Creators Must Move Beyond Suing the Audience

The file-sharing public faces yet another wave of predatory litigation, this time from the so-called US Copyright Group (“USCG”), which is suing BitTorrent users on behalf of various independent filmmakers. The Hollywood Reporter reports that more than 20,000 individuals have been sued, with more suits to come, and the producers of the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker have also signed up with the USCG to go after BitTorrent users.USCG’s infringement lawsuits are “Doe suits,” much like the cases in the infamous Recording Industry Association of America litigation campaign. Just as the RIAA did for years, the US Copyright Group uses an investigator to identify IP addresses associated with allegedly infringing downloads, files copyright infringement suits against anonymous Does, and then tries to hijack the subpoena process to get ISPs to match the IP addresses to actual names. (We’ll have more to say in a later post about USCG’s abuse of the legal process.)Veterans of the file-sharing wars know that this story has no happy ending. The filmmakers — perhaps promised an alternative revenue stream in the form of settlements — are in for a bumpy ride. First, we’ll see an abuse of the legal process to identify anonymous Internet users. Already, ISP Time Warner Cable (TWC) has pushed back against USCG’s demand for hundreds of subscriber names and IP address lookups on short notice. If TWC succeeds — and it should — it will help put the brakes on USCG’s effort to cut their own costs by serving mass subpoena requests. In other words, the lawsuits could get a little more expensive. Then, once identities are revealed, we’ll inevitably start hearing about the “dolphins in the driftnet” — people who are improperly targeted but nonetheless forced to settle or defend. Meanwhile, despite the flurry of legal action, BitTorrent use will continue unabated and only the lawyers will see any increase in their bottom line.

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