In March the U.S. Copyright Group imported the mass litigation “pay up or else” scheme to the United States. The initial targets were relatively unknown indie films, but this changed when the makers of the Oscar-winning Hurt Locker joined the lucrative scheme.
Before the actions of the USCG were closely followed by the mainstream media, the lawyers involved had set up an informative website for potential clients where they explained how they could turn piracy into profit. In several videos the group’s frontman Thomas Dunlap explained how easy it is to squeeze money out of BitTorrent users.
One fact that they revealed was that the copyright holders have to give up 70% of the revenue from settlements to the USCG, but their videos contained more insights into the dealings of the group. For unknown reasons the videos were all taken out of public sight, but they missed one.
As mentioned briefly in an earlier report, Thomas Dunlap claims that they are already following 300 films, and that was before the news about Hurt locker became public. If each of these films actually results in a lawsuit to reveal the identities of alleged downloaders the number of targeted BitTorrent users will explode.
With ‘just’ 500 tracked file-sharers per film there are already 150,000 potential targets at risk of receiving a settlement letter. It’s unlikely that the individuals will be taken to court of course, but if they are revealed they will receive a ‘speculative invoice’ in the form of a $1,500 to $2,500 settlement offer.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to view this scheme as an abuse of the legal system. Although the group has managed to get a court verdict in their favor for some titles, Judge Collyer of the District of Columbia has asked the USCG to detail why the lawsuits she reviews target hundreds or thousands of defendants and not just one.
It’s worth nothing though, that even without going through the courts this settlement scheme can still be executed successfully.
The USCG can always go the way of shady outfits such as Nexicon and send the settlement offers directly to the ISPs, asking them to forward them to their users. Several ISPs have already cooperated with this more direct scheme which successfully bypasses the courts.
With millions of dollars at stake we have no doubt that the USCG will do all it can to rake in as much money as possible, the courts are just a formality to make the scheme look more legitimate and to encourage a higher rate of settlement.