Movie Company Exposes 150 Alleged BitTorrent Pirates Using DMCA Shortcut

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Movie production company Capstone Studios has obtained a DMCA subpoena that requires Internet provider CenturyLink to identify 150 alleged BitTorrent pirates. The targeted IP-addresses are suspected of sharing a copy of the movie "Fall". While the DMCA shortcut is not undisputed, it appears to be rather effective, at least for now.

pirate-flagTracking BitTorrent pirates isn’t all that hard since IP addresses are broadcasted publicly. With help from Internet providers, these addresses can then be linked to an account holder.

ISPs don’t hand over this data voluntarily; they typically require a subpoena or court order to take action.

In the United States, these subpoenas are typically obtained by filing a copyright complaint in federal court against a “John Doe” who’s known only by an IP address. Most of these cases are filed against a single person, which makes it a relatively expensive process.

The filing fee for these cases is over $400 and there are no guarantees the money will be recouped. Some rightsholders believe that this cost of admission is money well spent, but others are prepared to test alternative routes.

Capstone Studios Targets 150 IP-addresses

Movie production company Capstone Studios is one of those rightsholders. The company decided to take action when it noticed that its survival thriller film “Fall“, which it co-produced with BuzzFeed, was widely pirated through various torrent sites.

To stop these infringements, Capstone sent takedown notices to Internet providers whose customers’ IP-addresses showed up in the public swarms. These warning notices, sent through the Cyprus-based company PML Process Management, were meant to be forwarded to the linked subscriber accounts.

“We respectfully ask that you stop infringing and redistributing Capstone Studios Corp. copyright protected content, and take the proper steps to secure your Internet so that others do not infringe and redistribute our content as well,” they read.

fall notice

The enforcement effort didn’t end there. A few days ago, Capstone requested a so-called DMCA subpoena at a federal court in Colorado. The request targets 150 IP-addresses that are linked to allegedly ‘infringing’ Centurylink accounts.

Clerk Signs Off

These types of subpoenas don’t require a court hearing and are typically signed off by a clerk. That’s also the case here. Within a matter of days, Capstone’s request was granted, which means that Internet provider Centurylink, also known as Lumen, must provide the subscribers’ details.

The list of IP addresses reveals that the targeted subscribers are not limited to Colorado. They are spread all over the U.S., including Chicago, Denver, Miami, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

ip addresses

The above shows that, with a relatively simple request, the movie production company can identify 150 alleged pirates. It wouldn’t be a major surprise if these people are approached with a settlement offer in the near future.

The legal paperwork doesn’t mention any concrete plans and merely states that the personal details “will be used only for the purpose of protecting the rights granted to the copyright owner.”

Undisputed Shortcut?

To a layperson unfamiliar with the history of DMCA subpoenas, this may sound like a logical process, and much cheaper than filing a federal case. While the latter is true, the practice of identifying large groups of alleged BitTorrent pirates this way isn’t undisputed.

Two decades ago the RIAA used a similar tactic to go after large groups of file-sharers. The music group opted to file DMCA subpoenas to save costs but met resistance from ISPs.

At the time, Internet providers argued that DMCA subpoenas are only valid when an Internet service stores or links to the infringing content, not when they merely pass on traffic. Various courts have agreed with this line of reasoning and the practice was essentially banned in the early 2000s.

If copyright holders wanted to identify alleged pirates, they would have to file a complaint at the federal court and request a regular subpoena there instead, as many have done since.

Capstone Studios’ legal representative Kerry Culpepper is aware of the judicial history but argues in the application that the Tenth Circuit Appeals Court, which Colorado falls under, has never ruled on the ‘mere conduit’ issue in a case like this. Hence, it’s an open question.

Additionally, the attorney argues that more recent decisions suggest that DMCA subpoenas may apply in these instances. For example, in repeat infringer cases against ISPs such as Cox and Grande, courts have concluded that DMCA notices are valid and apply to conduit providers.

More Common?

Whether this line of reasoning applies to DMCA subpoenas is something that has to be tested in court, but Centurylink doesn’t appear to be protesting thus far.

lumen subpoena

While the use of DMCA subpoenas against pirating subscribers is relatively rare, Culpepper has managed to obtain several over the past years. The ones we’ve seen are all directed at Centurylink and target an increasing number of IP addresses.

The first request last year targeted 13 alleged pirates, increasing to 40 subscribers a few weeks later. Late last year another DMCA subpoena listed 63 subscribers, while the latest request relates to 150 IP addresses.

What the rightsholders did with the information obtained through these earlier subpoenas is unknown. After the court signs off on them, all follow-up activity takes place behind closed doors.

A copy of the DMCA subpoena request is available here (pdf) and the signed subpoena can be found here (pdf).


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