Copyright Troll Insists Septuagenarian Is An Enormous Copyright Infringer, Then Runs Away After Backlash

from the facepalm dept

Update, April 2020: The lawyer in question, Kerry Culpepper, has just informed us that a roommate of Harding, Gary Graham, “admitted to being behind the infringement,” and has since agreed to pay the movie studios for his infringement.

For the evil scourge of copyright trolls out there, it must be true that one of the most problematic aspects of their business model is that they can’t actually choose their victims. When all the trolls have to go on in order to target their extortionist settlement letters is an IP address, they can’t possibly know much about who is on the other side of that IP address. IP addresses, as it turns out, are shitty identifiers in both directions. That, I assume, is how you get the attorney for a film studio sending a threat letter to a 72 year old man in Hawaii, claiming that he is one of the greatest copyright pirates on the planet with an odd taste in bad contemporary action films.

In Hawaii, a recent target of a copyright trolling expedition claims to be innocent, and he’s taken his case to the local press. The 72-year-old John J. Harding doesn’t fit the typical profile of a prolific pirate, but that’s exactly what a movie company has accused him of being.

In June, Harding received a letter from local attorney Kerry Culpepper, who works for the rightsholders of movies such as ‘Mechanic: Resurrection’ and ‘Once Upon a Time in Venice.’ The letter accused the 72-year-old of downloading a movie and also listed over 1,000 other downloads that were tied to his IP-address. Harding was understandably shocked by the threat and says he never downloads anything.

And he means anything, legally or otherwise. Instead, Harding insists he uses his computer for the same thing I imagine most folks his age use it: email, news, and some casual gaming. Harding isn’t particularly shy about voicing his innocence either, nor is his couching it any moderate language.

“I know definitely that I’m not guilty and my wife is not guilty. So what’s going on? Did somebody hack us? Is somebody out there actively hacking us? How they do that and go about doing that, I have no idea.”

Telling this story to the press was probably a smart move, getting attention paid to his case. Somewhat predictably, once the media tuned in to this story, Culpepper reached out to Harding and informed him that he would be dismissing him from any proceedings or legal action.

Attorney Kerry Culpepper informed TorrentFreak that he already sent a letter to Harding’s family about his intention to dismiss them. The attorney says that he doesn’t use “the Prenda strategy” to try to extract nuisance settlements from innocent people.

Except that this only brings up more questions. We can start with the obvious one: why did Culpepper agree to dismiss Harding? What makes his case different than all of the others? It cannot simply be his age. The Elderly are capable of infringing copyright, after all, and if all of the evidence against Harding equates to the evidence against younger targets of these letters, his age alone shouldn’t be the difference maker. Except that of course it is. What this dismissal does is highlight the laughable idea that the authors of these settlement offers have any real evidence against the recipients at all. If they did, this evidence could not be defeated by someone simply shouting, “But I’m just so old!”

And yet the threat letters go out, embarrassing miscalculations and mistargets and all. It’s probably long past due that we had some legal clarity on the legal value of IP addresses as evidence of infringement.

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Comments on “Copyright Troll Insists Septuagenarian Is An Enormous Copyright Infringer, Then Runs Away After Backlash”

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orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Sure, the trolls, like spammers and scammers and bot herders, omly need a tiny fraction of targets to fall for their scheme for it to be profitable. With trolls, they count on anyone not gullible or unresponsive to be less sympathetic and less vocal. The caliber of their evidence is never very high. If it were better, one would see more traditional infringement cases.

TKnarr (profile) says:

The problem isn’t the IP address, it’s the near-complete lack of evidence that the IP address was involved in infringement at all. If a plaintiff wants to file a John Doe case, they should be barred from going any further than filing until they’ve shown their evidence to a judge with the standard being evidence that could survive a reasonable motion for summary judgment. If all the plaintiff has is a list of URLs, the case dies because there’s no evidence in the record that those URLs contain copyrighted content or that if they do the plaintiff owns the copyrights. Each URL should be accompanied by a statement of exactly what content that URL contains, a detailed description of how the content was confirmed to be what was claimed, and a statement of who created the work and when and (if the author isn’t the plaintiff) a complete chain of copyright transfers terminating with the plaintiff. If they’re just an agent for the copyright holder, the case is suspended until they amend their complaint to add the copyright holder as a complainant and the holder’s notified of the action.

Those requirements should be easy to meet for any legitimate case, which means 99% of the copyright infringement cases out there either won’t get filed or will get laughed out of the courtroom on the first day.

Charlie Brown says:

Re: Australia's Site Blocking

When Roadshow and Foxtel applied last December to have several sites blocked for piracy, they provided the court with screenshots of search results for the infringing material. The law says they must first prove that the site has the infringing material on it (i.e. a Roadshow movie or a Foxtel show) and then they have to prove that the site is mainly used for infringement.

I know there are problems with this, of course. Don’t bother saying so or that the blocks are easily circumvented, because it is common knowledge for everyone except Roadshow and Foxtel.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You realize that these types of lawsuits involve Torrents right? that there are no “URLs” to cite? These cases usually submit a hash representing a file being downloaded, and state that the hash is produced by a video file containing the copyrighted content, might produce the file in question, and the basic network monitoring that can be done by any file sharing software shows the IP and MAC address as part of the ‘swarm’ downloading (and uploading) the file in question. The problem is that an IP address does not necessarily identify a specific location. Ongoing efforts to extend the life of IPv4 mean several residences can have the same outgoing IP. Neither the IP or the MAC address are, in fact, definitive source identifiers. So, yes, the IP address is the problem.

