After being honored with an Oscar for Best Motion Picture last year, the makers of The Hurt Locker went on to secure the award for the biggest file-sharing lawsuit a few months ago.
By targeting at least 24,583 alleged BitTorrent users, Voltage Pictures hoped to recoup millions of dollars in settlements to compensate the studio for piracy-related losses. And so it happened.
After former RIAA-lobbyist Judge Beryl Howell signed off on the subpoenas, the suspected infringers were asked to pay thousands of dollars to settle their case, or else.
As the case dragged on, the major roadblock for Voltage Pictures turned out to be the Internet providers, who were often only releasing the personal details of a few dozen defendants each month. As a result, the Hurt Locker makers had to file extension after extension to keep the case alive. Judge Howell eventually ran out of patience and decided not to grant a new extension this month, thereby closing the case.
Although this appears to be good news for the tens of thousands of defendants, a range of questionable actions from Voltage Picture’s law firm Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver suggests that they might be in for a surprise.
Over the past months TorrentFreak talked to several defendants who were notified by their Internet providers that Voltage Pictures had sent a subpoena to reveal their personal details. By itself this is nothing new, were it not for the fact that these people’s IP-addresses were among the thousands that were dismissed from the case weeks earlier.
It turns out that after removing IP-addresses from the complaint, the lawyers were asking the ISPs for identifying information of the account holders anyway. Initially we thought that this must have been an isolated incident, but after contacting some lawyers we heard that it was most certainly not.
Speaking to TorrentFreak, BitTorrent defense lawyer Robert Cashman described the actions as unethical and sanctionable, and told us that the Judge would probably not allow this to happen if she knew what was going on.
“I am having this same issue with a potential client,” Cashman said. “As far as I know they cannot have the names from the ISP as the IP-addresses no longer belong to putative defendants,” he said. “A number of in-house attorneys at one of the ISPs are looking into the issue now to determine whether or not to comply with the request.”
From the people we talked to thus far we heard that at least some ISPs have complied, probably because the ISPs nor the defendants knew that the IP-addresses were no longer listed as defendants. Questionable behavior to say the least, but it gets worse, much worse.
BitTorrent defense lawyer Blair Chintella informed us that aside from going after dismissed defendants, the lawyers are also targeting people who’ve never been listed as a defendant in the first place. In a separate article Chintella provides additional background on the issue, where he believes Voltage Picture’s lawyers are out-of-order.
“Recently I’ve been contacted by one or more people whose alleged IP addresses aren’t listed in the court records,” Chintella says. “This appears to be not only an ethical violation but a legal issue giving rise to one or more claim under state or federal law.”
So it appears that the lawyers were using the court subpoenas to get the personal details of people whose IP-addresses were never listed in any complaint. Although it’s not clear how many times this has occurred, it’s possible that the lawyers went after thousands more people than they told the court.
To get their take on the situation, TorrentFreak contacted law firm Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver, but received no response.
While it’s clear that the practices outlined here warrant further investigation, it is doubtful that they will be looked into as the case is now officially closed. People who have recently received a settlement letter should remain vigilant though, as the Hurt locker makers may start to file individual lawsuits.
Meanwhile, the number of people sued in the US for alleged BitTorrent downloads has surpassed 250,000, and new mass-lawsuits are added every week.