In recent years, file-sharers around the world have been pressured to pay significant settlement fees, or face legal repercussions.
These so-called ‘copyright trolling‘ efforts are a common occurrence in the United States too, where hundreds of thousands of people have been targeted in recent years.
While a significant number of defendants are indeed guilty, there are also many that are wrongfully accused. Third-parties may have connected to their Wi-Fi, for example, which isn’t a rarity.
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.
“I’ve never illegally downloaded anything … or even legally! I use my computer for email, games, news and that’s about it,” Harding told HawaiiNewsNow.
“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,” Harding added.
As is common in these cases, the copyright holder asked the Hawaii Federal Court for a subpoena, which ordered the associated Internet provider to hand over the personal details of the alleged infringers. The attorney then went on to send out settlement requests to the exposed users.
Harding received a letter offering an easy $3,900 settlement, which would increase to $4,900 if he failed to respond before August 7th. However, the elderly man wasn’t keen on taking the deal, describing the pay-up-or-else demand as “absolutely absurd.”
The attorney reiterated to the local newspaper that these are not idle threats. People risk $150,000 per illegal download, he stressed. That said, mistakes happen and people who feel that they are wrongfully accused should contact his office.
Culpepper explained it further with an analogy while adding a new dimension to the ‘you wouldn’t steal a car’ meme in the process.
“This is similar to a car stolen. If your car was stolen and your car hit someone or did some damage, initially the victim would look to see who was the owner of the car. You would probably tell them, someone stole my car. That time, that person would try to find the person who stole your car,” he said.
The attorney says that they are not trying to bankrupt people. Their goal is to deter piracy. There are cases where they’ve accepted lower settlements or even a mere apology, he notes.
How the 72-year-old will respond in unknown, but judging for his tone he may be looking for an apology himself. Going to the press was probably a smart move, as rightsholders generally don’t like the PR that comes with this kind of story.
These cases are by no means unique though. While browsing through the court dockets of Culpepper’s recent cases we quickly stumbled upon a similar denial. This one comes from a Honolulu woman who’s accused of pirating ‘Mechanic: Resurrection.’
“I have never downloaded the movie they are referencing and when I do download movies I use legal services such as Amazon, and Apple TV,” she wrote to the court, urging it to keep her personal information private.
“I do have frequent guests at our house often using the Internet. In the future I will request that nobody uses any file sharing on our Internet connection,” the letter added.
Unfortunately for her, the letter includes her full name and address, which means that she has effectively exposed herself. This likely means that she will soon receive a settlement request in the mail, just like Harding did, if she hasn’t already.
Update: 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.
The attorney doesn’t know the age of any of the John Does targets. He offered help to Harding, to find out if others are using his connection without his knowledge, but that wasn’t needed.
“However, he does not seem interested and there are other complications so I will just dismiss him,” Culpepper says.
Update 2019: The real downloader has been caught.