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.
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.
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