These notices are traditionally nothing more than a warning, hoping to scare file-sharers into giving up their habit. More frequently, however, they now include a request for a small cash settlement.
Rightscorp is one of the companies that facilitates these settlement demands. The company scours BitTorrent networks for people who download titles owned by the copyright holders they work for, and then approaches these alleged pirates via their Internet providers.
The company partners with prominent copyright holders including Warner Bros. and BMI. On behalf of these clients Rightscorp usually asks for $10 or $20 per infringed title.
Since these settlement requests are concealed in DMCA notices, there is no need to obtain a court order. Under the DMCA ISPs are obliged to forward the notices which means that Rightscorp can contact the alleged pirates without knowing who they are.
While a $20 settlement may sound reasonable, these costs can increase rapidly as Rightscorp sometimes sends out multiple settlement requests for a single torrent. For example, if they catch someone downloading an album with 18 tracks, they send out 18 settlements notices demanding a payment for each infringement.
People who, as a matter of oversight or intentionally, settle for only one of the infringements are then confronted with a scary threat after a few days. In a follow-up email seen by TF, Rightscorp warns that the alleged infringer’s Internet account is now at risk since they have been placed on a list of repeat copyright infringers.
“If you have received multiple notices, your account is on a list that we send to your ISP every week requesting that it be terminated,” Rightscorp warns in their email.
The company adds that many ISPs are following up on Rightscorp’s list, and do indeed terminate accounts that have allegedly downloaded copyrighted material on more than one occasion.
“Many ISPs follow the law 17 USC 512 (i) and terminate service to repeat infringers who we identify. It will stay on that list until you close this matter with us or our client decides to escalate.”
The account termination angle appears to be important for Rightscorp, as it’s also mentioned in several spots on the company’s website. The question is, however, how real these threats are, as there are a few questions regarding Rightscorp’s claim.
The “unpaid” reminders, such as the example listed above, are only sent to people who have settled an earlier infringement and in the process willingly shared their email address with Rightscorp. Since the company sends out settlement requests for each track listed in an album download, they can send a reminder if the person only settled for one of the tracks.
However, if the same IP-address is caught sharing something else a week later Rightscorp can’t accurately claim that this is a repeat infringement. Nor do we expect that downloading an album with a dozen tracks will be seen as repeat infringements by any ISPs.
Rightscorp simply can’t know that unauthorized downloads belong to the same account unless they occur at the exact same time. After all, they only have an IP-address on an infringer, and these tend to change over time.
In other words, it is impossible for Rightscorp to compile an accurate list of accounts that downloaded copyrighted material on multiple occasions. TF contacted Rightscorp hoping to clarify some of the issues above, but we have yet to hear back from the company.
Even if Rightscorp does have an accurate list, it’s very unlikely that any of the larger ISPs will disconnect an account holder without solid evidence of repeated infringements over a longer time period. The Copyright Alerts System for example, allows for up to six warnings for downloads that are at least a week apart and even after the sixth warning there is no rule to close people’s accounts.
Perhaps the threat of having one’s Internet account terminated is not as real as Rightscorp wants alleged pirates to believe?