Berlin Law Firm Files Criminal Complaint Against Copyright Troll U+C Alleging Its Demand Letters Are Fraudulent
from the but-no-one-would-fight-being-accused-of-stealing-porn,-would-they? dept
German copyright troll Urmann + Colleagues’ (U+C) pain is only just beginning. U+C misrepresented a streaming service as a file-sharing site to a German court in order to obtain subscriber info on thousands of German RedTube users. U+C then used this fraudulently-obtained data to send out collection letters to over 10,000 users, demanding a payment of $345 for copyright infringement.
Red flags were raised by a handful of German lawyers who noted that almost everything about U+C’s actions bordered on illegal. At the very least, U+C couldn’t demand payment for activity not considered to be infringement by the German courts. The backlash began there.
First, the court that had issued the 50 orders (covering thousands of IP addresses) revoked them after it became apparent that U+C had misrepresented RedTube’s service. Then RedTube itself was granted an injunction forbidding U+C (and The Archive AG — which apparently “owns” the copyright to the porn titles at the center of all this activity) from sending out further demand letters to its German users.
Now a Berlin law firm (MMR Müller Müller Rößner) has filed a criminal complaint against U+C, alleging fraud and blackmail. According to the firm, U+C payment demands were predicated on a false claim (that German RedTube users were liable for copyright infringement for viewing a streamed video). Under German law, nothing illegal had occurred, but U+C was obviously hoping ignorance of the law would net it some income from RedTube users. Roughly paraphrased (and even more roughly translated), the law firm accuses U+C of deploying a “grandson trick” — a scam — that preys on the gullible and ignorant, and leverages the underlying threat that their targets’ porn-watching habits could be exposed if payment isn’t prompt.
Additionally, the method that U+C used to obtain IP addresses still hasn’t been adequately explained. Even if it did use a completely above-board method to harvest viewers’ IP addresses, the way RedTube serves its streams makes proving who watched what video almost impossible.
Even more incredibly, U+C lawyer Thomas Urmann claimed earlier this month that it makes no difference if shady methods were used to obtain the IP addresses. According to him, it’s “too late” to raise that objection seeing as the court had already ruled in U+C’s favor by issuing the orders to release user data. Urmann is likely not feeling quite as confident now that the court has repealed its support and revoked the earlier orders, but it’s still a bit discomfiting to hear a lawyer boldly claim that the ends justify the possibly illegal means.
Another law firm (Diehl & Partner) weighing in on U+C’s misconduct wonders exactly what it plans to use as evidence should any of these cases go to court, considering the works under discussion were only streamed and not downloaded. Obviously, this question is almost entirely rhetorical. Demand letters sent on a massive scale are the business model, not the first step in a complex legal strategy. Here in the US, courts have become less and less willing to entertain copyright trolls’ low-level extortion schemes. U+C’s audacious (and possibly fraudulent) letter writing campaign will only hasten the development of an identical legal climate in Germany.