Turns out it is possible to make money from having your products pirated. You put them out there yourself, and then sue anyone who takes them.
This is what, allegedly, is happening between a U.S. pornographer, a German anti-piracy organisation, and a firm of UK lawyers. Here’s how the scam—allegedly—works. The pornographer cuts a deal with the anti-piracy group to distribute about 300 of its movies. The anti-piracy group uploads them to peer to peer networks like e-Donkey, KaZaa, BitTorrent, etc.
People download them. Then the lawyers come in. They go to the ISP and demand names and addresses of downloaders. Then they send them nasty letters demanding £500 for “copyright infringement” or, else the likelihood of facing a high court action. Most pay up. Many have no idea what they’re talking about.
How do we know all this? Well, there’s a great piece on it by TorrentFreak, who explains it in some detail. The screenshot above is taken from what purports to be a contract [PDF] between the pornographer, John Stagliano, and the German anti-piracy group, DigiProtect. The document states clearly:
To achieve the purpose outlined in clause 1, LICENSOR grants DIGIPROTECT the exclusive right to make the movies listed in Appendix 1 worldwide available to the public via remote computer networks, so-called peer-2-peer and internet file sharing networks such as e-Donkey, Kazaa, Bitorrent, etc. for the duration of this agreement.
DigiProtect then sought and obtained a court order demanding that UK ISPs reveal
the name and postal address (“personal data”) of the registered subscriber or subscribers to each of the Respondents’ internet account or accounts that were assigned to the internet protocol address listed in Schedule 1 hereto, on the dates and times shown therein and which relate to the Respondents.
The rest—that the lawyers have been hired to essentially blackmail perceived downloaders–seems to be based on assumption. Techdirt has a good account here, and concludes:
In other words, it’s quite clear that this has nothing to do with preventing content from getting on file sharing networks. Instead, they’re specifically putting it there themselves, apparently hoping to get it as widespread as possible, in order to send out the threat letters more widely, so they can collect on the “settlements” from people scared that they’re about to get sued. It’s hard to see how that’s not a massive abuse of copyright law.
Interestingly, the Guardian piece linked to above, which indicates the extent of the lawyers’ blitz, does not refer to the involvement of the copyright holder (the pornographer) or the suspicious looking contract. This is odd, since the article—the most recent on the topic, posted on Saturday—does refer to a Southampton-based law firm, Lawdit, which is charging clients £50 to fight the demands.
Neither does Lawdit refer to the leaked document in its own advice on the matter, made public on November 19. The lawyer involved is Michael Coyle, who has offered free legal representation in the past on a somewhat similar case.
The lawyers’ firm involved on behalf of DigiProtect is none other than Davenport Lyons, which has something of a reputation in this field.
Needless to say, knowing the IP address doesn’t indicate that the person in whose name it’s held is going to be the one downloading the file in question. Indeed, if there’s any illegality involved, it’s very unlikely someone would use their own Internet connection to do so. More likely they’d use a public connection or piggyback an unsecured WiFI connection.
The lesson: Secure your WiFi network. And don’t pay up if you got one of these letters and you didn’t do anything. If you did, find a lawyer who’s keen to pursue the possibility that this is not a simple case of an aggrieved copyright holder trying to recover its due, but someone who intentionally seeded P2P networks with its content in order to make a killing.