March 30, 2010 | By Fred von Lohmann

50,000 New Lawsuits Against Movie Downloaders

According to The Hollywood Reporter, a group known as the "U.S. Copyright Group" has quietly targeted 20,000 Bit Torrent users for legal action in federal court in Washington, DC. The targets are accused of having downloaded independent films, including "Steam Experiment," "Far Cry," "Uncross the Stars," "Gray Man" and "Call of the Wild 3D," without authorization. The group plans to target 30,000 more individuals for legal action in the coming months.

This time, the lawyers involved are being explicit about their motivations: it's all about the money. "We're creating a revenue stream and monetizing the equivalent of an alternative distribution channel," said one of the attorneys involved. The cases are taken on a contingency basis, designed so that quick settlements will prove lucrative for both the firm and the copyright owners involved.

The attorneys involved are reportedly relying on technology provided by Guardaley IT that claims to enable real-time monitoring of movie downloads on torrents. The IP addresses and information gathered using this technology are then used to file "John Doe" lawsuits and issue subpoenas to ISPs seeking the names and addresses of subscribers associated with those IP addresses. Settlement demands are then sent.

This is not the first time we've seen mass litigation (a.k.a. "spam-igation") used as a profit-center—DirecTV pioneered that tactic by sending demand letters to more than 170,000 Americans accused of satellite piracy. And the major record labels followed up by targeting more than 30,000 people for legal actions between 2003-08.

If this story is correct, it's the latest evidence that copyright law has become unmoored from its foundations. 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.

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