Wednesday, March 31, 2010

US Copyright Group plans "spamigation" lawsuits against up to 50000 illegal downloaders (by P2P and Torrent) of a few indie films

An article in The Hollywood Reporter by Eriq Gardner reports of another mass “John Doe” copyright lawsuit by some independent film producers, so far against 20,000 or more parties who have downloaded films illegally through BitTorrent in a P2P environment. It is expected that the final number of suits may reach 50,000. Parties, culled from IP addresses with subpoenas to ISP’s, are presented with a cease-and-desist and complaint and a “prayer” for a settlement. This sounds to be on the scale of the RIAA music download suits a few years ago. The link for the story “New litigation campaign quietly targets tens of thousands of movie downloaders”, is (web url)  here.

A typical complaint, filed in the District of Columbia from a plaintiff in Germany, is (PDF) here.  But apparently most of the plaintiffs are in the US, copying a practice from Europe.

One could call this legal practice “spam-i-gation”, but actually this also happened in the early 1990s with respect to deficiency judgments in real estate in the savings and loan scandal (the “letter lawsuits”), a practice apparently not repeated during the more recent subprime crisis.

This time, the driving party seems to be the “US Copyright Group” using a technology from Germany called Guardaley IT to monitor movie downloads by BitTorrent.

So far, the films reported to be involved are “Steam Experiment” (or “Chaos Experiment”) with Val Kilmer), “Far Cry”, “Uncross the Stars”, “Gray Man” and “Call of the Wild 3D”. I found all five on imdb. It surprises me that they would attract this much illegal downloading, so some of it may be happening casually by people not seriously concerned about getting into trouble. I have some scripts (derivative in some way of my "Do Ask Do Tell" books and sites) that I might be able to sell some day to similar kinds of independent producers, and, based on the nature of these sample films, it sounds conceivable that a film I could make someday could become a target for such trading. I would want as many people as possible to see my film, but I would have to behave as my investors want!

In the music business, massive litigation is starting to prove unproductive. In some cases in the film business, investors might believe that they can recover their investments through this kind of litigation, as the article explains.

I do not use P2P at home. I rent films from Netflix (online and through DVD) by paying a low-price subscription to watch the content legally. In some cases, films have been available on DVD or for legal download at the same time they were available in theaters.

As far as I know, I have never seen any of these films personally, and none were familiar to me through the "grapevine" (screenwriting seminars, etc). But I found all five available on DVD from Netflix, and just added all five to my rental queue to investigate further what this is all about. All of them are given as available “Now” by Netflix without wait time (some may not be available at all processing centers leading to delay in arrival for a particular consumer). “Far Cry” and “Wild” are available for instant watching. It’s all legal to watch the movies this way for very low subscription prices. (It’s not legal to make personal copies, and that gets into the DMCA and digital rights management.) How much sense does all this P2P downloading behavior make?

Check my Blogger Profile to navigate to my movie reviews blog and watch for these.

Later I’ll look to see what trailers are up for them on YouTube. Are they embeddable? Are they legally posted? This would take more time to dig out.

Update: May 20

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story today by Eva Galperin, "EFF Seeks Attorneys to Help Alleged Movie Downloaders", link here.  The story mentions that Summit Entertainment's film "The Hurt Locker", which won Best Picture at the 2010 Oscars, is on the list of films being "illegally" downloaded. (I'll add that I watch all my films "legally", at theaters or with Netflix or (more recently) YouTube rentals.

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