For those that have been hiding under stone recently, here’s a summary. In a break from going after alleged games pirates, and what is being viewed by some as a cynical ploy to force ‘settlement by embarrassment’, UK lawyers Davenport Lyons have started targeting people its client DigiProtect says have been pirating their porn on file-sharing networks. DigiProtect’s company slogan is: “Turning Piracy Into Profit”. There can be little doubt that they are trying to do just that.
When we broke the news on 18 November we noted that things would be very different this time, particularly when the frailties of the evidence gathering were exposed by the wrongful accusation of innocent parties.
It didn’t take long. On 29 November The Guardian reported that a couple in their sixties were horrified that they had been wrongfully accused of illegally sharing the gay porn movie Army Fuckers.
Many people have commented on these developments, and now it’s the turn of a sex writer. Placed by Forbes in their Web Celeb 25 and named by Wired in their Faces of Innovation 2008, Violet Blue is, amongst seemingly a million other things, sex columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and a best seling author. She also lectures cyber-law classes at UC Berkeley and is a Geek Entertainment TV reporter.
Writing in her blog, Violet Blue headlines her article “The New Face of Porn Racketeering?” Pointing out that this isn’t just any old porn, but “a Nazi gay male hardcore flick”, she goes on:
It’s sort of like if someone came up to you on the street and said, ‘hey I think you slandered me in a way that could be really embarrassing to you if anyone found out — but if you give me a couple hundred bucks, I won’t take you to court [where you’d lose even more money].’
Having enjoyed the work of writer Roald Dahl in both written and TV form (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and the genius of Tales of the Unexpected), Violet’s description of how she sees this operation reminded me again of something i’d mused upon earlier.
In 1987, Playboy published a short story by Dahl, entitled The Bookseller. The story features a gentleman called William Buggage who ran a rare book shop in London with his secretary Miss Tottle. Their business model was a little unconventional. Every day the pair read the newspaper obituaries looking for the deaths of married men who had left a wife behind. Armed with this information, they would send invoices to the grieving widows demanding payment for books their husbands had supposedly ordered. The books contained European hardcore pornography and ‘sexual deviance’. Rather than face the ruination and humiliation of being named in court or the press, the widows would quietly pay up.
Those familiar with Dahl’s work will know that this master story teller is famous for the ‘twists’ revealed at the end of his stories, and The Bookseller is no different. In the end, Mr Buggage and Miss Tottle were found out when they tried to get money from a widow who revealed that her husband – far from quietly titillating himself with porn – was in fact, blind.
While most people acknowledge that Davenport Lyons have made some pretty big mistakes, no-one is suggesting that they or their clients simply make things up. However, for every set of allegations they get right (around 50% admit infringement and pay up), they absolutely get some wrong. They wouldn’t have expected that their allegations of sharing Atari’s Race 07 would’ve landed on the mat of a pair of pensioners and we will see if they choose to withdraw the allegations that the other pair of pensioners shared Army Fuckers. At the moment they find themselves in the position of the blind man – in receipt of a sordid accusation against them and absolutely no way of defending themselves.
In a statement to The Guardian, Davenport Lyons said: “We allow ample opportunity for the recipient to respond, and if they have done nothing wrong they have no reason to be concerned.”
The truth is much less straightforward. No matter how people defend themselves in the face of these allegations, Davenport Lyons continually argue that they are right, and the accused is wrong. When I pointed out the Dahl story to someone involved in the cases, this was the reply, which is an adaptation of a real response to those who try to plead their innocence:
It’s a shame for Mr. Buggage and Miss Tottle they didn’t have the knowledge and expertise of messrs Davenport Lyons. They could have easily argued in that case that “it is irrelevant for the purposes of our clients evidence how the European books of pornography and sexual deviance (“the Work”) came to be acquired in your blind late husband’s name. What our client’s evidence shows is that the Work was made available from an Internet connection registered in your late blind husband’s name on a certain date and time”
But while there are certain similarities with Dahl’s story, one point appears entirely mirrored. While the widows in The Bookseller pay up to avoid appearing in the press, those wrongfully accused by Davenport Lyons are going to the press for protection. Those that don’t have age on their side don’t find the going quite so easy.