I recently heard of a man who received a notice from his internet service provider advising him it intended to release his account information in response to a court subpoena. A German movie producer filed suit in a United States federal court seeking damages for copyright infringement from more than 2,000 unknown individuals who allegedly downloaded the movie “The Far Cry” without paying for it. Unfortunately, the man discovered his teenager was one of them.
The law firm doing the suing, Dunlap Grubb & Weaver of Leesburg, VA, has graciously agreed to accept $1,500.00 from each defendant to release them from the lawsuit. (The cost to download the movie legally is $28.00). They have even provided a website, an online template release form, and the ability to pay by credit card. Individuals who refuse to fork over the money, however, are threatened with continued litigation and statutory damages of up to $150,000.00 for each infringement.
I have no issue with a movie producer seeking to enforce its copyright or a law firm willing to assist and making a few bucks in the process. However, the “one size fits all” approach seems more about making money and less about enforcing copyrights. If the lawyers and the movie producers have the technology to identify the IP addresses to which the movies were downloaded, one would think they have the technology to distinguish between those who routinely engage in film piracy, the aberrant teenager, or even someone whose computer was compromised and did not see the movie at all. DG&W’s strategy contemplates that even the innocent will choose to pay $1,500.00 rather than the higher legal fees they would incur to simply remove themselves from the case. It is unfortunately reminiscent of a scheme engineered not long ago by another law firm that sent disabled persons into area establishments looking for ADA violations and then sent letters to the proprietors demanding $2,500.00 to avoid a lawsuit because a door was not wide enough or a bathroom stall was not equipped with handbars. The ADA, the Copyright Act, and other statutes like them were intended by Congress to right a wrong and establish a public policy, not create cottage industries for lawyers.
I called an attorney at DG&W who readily acknowledged that neither the firm nor the movie producer cared about the individual circumstances of each defendant snared by its technology. He noted that the minimum statutory penalty was $750.00 and the highest was $150,000.00. The $1,500.00 also represented an amount intended to help the movie producer recoup the costs of developing the technology used to identify the IP addresses of potential defendants. The attorney did not find it troubling that the truly guilty could get off as cheaply as the truly innocent. Or is it the technology is more developed than we are lead to believe and there are plans for future litigation against the real culprits financed by the settlements with the masses? Hmmmmmmm?