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The Lawsuit Locker

May 29th, 2010

Voltage Pictures, makers of The Hurt Locker, have officially filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against “1 – 5000” John Doe defendants in “every jurisdiction in the United States” for illegally downloading and sharing their motion picture. In the suit (PDF), they allege “great and irreparable injury that cannot fully be compensated or measured in money.” Nevertheless, they are seeking to be compensated in money–specifically, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504, at least between $750 and $30,000 per defendant, in addition to costs, attorney’s fees, and “other and further relief,” in addition to demanding that each defendant destroy all downloaded copies and never, ever even think of downloading any of their movies ever again.

In short, they have jumped on the RIAA bandwagon: file a massive, indistinct lawsuit against thousands of people in the hopes of (a) scaring file sharers into stopping their nefarious activities, and (b) raking in huge amounts of cash via what is essentially extortion writ large. It is expected that Voltage will offer “settlements” in the amount of $1500 per defendant, qualifying as extortion because, like any good nuisance lawsuit, the settlement will cost less than any defendant would pay in legal fees even if they successfully fight off the lawsuit. If all the defendants settled, Voltage would rake in $7.5 million. This assembly-line extortion is a new line of business for attorneys, just like class-action lawsuits as described in Grisham’s The King of Torts. They even go so far as to put the movies online themselves so they can more easily get the IP addresses of downloaders.

So, who are the defendants in the Hurt Locker case? Essentially, Voltage Pictures, makers of the film, have collected up to 5,000 external IP addresses, which identify only the general location of the people who downloaded the movie via BitTorrent, and have filed suit in hopes that this will allow them to legally obligate the ISPs serving those people to hand over the internal records which will provide enough information, they hope, to identify specific downloaders. ISPs who cooperate are not exactly innocent here–they make money off this as well, charging $32 to $60 for each IP address given to plaintiffs, citing costs for doing the search and notifying the address holder.

Voltage Pictures has the ability to carry out this kind of action this primarily because corporations were able to get laws passed which demand abusively large penalties for file sharing. The statute allows the plaintiff to “elect” (language used in the current suit) to take statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per infringement, even if it cannot be proved that the defendant willfully committed the offense–meaning that if it were simply their liability, if it happened over their connection even without their knowledge, they could be still be forced to pay. I presume that this covers not having a protected WiFi network and a neighbor downloads the movie over stolen bandwidth.

If the file sharing is found to be willful, the penalty jumps to $150,000.

For file-sharing a single movie file. Yeah, that’s “justice.” The law allowing this is obscene and must be rewritten.

Let’s call this out for what it is: extortion. Legal or not, it’s is nothing less than extortion, a grab for cash by unethical means. Today, a film’s profits are measure in terms of domestic and international box office, as well as DVD rentals and sales. How long before proceeds from nuisance lawsuits are added as an element in determining the total earnings of a film?

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  1. Tim Kane
    May 29th, 2010 at 13:44 | #1

    When it comes to the law, The Process is the Punishment.

    This is what you get with a government that is for sale to the highest bidder.

  2. Brad
    June 4th, 2010 at 18:25 | #2

    I’m furious!

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