3 of the offending IP addresses show repeat illegal copying behavior. Perhaps the publicity works as a deterrent. Stay tuned.