US Copyright Group Targets 20,000+ BitTorrent Users

US Copyright Group Targets 20,000+ BitTorrent Users

DC-based venture pursues mass lawsuit strategy, first on behalf of a few independent movies (“Steam Experiment,” “Far Cry,” “Uncross the Stars,” “Gray Man,” “Call of the Wild 3D”) with the hopes the MPAA will sign on, and plans to sue 30,000 more accused illegal file-sharers in the near future.

Indie film fans beware: the US Copyright Group, a DC-based venture combining the efforts of technology companies and a conglomeration of intellectual property law firms, have quietly sued more than 20,000 accused file-sharers over the past weeks for illegally distributing either the movies “Steam Experiment,” “Far Cry,” “Uncross the Stars,” “Gray Man,” or “Call of the Wild 3D.”

So far only a handful of the accused have settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, and five lawsuits have already been filed in a Washington D.C. federal court. It’s also being reported that one ISP has already turned over the personal information of 71 people, and that 8 of those have already settled.

The US Copyright Group also apparently plans to target an additional 30,000 more in the near future, perhaps leading to an RIAA-style mass lawsuit campaign, though of a different sort.

“The effect of this technology makes every downloader also an uploader of the illegally transferred file(s),” reads an example of the lawsuit. “This means that every ‘node’ or peer user who has a copy of the infringing copyrighted material on a torrent network must necessarily also be a source of download for that infringing file.”

Part of the problem is that University of Washington researchers have already concluded that BitTorrent users are prone to false copyright infringement claims. As part of an earlier study they received more than 200 DMCA takedown notices without having actually downloaded or uploaded any data whatsoever.

“By profiling copyright enforcement in the popular BitTorrent file sharing system, we were able to generate hundreds of real DMCA takedown notices for computers at the University of Washington that never downloaded nor shared any content whatsoever,” they write. “Further, we were able to remotely generate complaints for nonsense devices including several printers and a (non-NAT) wireless access point. Our results demonstrate several simple techniques that a malicious user could use to frame arbitrary network endpoints.”

So much for cut and dry cases of copyright infringement. There’s also a problem with the fact that accusations are made against an IP address and not the actual individual responsible.

“If this story is correct, it’s the latest evidence that copyright law has become unmoored from its foundations,” writes the Electronic Freedom Foundation. “Copyright should help creators get adequately compensated for their efforts. Copyright should not line the pockets of copyright trolls intent on shaking down individuals for fast settlements a thousand at a time.

The effort is being compared to that of the UK’s ACS:Law which has sent out thousands of warning letters on behalf of copyright holders demanding settlement fees range from between £300-500 ($497-828 USD), part of what it calls a “revolutionary business model” that “generates revenue for rights holders and effectively decreases copyright infringement in a measurable and sustainable way” unlike the “costly and ineffective” anti-piracy measures of other companies.

The US Copyright Group seems to be following in those footsteps, with one of its lawyers, Jeffrey Weaver, noting that it’s “creating a revenue stream and monetizing the equivalent of an alternative distribution channel.”

The technology group partnering with it is the German-based Guardaley IT, a program that allows for real-time monitoring of BitTorrent downloads, capturing the IP addresses of those in swarms trading copyright material.

The MPAA has apparently been cool to overtures by the US Copyright Group to work on its behalf, but it’s certain to get on board if the efforts prove cost effective, and it could learn to live with the bad PR it’s likely to generate. However, if the MPAA is, as reported, mulling the idea, it would be wise to remember that suing movie fans while enjoying another year of record profits, up a staggering 30% since 2005, won’t be very wise, especially in a poor economy.

The MPAA also ought to remember that the RIAA decided to abandon a similar “sue ’em all strategy” last year after some 7+ years of failing to curb illegal downloading.

In the meantime, I think BitTorrent users, who likely only downloaded these movies because they were available for free, ought to boycott “Steam Experiment,” “Far Cry,” “Uncross the Stars,” “Gray Man,” and “Call of the Wild 3D,” and any other movies that their producers’ may be involved with.

In fact, there ought to be a counter lawsuit for time lost sitting through those “movies,” especially “Far Cry.”

Stay tuned.

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