Are Copyright Holders Seeding Own Files To Find, Sue Downloaders?
from the a-bit-of-a-twist dept
Last year, we talked about some language in a contract being used by a company that was supposedly trying to help copyright holders track down content being shared online, for the purpose of sending out threatening “pre-settlement” letters. The contract appeared to indicate that the copyright holders were giving the tracking company permission to put their works on file sharing programs, for the sake of “catching” people downloading the content:
To achieve the purpose outlined in clause 1, LICENSOR grants DIGIPROTECT the exclusive right to make the movies listed in Appendix 1 worldwide available to the public via remote computer networks, so-called peer-2-peer and internet file sharing networks such as e-Donkey, Kazaa, Bitorrent, etc. for the duration of this agreement
This seemed highly questionable. Considering that this was in association with a law firm that had been known to send out a large number of these pre-settlement demand letters, but never filed a lawsuit, one could make an argument that the companies had worked out quite a system: purposely put your own content online, watch who downloads it, then send threatening letter demanding payment. Of course, there were denials all around, and people insisted that this sort of language was really only necessary so the tracking company could download the content themselves.
And yet… Michael Scott points us to a lawsuit in Germany that indicates someone may be using this very trick. It’s unclear from the writeup if this is the same company (probably not), but a guy who’s been accused not just of copyright infringement, but a criminal charge of distributing pornography, is claiming this is what happened to him. His explanation is rather compelling. He claims that he was using a modded version of file sharing software that did not allow upload capability. In doing so, it means that he never distributed anything (which might make the “distribution” charge pretty hard to prove). But, of course, if he never shared anything, then how would his IP address get flagged? The only real option is that whoever he downloaded it from provided the IP address back to the copyright holder — or was the copyright holder itself.
Of course… if that’s the case, one could make a pretty strong argument that the content itself was also authorized, since it was put up on the file sharing network by the copyright holder. And, on top of all this, the guy claims that the files he downloaded had misleading titles, and he didn’t intend to download pornography. Whether or not you believe any of that (or his intentions), it certainly suggests that at least some content owners may be putting their own content up in order to catch downloaders and hit them with lawsuits or settlement letters. It’s difficult to see how that’s legal.