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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.

In the case of the Hurt Locker group lawsuit, the judge overseeing the case is a former RIAA lobbyist. In other words, although she pledges to be unbiased, she may not be terribly sympathetic toward alleged file sharers.

If you have illegally downloaded files, and you are primarily concerned with the financial costs you might incur, it may be in your best interest to settle. Copyright trolls usually ask for between US$1000 and US$3000, and the minimum fine for statutory damages for files is US$750. If you've downloaded more than a couple of files, you could wind up with a hefty fine if you go to court—not including the court fees.

So, You're Being Sued
Let's say you decided not to settle, and now someone is taking you to court. Here's what you can do.

1. If you haven't yet contacted an attorney, definitely do that now. If you cannot afford an attorney, consider looking for a pro bono attorney or contacting a local law school. Many law-school teams–including those of Harvard, the University of Maine, University of New Hampshire, and the University of San Francisco–have helped out with file-sharing cases.

2. Don't ignore being served, because if you fail to show up in court, you will automatically lose. You have 30 days to respond to a lawsuit.

That said, automatically losing may be cheaper than showing up: In 2009, four defendants who failed to appear were fined the minimum statutory damages of US$750 per song. Each of the four had downloaded around ten songs, which meant that they owed the record labels around US$7,500. While that isn't cheap, it's certainly better than US$675,000 or US$1.92 million, which is what the defendants who did appear in court that year were fined.

Need an example to understand what happens when you ignore a court order? In 2008, Mavis Roy ignored a lawsuit because she "thought it was a scam." Luckily, Roy later received help from the professors and students at the Franklin Pierce Law Center of the University of New Hampshire, and her case was eventually dismissed (with prejudice).

3. This is a civil case—not a criminal one. This means that the group suing you has only to prove that it's "more likely than not" that you downloaded the files, and the jury does not have to be unanimous in its decision.


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