Over the past year, a group of independent movie companies filed a series of lawsuits against VPN providers.
The makers of films such as “I Feel Pretty” and “Dallas Buyers Club” accuse these services of turning a blind eye to piracy or actively promoting it.
Several of these lawsuits have ended in settlements, where some VPNs services agreed to block notorious pirate sites or BitTorrent traffic on US-based servers. Needless to say, these cases can have a severe impact on the companies involved.
Movie Companies Sue VeePN
In a new complaint filed at a Virginia federal court, several movie companies including Voltage Holdings and Screen Media Ventures, identify VPN provider VeePN as their next target. According to the filmmakers, VeePN is actively promoting piracy, using it as a PR opportunity.
While not all VPN services are bad apples, VeePN is allegedly using pirates’ fear of getting caught as a marketing strategy.
“[S]ome unscrupulous VPN providers have taken advantage of this widely known risk by promoting their VPN services as essential tools for piracy. These VPN providers emphasize in advertisements that they delete their end users’ log access records so their identities will never be disclosed to copyright owners or law enforcement.
“Emboldened by these promises that their identities will never be disclosed, end users use the VPN services to engage in widespread movie piracy while openly boasting of their piracy and outrageous criminal conduct such as illegal hacking and theft,” the filmmakers add.
In addition to filmmakers, the Hawaiian company 42 Ventures is also listed among the plaintiffs. This company is operated by anti-piracy attorney Kerry Culpepper and owns the trademarks for “Popcorn Time”, “YTS” and “RARBG”, which VeePN allegedly misused as well.
‘Popcorn Time VPN’
The complaint sums up a long list of accusations. It also reveals that the company wasn’t targeted by coincidence, it appears to be triggered by another lawsuit; the one against VPN.ht which promoted itself as the Popcorn Time VPN.
Last year, VPN.ht distanced itself from the popular piracy app after running into legal issues. Soon after, VeePN started to promote itself in relation to the Popcorn Time brand, the lawsuit alleges.
“Barely 3 months after VPN.HT terminated its involvement with Popcorn Time, VeePN begin promoting itself as ‘Popcorn Time VPN’ and operating under a similar profitable scheme to take advantage of prolific pirates’ fear of getting caught.”
The complaint lists various examples including a blog post on the VeePN website where it recommends using a VPN in combination with Popcorn Time to stay out of trouble.
“Downloading and sharing files via torrent is a violation of copyright law. It means that you may be punished by law. That’s why you need a Popcorn Time VPN. This way, you hide your IP address and decrease the risks of getting into danger.”
‘Advertising on YTS.mx’
The issues don’t stop there, VeePN is also accused of actively advertising its services on YTS.mx, the most popular torrent site on the internet.
“VeePN takes it a step further and even promotes its VPN service on the notorious piracy website YTS as an essential tool to download copies of Plaintiffs’ movies without ‘…get[ting] fined by legal action!’,” the plaintiffs write.
The complaint notes that VeePN entered into an affiliate agreement with YTS, which promotes the VPN and gets paid for every referral. VeePN benefits from this partnership by getting more users on board.
Whether VeePN actively sought out YTS as a partner isn’t immediately clear from the provided evidence. Nonetheless, the plaintiffs are convinced that the company is actively targeting pirates and profiting from them.
To curb the pirating activity of VeePN’s users the movie companies sent hundreds or thousands of DMCA notices to its hosting company DataCamp. However, that did little to stop the infringing activity.
Millions in Copyright and Trademark Damages
In addition to the various copyright infringement allegations, VeePN is also accused of DMCA violations and trademark infringement. The latter are lodged by 42 Ventures, which argues that VeePN used its YTS, RARBG, and Popcorn Time trademarks without permission.
“VeePN has advertised and offered its goods and services for sale using 42’s trademarks with the intention of misleading, deceiving or confusing consumers as to the origin of its goods and of trading on Plaintiff 42’s reputation and goodwill,” the complaint reads.
In addition to stopping the infringing activity, the plaintiffs also demand compensation. In total, the rightsholders request $6 million in trademark damages and $3.9 million in copyright damages, bringing the total to nearly $10 million.
A copy of the complaint, filed at the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, is available here (pdf)