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P2P Lawsuits Gone Wild

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Thousands of file sharers have been sued in recent months for downloading movies like The Hurt Locker and Avatar XXX. U.S. rights holders model these lawsuits after similar litigation in Germany, where P2P piracy has led to hundreds of thousands of cases in recent years. The goal of this type of persecution isn’t so much to stop piracy, but to profit from it — and new statistics from Germany show that the strategy could be working, with P2P litigation becoming a multimillion dollar business.

German rights holders continued their mass lawsuits against file sharers in 2010, ramping up the number of works tracked, as well as the number of users targeted, according to new data released by file sharing activists this week (German PDF). The data shows that rights holders took legal steps against the trading of 3,677 individual works on behalf of 285 separate rights holders. Rights holders were represented by 44 different law offices, but the top five law offices were responsible for close to half of all lawsuits.

The number of P2P lawsuits keeps going up.

How many lawsuits are we talking about? That’s where the data gets a little murky. German file sharing activists have been gathering knowledge about lawsuits against file sharers by tracking online forums and through voluntary reporting of some 4,000 sued file sharers. They also analyzed ISP log files and scoured public records for filed lawsuits. The resulting estimate? 575,800 lawsuits. That number may sound a little high, until you take into account that German public prosecutors have been complaining for years that they’re swamped by lawsuits against tens of thousand of users at a time.

The new statistics add another intriguing detail to these lawsuits that could also explain the numbers: Rights holders have apparently been filing multiple lawsuits for the same file. One example mentioned is the movie Time You Change (original title: Zeiten aendern dich). People who downloaded the movie via BitTorrent apparently not only got sued on behalf of the production company Constantin Film, but also on behalf of the German rapper Bushido, whose music was used for the soundtrack of the movie.

Another interesting nugget is that only 150 of these lawsuits resulted in full-blown court cases. Rights holders intentionally keep this number low, because litigating copyright infringement is a costly endeavor. In most cases, rights holders only initiate legal proceedings to get ISPs to reveal the identity of a file sharer, who can then expect a threatening letter, complete with an invoice. Pay up, the letter states, or expect us to go to court.

Invoices typically range anywhere from €300 to €1200 ($400 to $1600) per infringement. Activists estimate that around 40 percent of all file sharers follow these demands, which means that German rights holders could have made as much as €165 million in 2010 through these lawsuits.

Revenue like this must have led U.S.-based rights holders to attempts to start their own mass lawsuits against file sharers. Porn producer Alex Braun went after 7,000 people for downloading the movie Batman XXX: A Porn Parody last year, but a U.S. District Court ruled in December that the cases had been improperly joined. Braun has said that he’s nonetheless going to file new lawsuits. However, not everyone seems to be ready to embrace the German ways. Alison Vivas from the porn studio Pink Visual told us last week that her company won’t sue file sharers, despite having been approached by companies trying to assist her with mass lawsuits. “I don’t think we will engage in it,” she said.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Paul Sapiano.

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6 Responses to “P2P Lawsuits Gone Wild”

  1. I thought this was the other way round, a U.S. practice that has been exported to Germany? I seem to remember the RIAA even having set up their own website where you could “quickly and easily” pay your extortion money to the record labels by a simple credit card transaction. It was a site called “P2P Lawsuits” or something. A very cheap scare tactic, as the RIAA knew their cases would never hold up in a court for lack of evidence, but it’s apparently very easy for government-sanctioned conglomerates to extort “protection money” from citizens at will.

  2. I think you got lost in translation a bit.

    Re “Invoices typically range anywhere from €300 to €1200 ($400 to $1600) per infringement. Activists estimate that around 40 percent of all file sharers follow these demands, which means that German rights holders could have made as much as €165 million in 2010 through these lawsuits.”

    You are using info from pg.9 which lists the number of speculative invoices sent out – the amount claimed, and the €165 is 40 percent of that. Therefore you should say “as much as €165 million in 2010 through these speculative invoices” not law suits. The report you link to does not say in how much damages or cost the 150 lawsuits have resulted.

    Re: “The resulting estimate? 575,800 lawsuits.” again, you are using info from pg.9, and the 575,800 figure relates to the number of speculative invoices sent out, of which 40 percent were paid. “The resulting estimate? 575,800 speculative invoices.”

    In case of a court action for copyright infringement the judgements would a) be public (ie can be researched) and b) unlikely to lead to big payouts.

    In a recent case in Germany, where damages are not punitive and mean to reflect the actual damage cause by the infringement, a 16 year old was ordered to pay €30 in damages, for uploading two songs on a peer-to-peer network. The case was brought in 2006 and the judgement made in 2010 – indicating that such court actions not only don’t result in massive amounts of damages, but also take a long time. No idea what legal costs were awarded, but that would not be a profit to the copyright owners, because it goes to the lawyers. The judgement can be found here – and an English summary can be found here –

    Having said all that – it makes sense that Germany has such a high number of speculative invoicing, all of the companies collecting IP addresses for ACS Law appear to have been based in Germany. They are usually small one man band start ups. Which means that as in the UK, many of the speculative invoices will be based on dodgy evidence, with a high margin of error.

  3. Shyster-buster

    Threatening letters and invoices are shots in the dark, fishing expeditions. If I were a targeted file sharer who got such a letter, the response for me would be quite simple. A nice “thank you” and the following would suffice—A promise to pay upon presentation of a signed and sworn claim of injury and naming of the offender by name. Thus we remove all controversy and no controversy = no court jurisdiction (there’s no argument for any judge to hear). Those 40% who pay up could have a little fun if they think they’ll have to pay up eventually. They may get a surprise as they become harder targets. Even if the plaintiff could claim injury, they must produce the offender and they have to prove which person of the household committed the alleged damage (i.e keep your f-in mouth shut!). These law firms are as slimy as debt collector law firms which are just as easy to chase off. You discuss any merit, you enter into presumption of contract. Pay up they can swear, under penalty of perjury, ( See Matthew 5:25 for more ancient guidance), that you’re the cause of injury. THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. NO DEFENSE LAWYER WOULD ACTUALLY ADVISE THIS AS THIS WOULD ROB THEM OF INCOME.

  4. I can’t believe the law lets itself get abused for “pay up or else schemes” like that. And have they learned nothing from the ACS-LAW scandal? Where 5000 names of people, their ip’s, credit card numbers, home address and connected pornographic titles were uploaded to a public web folder by accident. And these were not mild titles, including Grannyxxx ect. A complete privacy fiasco! These firms are not privacy experts nor respected businesses. They are sharks with little to no respect for the end user.