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BLOG: So, You're Being Sued for Piracy

By Sarah Jacobsson Purewal | June 17, 2011
What's that? You just got a letter asking for money because you downloaded a movie? Here's what you should do.

Hollywood may have stopped its massive litigation campaigns against illegal file swappers in 2008, but the piracy lawsuits are still flying. Now teams of lawyers working for certain small businesses are going after illegal file swappers. These businesses, often referred to as "copyright trolls," are attempting to turn the threat of suing pirates into a profitable cottage industry.

Today these entrepreneurs are increasingly hunting for new business on peer-to-peer networks. Lawyers working for these firms have been known to sue first and ask questions later--and sometimes they make controversial legal maneuvers. If you're illegally downloading the latest Mumford and Sons album and you aren't worried, maybe you should be.

In this article I'll discuss the rise of copyright trolls, and how they work. For any pirates out there, I'll describe what happens when the jackbooted copyright lawyers come knocking on your door to serve you a settlement letter. And lastly, we spoke with legal experts to gain insight into illegal file sharing from the mind of a lawyer.

Are Copyright Trolls the New Ambulance Chasers?
Copyright trolls work in a few different ways, but the end goal is the same: Threaten, scare, and embarrass people into paying a neat sum (usually between US$1000 and US$3000) without ever actually going to court.

One way copyright attorneys work is by first identifying copyright-protected content being swapped online. Next, working independently of the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, they contact the owners of the content, usually a movie- or music-production company, and ink a deal to have alleged pirates sued on their behalf and to split any monetary damages recouped.

Interestingly, some copyright trolls are known to target porn pirates because, experts say, they are more apt to settle and be done with the illegal-download accusation rather than have their name dragged through the gutter during a court proceeding.

In other instances, companies will purchase the rights to illegally swapped content after the fact, and then go lawsuit-happy chasing after file swappers to make money from penalties and from out-of-court settlements.

Of course, some Hollywood production companies hire copyright trolls to go after people who are illegally swapping their content.

The most recent case involves Voltage Pictures, which is working with U.S. Copyright Group and going after 25,000 anonymous BitTorrent users whose IPs allegedly downloaded a copy of the film The Hurt Locker. U.S. Copyright Group sent out letters that demanded between US$1000 and US$3000 in settlement money from alleged violators—and threatened to sue users for up to $150,000 if they didn't settle.

Just a few weeks before the Hurt Locker case, U.S. Copyright Group targeted about 23,300 torrent users for downloading Nu Image's The Expendables.


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