Judge Worries That Piracy Lawsuits Will Flood Courts

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The chief judge of an IP court in Finland has expressed concern that 'copyright-troll' piracy lawsuits will cause chaos if a law firm follows through with threats to sue hundreds of Internet users. Using the courts is the ultimate weapon to make alleged pirates settle but experts believe that copyright owners could have an uphill battle.

So-called ‘copyright-trolling’ is quite clearly big business as 2015 comes to a close. Often portrayed by content owners as a necessary evil designed to send a deterrent message to pirates, overall the practice is lucrative for the many companies involved.

The whole system relies on intimidating people into paying a ‘fine’ or settlement fee, often between a few hundred and a few thousand euros or dollars. The threat is to take cases to court if people don’t pay, alongside a clear suggestion that things will get more costly thereon in.

Over in Finland, Hedman Partners – a law firm acting on behalf of several movie, TV show and adult distributors – has been employing this exact tactic and after failing to get the desired number of pirates to pay, is now taking people to court.

Lawyer Joni Hatanmaa announced the first three cases against Finnish citizens last month and as previously promised, those people are now being told to expect big bills. However, according to the law firm things could get substantially worse.

Speaking with state-owned YLE, Hatanmaa now warns that his company is hoping to obtain the personal details of more than 10,000 alleged pirates in the coming year and if necessary will eventually take up to hundreds of cases to court.

The prospect of these kinds of copyright cases bogging down the legal system hasn’t been well received and already there a worries over where capacity to handle them will be found. Such cases are filed at the Market Court, a specialist venue hearing IP, competition and market law disputes, and its chief judge says a flood could prove problematic.

“If these cases become this plentiful, then how can we organize them with our existing resources? We already have an abundance of pending things here,” says Chief Judge Kimmo Mikkola.

While the Judge is right to express concern, history shows that in Europe there is less willingness to take cases to court than there is in the U.S., for example. Statutory damages in the United States mean that defendants could face bills of $150,000 for a single infringement if found guilty, an amount that serves to encourage early settlement.

In Europe the position is somewhat different, with alleged pirates more willing to take a chance on ignoring threatening letters while hoping the whole matter simply disappears. That does indeed happen in some cases, but precise and current numbers are impossible to come by. However, since ‘trolls’ keep coming back for more, the suggestion is that enough pay to keep the scheme going – and profitable.

In Finland it does appear that at least in limited numbers, Hedman Partners are prepared to take some cases to court to prove their point. However, some experts believe that it won’t be an easy ride.

Copyright specialist Herkko Hietanen of the Turre Legal law firm says that guilt will be difficult to prove since the court will require the copyright holder to show that the Internet account holder is the person liable for the infringement, since that’s who their claims are addressed to.

Judge Kimmo Mikkola agrees that identifying the precise infringer could be an issue.

“There is a problem of showing who has used the Internet connection. We can get clarity on these issues when we start to deal with them,” the Judge concludes.

That was certainly an issue for the Salminen family, who two years ago were accused of downloading and sharing thousands of songs. They’ve had an uphill struggle but have finally cleared their names after Mr Salminen, an IT expert, went all out to prove the case brought against them was false.

This week the family got the recognition they deserved when it was reported in local media that the anti-piracy group involved admitted that somewhere in the chain there had been an error and the wrong people had been accused.

“We had a lot of watertight, technical evidence backing us up that would be impossible for anyone other than someone in the IT field to gain access to,” Salminen said.

“If a letter like this would be delivered to a little old grandmother, how would she ever get this resolved?”

The truth is, people like this don’t have much of a chance. And trolls know it.

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