While the MPAA does indeed take action against sites and services and does more than its fair share of aggressive lobbying, the group has never gone down the controversial route of suing the general public. There are others that do, but somehow they tend to escape most of the criticism.
One such oufit is Voltage Pictures, a production company with plenty of lesser-known titles under its belt but one with a penchant for taking legal action over the ones that break into the mainstream. Voltage drew widespread criticism for suing tens of thousands of BitTorrent users who downloaded their movie The Hurt Locker so it should come as no surprise that at the start of 2014 they are back again.
Dallas Buyers Club, a movie about a man who smuggled unapproved drugs into the United States to help fellow HIV patients, was released in the U.S. in November 2013. According to Box Office Mojo it has already brought in nearly $23 million, not bad for a relatively modest $5m budget. However, it appears that Voltage has plans to boost up revenues by suing file-sharers who downloaded a leaked DVD screener copy of the movie during January.
In a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of Texas and unearthed by THR, Voltage retreads familiar copyright-troll territory.
“Plaintiff brings this action to stop Defendants from copying and distributing to others over the Internet unauthorized copies of Plaintiff’s copyrighted movie,” the complaint reads.
“Each time a Defendant unlawfully distributes a free copy of Plaintiff’s copyrighted movie to others over the Internet, each person who copies the movie then distributes the unlawful copy to others without any significant degradation in sound and picture quality. Thus, a Defendant’s distribution of even one unlawful copy of a motion picture can result in the nearly instantaneous worldwide distribution of that single copy to a limitless number of people.”
In common with all similar suits Voltage has no idea who its targets are, having identified them only by their IP addresses. Following a discovery process involving their ISPs, however, Voltage predicts it will unmask the defendants and take them to trial by jury. That being said, if past history is anything to go by not a single defendant will see the inside of a court room. Cash settlements are the aim here.
Aside from the unusually high profile of the movie (most U.S. based trolls target fairly obscure adult movies) there is another interesting aspect to the case.
In a break from their usual tactic of suing tens of thousands of BitTorrent users, in this case Voltage are currently going after just 31. Of course, if they can extract a few thousand dollars from each defendant they can easily turn a fat profit on the exercise, but clearly that amount would be much more with a few hundred – or few thousand – defendants.
Time will tell what strategy Voltage intends to employ, but considering Dallas Buyers Club was one of the world’s most-downloaded movies in the closing days of January, this could be just the beginning.