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Re:

it’s the near-complete lack of evidence that the IP address was involved in infringement at all.

I don’t know, I think they have evidence that the IP address was involved somehow, what they lack is the evidence associating what the IP Address did with the defendant.

Therefore, my solution is for them to sue the IP Address. List the IP Address itself as the defendant and try to seek redress from the IP Address.

I mean, that’s how civil asset forfeiture works isn’t it? You sue the property itself, not the owner. Therefore they should be suing the IP Address.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

We don’t use the Prenda strategy.
We have shady hidden Germans providing our ip tracking not a brother.
We submit long lists of unrelated titles showing an IP is responsible, but don’t include CP & Bestiality like MM.
We aren’t even sure the company we represent owns all the rights to the film or is still active.
We don’t pocket the money ourselves, it flows back to a single point & hes being sued by the investors in the films.

They are scum suckers, who are pissed that they hit upon a target who isn’t easily portrayed as the dark prince of infringement. He got loud, the community got loud, and suddenly after a full on press is torn apart & gets more media coverage they finally do due diligence & discover they have the wrong person targeted. They then quickly try to drop him, because showing 1000+ other titles he allegedly downloaded might call into question the super secret system they use to track infringers. Fake people, fake companies, fake affidavits, a cast of characters who have all held every possible position in a company & take turns playing expert.

Pity that copyright law is so ‘sacred’ we can’t possibly talk about keeping senior citizens being shaken down for social security checks by fixing the law. We need to keep doing stupid things for companies enjoying record profits (despite putting out absolute crap) in the most protected position and not these stupid old people who obviously were stealing these shitty action films.

Anonymous Coward says:

What does age have to do with it?

Is there some age at which people are no longer subject to law? Should we assume old people can’t use computers well enough to do this? People often raise a fuss online when an elderly person is accused of something like this, but why should (say) an 18-year old be treated more harshly?

How about we just attack their general lack of evidence, rather than focusing on age? There must be at least as many innocent young adults being accused.

DannyB (profile) says:

Doesn't use the Prenda tragedy

The attorney says that he doesn’t use “the Prenda strategy” to try to extract nuisance settlements from innocent people.

Speaking of Prenda tragedy, then why do you even bring it up?

It’s like me suddenly blurting out that I would never wish anything bad to happen to dear Mr. Martin Shkreli. If that were really the case, that I had such a wish, then why would I blurt out such a statement unbidden and unprompted?

Roger Strong (profile) says:

When all the trolls have to go on in order to target their extortionist settlement letters is an IP address, they can’t possibly know much about who is on the other side of that IP address.

I disagree. They don’t need an identity; they only need to know "is a senior."

If I visit the Best Buy site, I’ll immediately see Best Buy ads here on Techdirt. That data is no doubt sold, without my identity but WITH my IP address and interests. You could use it to identify seniors.

Or just set up a seniors-related site. No real content needed. Just spam out a message about it to a few million random people, and probably only seniors will click on it. Harvest their IP addresses from your web logs and sell them to IP trolls.

So I doubt it would be any problem for an IP troll to purchase lists of IP addresses with a high probability of belonging to seniors.

I know a senior who received similar copyright accusations under Canada’s "notice on notice" regime. He hadn’t heard of Bit torrent, let alone the shows in the claims. He had no malware, and no Wi-Fi. He’s in a large senior’s home complex, and that may also have made it easier to target seniors’ IP addresses.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

SJD can correct me if I am wrong, but the usual pattern of the trolls is to get the names & addresses & then start a social media stalk.
If they “liked” the movie, well thats evidence.
If they have a nice home, thats evidence they can pay.
If they live in an apartment building, we’ll ignore that all of the units could intercept an open wifi signal.

They do not care about the age of the target that much.

Older people are more likely to settle, even if innocent, because this lawyer is yelling legalease & telling me I’m responsible even if I didn’t do it.
If they are active in church or other social institutions they break out the we’ll depose the neighbors, threatening to tell the neighborhood you’ve been accused. (People remember the accusations never the outcomes)
If they decide its not the bill payer who did it, but someone else in the home they will keep the bill payer on the lawsuit to avoid having to pay to refile.

They’ve gone after active duty service people (ignoring the law), I have no faith in any promise a troll gives. They exist to make money by any means necessary & the courts are still unwilling to slow them down a bit despite the giant pile of evidence they will run to avoid scrutiny or questions about the tech or rotating experts.

They like easy marks, & the system is setup to keep the extortion mills running.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: really HAVE TO ASK..

ISNT the law based on an idea that it is a contract??

That sound suspiciously like a sovereign citizen claim. The kind that keeps being made but never ever holds up in court.

UNLESS I AM NOTIFIED, Should I be responsible for changes the CORP makes??

In any contract, probably not. But in this case (a copyright violation claim) contracts weren’t involved.

Anonymous Coward says:

My defence is prepared..

“All those young’uns with their pocket data machines, their fancy flat screens, and some book with faces in it they keep babbling about… they never worked 33 hours straight in the field or walked through 8 feet of snow to get to school, those spoiled brats. The youth sure has degraded, yes sir it has”.
I hope that will work at age 33.

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