US Copyright Group, Hurt Locker Producers Sue Dead Man & Others Unlikely To Have Infringed

from the collateral-damage dept

Most of US Copyright Group's lawsuits haven't been going too well -- including the decision to completely drop the case for Nu Image, the producers of The Expendables. USCG's other "high profile" case, however, involves the movie The Hurt Locker, and it continues to move forward. While judges in other cases have been rejecting these mass "fishing trip" lawsuits, knowing full well that they're being used to shake down people to "settle" despite being outside the court's jurisdiction, it appears that USCG got "lucky" with the Hurt Locker case, in that the case was handed to Beryl Howell. Howell, of course, was an RIAA lobbyist not long before becoming a judge, which certainly calls into question her impartiality in such a case -- especially when her rulings seem to contradict just about every other judge who has received one of these mass lawsuits.

In this case, brought on behalf of producers Voltage Pictures, by US Copyright Group (really DC law firm Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver), 24,583 people were sued based on IP addresses. And while most courts have cut out those outside of their jurisdiction, Judge Howell seems to have no problem with USCG getting subpoenas sent all over the country. And, with so many people sued on such flimsy evidence, it's no surprise that many receiving notice from their ISPs of the subpoena are shocked and insist they have nothing to do with it.

In some cases, their claims are pretty compelling -- such as the case in which the notice was returned... because the recipient was dead.
Meanwhile, Nate Anderson has been collecting a bunch of the responses from people who insist they have no clue why they're being sued. Of course, as TorrentFreak points out, in such cases, it's probably a really bad idea to write to the court directly protesting your innocence, because that publicly reveals who you are -- something that USCG might not have known previously. Even worse, in this case, rather than recognize the ridiculousness of suing 24,583 people based solely on flimsy IP addresses, Howell is saying that these responses are meaningless until a trial actually begins -- by which point many of these same people will realize that it's probably cheaper to settle up than pay to have to defend themselves.

The sampling of letters, however, certainly suggests a fair amount of collateral damage from filing lawsuits on such weak evidence. While some may insist that (1) some of these people are lying or (2) they can just prove their innocence in court, I would suggest that you're not recognizing just how traumatic it can be to get sued, especially if you're not that familiar with the law and, indeed, have no clue why you're getting sued. It's exactly this situation that USCG and Voltage Pictures were counting on with this process, so kudos to Judge Beryl Howell for making the lives of a bunch of innocent people a living hell.

Here are just a few of the letters. More can be found at the link above:
The Pinestead Reef Resort in Traverse City, Michigan:
We object to the suit given the fact that we operate a Timeshare resort named Pinstead Brief Resort that is 46 units all of which have a Wi-Fi connection using our IP address. We have numerous users at various times and are unable to monitor or control what they are doing on the computer in their room... I can assure you that the movie was not downloaded from any of the 5 computers that we use in our office on a daily basis.
MidAtlanticBroadband Hospitality Services of Baltimore, Maryland:
MidAtlanticBroadband Hospitality Services is filing an objection to provide information as our information is irrelevant, as we are not the end-user nor do we have any information related to the actual usage of this IP address.
A woman named Sarah, no address given:
I am objecting to the disclosure and release of my identifying information by Charter Communications Inc. on the grounds that Iím not the owner nor have I ever owned the computer with the MAC IP address [sic] that they are claiming illegally downloaded the copyrighted work. When this download took place I was living in a college apartment with roommates and we all shared the wireless network. I had opened the account and my roommates each paid me a portion of the monthly bill since we all shared the same wireless network. When I contacted Charter Communications Inc. regarding the subpoena to inform them they had the wrong person named for the download they said it could have been anyone in the apartment complex and that I was named as a potential defendant due to my being the one that set up the account.
Ann from St. Louis, Missouri:
As a soon to be 70-year-old woman, I can assure the court that I have neither downloaded or distributed ANY copyrighted work as alleged in this lawsuit. Thank you for your consideration.
Rick from St. Louis, Missouri:

I did not download this movie. From a telephone conversation with Charter Communicationsí technical customer service I learned it is possible someone outside my home may have compromised the IP address and downloaded the movie without my knowledge.

Charter further advised me to place a lock on the wireless router to help prevent people from hacking into the system and using my IP address. This has now been done.

Take pay cuts over the past years, having a disabled wife and struggling to support a family, I do not have the money to hire an attorney to protect myself especially in this case where I did nothing wrong.

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  1. icon
    aldestrawk (profile), 29 Aug 2011 @ 12:17pm


    The IP address is indeed evidence, but how the plaintiff acquires it is important. There are two general ways in which the IP address can be shown as invalid evidence in the course of proving infringement by a particular person. The IP address can be spoofed in certain situations or someone else has used your IP address to infringe and you shouldn't be liable for that use.

    Spoofing IP:
    The easiest way to spoof the IP in a P2P context can occur when the plaintiff uses the indirect detection method and simply queries the tracker as to what IPs are acting as peers. There is an option which allows specifying your IP address separately from the source IP address in the packet used to talk to the tracker. This allows someone to introduce any arbitrary IP address into the list of peer IPs kept by the tracker. Effectively, this means someone can frame you. Not all P2P software running on trackers is configured to allow this option. In fact, the, often cited, 2008 study done at the University of Washington indicated that only 5% of the BitTorrent trackers allowed this option. However, because of the existence of this option, plaintiffs should be restricted to using a direct method of detection for acquiring IPs to include in their lawsuits. The direct method monitors IPs address belonging to peers that are part of a swarm. This means that the IP address in question is actively involved in downloading/uploading the infringing content. It is still possible to spoof an IP address in this scenario but this is now much harder and not possible in the most typical situation. This typical situation is where you gain access to the internet with an account from an ISP. Here, you can spoof the source IP in any packet you send, but you will not be receiving packets with that IP address in the destination. Additionally, ISPs filter outgoing packets with source IPs not in the ISP's range.
    Another possibility for spoofing is when the owner of the tracker falsely injects an IP address to act as a peer. This reinforces the idea that only direct detection method should be allowed. One where the plaintiff has to monitor the ongoing traffic involved in a swarm. Also, it should go without saying that the plaintiff should not control the tracker and, for other reasons, should not be the initial seed, or act as a seed, period.
    My understanding is that courts aren't requiring the method of collecting IPs be detailed by the plaintiff. They should, even at the initial stage of filing a lawsuit.

    Others using your IP address to infringe:
    There are many different situations where multiple computers can use the same IP or multiple people can use the same computer. How can one tell who the infringing party is? The plaintiff should be required to collect information in addition to a source IP address that can help to identify the actual infringer. Information in the HTTP header can be used to fingerprint the computer involved. In my mind, this is still not conclusive evidence, but should be enough to initiate a lawsuit.

    The crux of the problem is that these are civil suits, not criminal complaints. There has been no forensics done on the computer associated with the alleged IP address. It would be too expensive for the plaintiff to acquire enough convincing evidence to convict if they are going after hundreds or thousands of infringers. On the other hand it is also too expensive for a defendant to defend themselves and any option to settle rather than fight because of the expense leads to extortion.

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