Through various programs, such as the “six strikes” scheme in the United States and the fledgling Canadian program launched earlier this year, warning notices are delivered to BitTorrent users suspected of distributing content online.
While most are relatively benign, other warning notices come with a price tag attached. The most common are sent by anti-piracy outfit Rightscorp which routinely adds $20 settlement demands to ISP-delivered infringement notices.
The key with these notices is that Rightscorp and its clients don’t know the identities of the people they’re targeting so in the vast majority of cases these cash demands can be ignored. However, it now transpires that’s not always the best strategy.
In a lawsuit filed at the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, Rightscorp client Rotten Records is suing a Comcast user who allegedly downloaded and shared When the Kite String Pops, the 1994 debut album from sludge metal band Acid Bath.
In a second filed at the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Rotten Records is suing another Comcast user who allegedly downloaded and shared Definition, the sixth album from crossover thrash band D.R.I.
According to both lawsuits, Rotten Records hired Rightscorp to monitor BitTorrent networks for infringement. The company connected to the defendants’ BitTorrent clients and downloaded a full copy of each of the albums, later verifying that they were identical to the original copyright works.
Distancing themselves from any accusations of wrongdoing, the lawsuits state that neither Rotten Records nor Rightscorp were the original ‘seeders’ of the album and at no point did Rightscorp upload the albums to any other BitTorrent users. However, the company did send warnings to the Comcast users with demands for them to stop sharing the album.
“Rightscorp sent Defendant 11 notices via Defendant’s ISP Comcast Cable
Communications, Inc. from March 26, 2015 to April 4, 2015 demanding that Defendant stop illegally distributing Plaintiff’s work. Defendant ignored each and every notice and continued to illegally distribute Plaintiff’s work,” the Acid Bath lawsuit reads.
While eleven notices is significant, that number pales into insignificance when compared to the D.R.I case.
“Rightscorp sent Defendant 288 notices via their ISP Comcast Cable Communications, Inc. from December 14, 2014 to May 12, 2015 demanding that Defendant stop illegally distributing Plaintiff’s work. Defendant ignored each and every notice and continued to illegally distribute Plaintiff’s work,” the complaint reads.
In closing, Rotten Records demands an injunction forbidding further online infringement in both cases in addition to the deletion of both albums from each Comcast user’s computer.
Unsurprisingly the record label also wants statutory damages (potentially $150K per work if any infringement is deemed willful) plus attorneys’ fees.
The cases are interesting ones for a number of reasons, not least the decision to target Comcast customers. The ISP routinely strips settlement demands from notices sent by Rightscorp, so it’s possible a message is being sent here.
The other angle is money. Sure, Rotten Records can probably come away with a few thousand dollars by way of settlement, but for Rightscorp the cases could prove much more valuable.
Despite warning that not settling for $20 could have a much worse outcome for an alleged pirate, it’s become relatively common knowledge that the company hardly ever shows its teeth. Victory in a case like this could be just what it needs to force settlements from greater numbers of notice recipients.
Keep an eye out for forthcoming (and noisily high-value) settlement announcements. They could make $20 sound like a bargain and boost Rightscorp’s failing bottom line.