Over the past several years hundreds of thousands of Internet subscribers have been sued in the United States for allegedly sharing copyrighted material, mostly films, online.
This year the people behind the Oscar-winning movie Dallas Buyers Club joined the game. Thus far the filmmakers have filed 66 lawsuits across the United States, targeting more than a thousand alleged downloaders.
In common with all other mass-BitTorrent lawsuits the end game is not a full trial, but the revelation of the alleged downloaders’ identities so they can be encouraged to settle. To accomplish this the movie studio asks courts to grant subpoenas ordering associated ISPs to give up their customers’ details.
Several courts have complied and recently the first settlement letters arrived in the mailboxes of account holders whose Internet connections were used to share the film.
Interestingly, not all alleged downloaders are treated the same. A settlement letter sent to a Texan Internet subscriber offers a complete settlement for $3,500, while an Ohioan in the same position was asked to pay $5,000.
The second offer was also presented in a more intimidating form, with a threat to raise the amount to $7,000 if the recipient doesn’t pay in time.
While $5,000 may sound high for sharing a single movie, the letter says that this is a reasonable request and that various courts have issued much higher damages awards in the past.
“Considering the large expense it incurs to enforce its rights, and further that some cases have awarded as much as $22,500 per infringed work, Dallas Buyers Club, LLC feels that asking for Five Thousand Dollars ($5000.00) to settle is very reasonable,” the letter reads.
One of the most often heard comments is that the person who pays for Internet access is not necessarily the infringer in these cases. The movie studio realizes this, but adds that this person is indeed responsible, an argument various courts have refuted in the past.
“Dallas Buyers Club, LLC has absolutely no interest or desire in making an innocent person pay; but it does have clear evidence to establish that your internet account was used to copy and distribute the file. Therefore, if it was not you, then it was someone that (sic) you gave the right to use your account,” the letter reads.
Dallas Buyers Club, LLC does offer letter recipients a chance to move out of the firing line if they reveal in a sworn affidavit who the real pirate is, but it’s unlikely that many subscribers will take up this offer.
Finally, the filmmakers address the “copyright troll” label handed to them by some news outlets. The company states that this label doesn’t apply, as they haven’t bought the copyrights just to sue alleged downloaders.
“No. We are not what many refer to as ‘copyright trolls’,” the letter explains, adding that their right to protect their copyrights are ignored and belittled by some Internet critics.
“Many internet blogs commenting on this and related cases ignore the rights of copyright owners to sue for infringement, and inappropriately belittle efforts of copyright owners to seek injunctions and damages,” they write.
These efforts to distance themselves from the troll label and critics seems a bit misplaced. Based on a very narrow definition of copyright troll they may have a point. But as DTD points out, by addressing the issue in their letter they only direct people to look into the phenomenon, which in settlement terms may result in the opposite of what they want to achieve.
Nevertheless, a large percentage of the people who receive a settlement letter are expected to pay up. With over a thousand defendants thus far the potential income from these lawsuits runs into the millions of dollars.
And as the dollars continue to roll in, it will be rinse and repeat for as long as the copyright protection efforts are profitable.