A number of German Internet users have received letters from a local law office in recent weeks, threatening them with copyright infringement lawsuits for allegedly distributing the science fiction movie Iron Sky via file sharing networks. There was only one way not to get sued, the letter informed them: Sign a cease-and-desist notice and pay € 800 (about $1012).
These kinds of costly cease-and-desist campaings against file sharers aren’t uncommon in Germany; hundreds of thousands of Internet users have been targeted by music labels, porn studios and others with similar demands in recent years, netting rights holders millions. Unusual about this case is that Iron Sky is a crowdsourced and crowd-financed movie, produced by people who made names for themselves with Creative Commons-licensed content that could be freely downloaded and reshared.
Iron Sky is a science fiction comedy, depicting a world in which the Nazis fled to the moon at the end of World War 2. It’s director Timo Vuorensola and its visual effects producer Samuli Torssonen previously rose to fame when they released the Star Trek parody Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning in 2005. That movie was offered for free online and clocked three million downloads within three months. The filmmakers have also in the past lambasted old media for their take on piracy. In a blog post from 2009, Vuorensola wrote: “Piracy in its current, most common form – the digital download – is not a crime.”
His current German distributor, Polyband, seems to disagree. The company has hired local law office Sasse & Partners, which has in the past sent out similar letters on behalf of German record companies, according to a local law blogger.
Iron Sky has been heavily relying on crowdsourcing for animation, modeling and other parts of the movie making process, and €1 million of the movie’s €7.5 million budget have been contributed by fans. However, the film makers are relying on traditional distributors to actually get the movie in the theaters, and that apparently has resulted in a number of problems.
Iron Sky’s British distributor initially intended to only show the movie in theaters for a single day and then immediately take it to DVD. This strategy was opposed by the film makers themselves, who wrote on their blog: “What they are doing is basically stabbing us in the back.” The duo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit threats in Germany, but one can imagine that they’re not too happy about threatening their fans with lawsuits either.