There are many ways copyright holders approach today’s “online piracy problem.”
Some prefer to do it through innovation, while others prefer educational messages, warnings or even lawsuits. Another group is aiming to generate revenue by obtaining lots of small cash settlements.
Rightscorp and CEG TEK have chosen the latter model. Their emails are sent as regular DMCA notices which many ISPs then forward to their customers, often with a settlement demand included.
Both companies send millions of warnings to U.S. Internet providers every year, but how these are handled varies per ISP. Some, including Charter, forward the entire notice, while others such as Comcast strip out the settlement details.
To find out more about the legality of these notices, and the options Internet providers and subscribers have, TorrentFreak sat down with Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) staff attorney Mitch Stoltz.
According to Stoltz, Internet providers should carefully review what they’re forwarding to their users. Under U.S. law they are not required to forward DMCA notices and stripping out settlement demands is in the best interest of the consumer.
“In the U.S., ISPs don’t have any legal obligation to forward infringement notices in their entirety. An ISP that cares about protecting its customers from abuse should strip out demands for money before forwarding infringement notices. Many do this,” he says.
“An ISP can also choose not to forward notices at all if they are deficient, misleading, or inaccurate,” Stoltz adds.
The notices these companies send are designed to threaten and pressure the recipient, who is often not the person who downloaded the allegedly infringing material.
“The problem with notices demanding money from ISP subscribers is that they’re often misleading,” Stoltz notes.
“They often give the impression that the person whose name is on the ISP bill is legally responsible for all infringement that might happen on the Internet connection, which is simply not true.”
Some of the notices mention disastrous consequences, such as excessively large jury verdicts against file sharers who previously had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.
However, they forget to mention that these type of piracy cases almost never go to court. Similarly, ISPs rarely disconnect casual copyright infringers.
“Rightscorp, for one, has never sued an accused file sharer. Having an ISP forward a demand for money also makes it seem like the ISP will cut off the subscriber if they don’t pay, which is also not true– most ISPs don’t ban customers just because a penny-stock outfit in Santa Monica asks them to,” Stoltz says.
As a result of the threatening language many subscribers fear that they might be made bankrupt. The reality, however, is that nothing usually happens if they opt to ignore the threats.
Stoltz advises people who receive a notice not to reach out to the sender. Instead, they should carefully consider their options and consult a lawyer if needed.
“Circumstances vary, and it’s always a good idea to talk to a lawyer about your specific situation. Be cautious about communicating with any company or lawyer that accuses you of copyright infringement – they will use anything you say against you. Stop, think, and read carefully before you decide to send money or information.”
In theory ISPs do have the right to disconnect an account after a subscriber receives multiple notices, but this is relatively rare. The same is true for lawsuits. As far as we know neither Rightscorp nor CEG TEK have taken a file-sharer to court.
“They would rather scare a hundred people into paying $20 than spend thousands on a lawsuit against one person,” Stoltz says.
The problem remains that even a minuscule chance of getting in trouble is enough for some to pay up. Some people just want the whole thing to go away, that’s what the settlement model is based on.
The only way to make this threat disappear is for Internet providers to either strip the settlement demands, or simply toss all notices in the trash.