I have represented a number of defendants in cases involving claims that they illegally downloaded a movie, video, music, or software. The following outlines the process involved in these illegal downloading cases and what to do about them if you find yourself defending claims that you illegally downloaded copyrighted material.
Illegal Download Lawsuit Process
The following steps are the typical process for “John Doe” defendants in an illegal download case:
- You get an internet connection.
- You or someone with access to your internet connection downloads a movie, video, or music using torrent software (like BitTorrent, µTorrent, Xunlei, Vuze or BitComet), a web browser, or other internet downloading software (Kazaa, Bearshare, LimeWire, etc.).
- The company that owns the copyright to the illegally downloaded material (“copyright owner”) identifies your internet connection’s IP address either by (a) using torrent software to connect to your torrent software or (b) getting a list of IP addresses from the website you downloaded from by getting a court order for that website to release it’s IP log files.
- The copyright owner files a lawsuit in federal district court.
- The copyright owner gets a subpoena ordering your internet service provider (ISP) to provide your name and contact information based the IP logs. The IP logs connect the illegally downloaded material to an IP address, and your ISP can connect that IP address to you because it was assigned to your internet connection at the exact time of the illegal downloads.
- The copyright owner sends you a letter threatening legal action unless you pay a settlement amount (usually $2,500 to $4,500).
- You either (a) consult with an attorney, (b) ignore the threat and hope it goes away, (c) negotiate a lower settlement amount, or (d) pay the settlement amount demanded by the copyright owner.
- If you did not settle the claims, either you get sued or the copyright owner decides it is not worth suing you.
Illegal Movie Download Defense Tips
The following are a few practical tips to consider if you find yourself as a “John Doe” defendant in a lawsuit involving claims that you illegally downloaded a video, movie, or music:
- You can generally negotiate the settlement amount. You do not need to accept their first offer.
- Owners of copyrighted porn know that people are more likely to pay money to settle porn download lawsuits than other illegal download lawsuits simply to avoid the embarrassment of being listed in a federal lawsuit claiming you downloaded porn. This means downloading porn illegally is statistically more risky than downloading other copyrighted material.
- Fighting a subpoena that attempts to reveal your identity is a waste of money because you will reveal your identity by fighting it.
- The cost of fighting a case would far exceed the cost of every settlement I have negotiated.
Defenses Against Alleged Piracy
There are a number of legal defenses to consider, including these:
- The court where the lawsuit is located may have no jurisdiction over you.
- You should not be liable for the copyright infringement of another simply because that person used your internet connection to download illegal material without your knowledge or consent.
- In torrent or BitTorrent cases, you cannot be liable for unauthorized copying (copyright infringement) when the copyright holder made the copyrighted material available to you with torrent software.
Downloading without Seeding a Torrent
I was recently asked whether it is possible for a copyright owner to sue someone for distributing a movie when all he did was download it with torrent software. The answer is yes. The nature of torrents is that you are sharing parts of the file while you download even though you are not seeding it. Thus, they can sue you for sharing a movie even though you have not seeded it.
Speak With A Piracy Defense Attorney
If you’ve been accused of illegally “pirating” software, music, games or movies, the most important tip of all may be to get help from a copyright lawyer. An experienced internet copyright attorney.
- can analyze your particular circumstances, legal options, and legal defenses;
- understands copyright infringement law; and
- understands the technology and defenses in illegal movie download cases.
I am happy to represent clients in negotiating a settlement. Since these cases are federal copyright claims, the state where the case is brought does not typically matter for purposes of settlement. Typical settlement negotiations involve legal fees of $450 to $750 and a settlement amount is typically $2,000 to $2,500.
Companies Behind the Movie Download Cases
A couple companies have gained a reputation for being very aggressive in bringing legal action for illegal movie downloading and copyright infringement: Patrick Collins, Inc. and the US Copyright Group.
Patrick Collins, Inc.
Patrick Collins, Inc. is a pornography studio in Canoga Park, California. Patrick Collins, Inc. is also known as Elegant Angel Productions. The company was started by pornographic movie director Patrick Collins.
US Copyright Group
The US Copyright Group (UCSG) is operated by the Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver law firm. This firm also operates SaveCinema.org. US Copyright Group has brought copyright infringement suits against people for allegedly illegally downloading movies using torrent software.
Responding to an Attorney’s Cease and Desist Letter
If you have been sent a cease and desist letter or demand letter from an attorney regarding copyright infringement, you should contact an attorney to protect your legal rights. A letter from a lawyer likely means that there is at least some evidence that you violated the law (or someone with access to your internet connection). Failure to respond could result in serious legal consequences to you.
My name is Aaron Hall, I’m an attorney. Occasionally I get asked questions about copyright infringement. In fact, in the last few years I’ve had a lot of questions from people who have downloaded videos, often they’re pornographic, often they’re on torrent software, and they’ve received a letter, either from their ISP, which is their internet service provider, or from the copyright holder. Typically, the letter says either we’re going to release your information to the copyright holder if you don’t bring legal action or we, as the copyright holder, have obtained your information from the internet service provider and we’re aware that you’ve downloaded, or perhaps even made available for others to download, copyrighted information.
Now, what a lot of people who use torrent software don’t realize is while you’re downloading the video, your software is also making that video available for upload to others. The fact that you’re both downloading and uploading changes you from just a consumer to a distributor. If you think about drug laws, it’s a bigger deal to be a dealer of drugs than just a consumer of drugs. That’s kind of how the copyright holders look at it when they’re dealing with copyright infringement. If you’re actually making videos available, that’s a bigger deal. If you made money off it, that’s a bigger deal.
So what do you do about this? Typically, when I talk with a client, I want to find out a few things right away. Are you a celebrity? Do you have a prominent job? Do you have something where public shame would have an especially painful effect or expensive effect on your ability to bring in income? Second, are you an average middle class person, or somebody with substantial assets? These days the copyright holders are scanning the internet background databases, social media, to try to find people who have downloaded … Or, first, they have a list. They start out and they have a list of people who have downloaded illegally. They then scour all these databases and social media sites to find out if those people are on there and if there’s somebody who’s wealthy, prominent, or otherwise might be willing to pay out a large settlement, and then they target those.
First, are you somebody famous? Do you have significant assets? The other question of course too is did you actually do it? I need to find that out from my clients, because if you didn’t, we have some very strong defenses available. I one time had a grandma who didn’t know how to do anything more than her iPad and she didn’t have torrent software. She didn’t even know what it was and she certainly wasn’t downloading the videos that were at issue in this case. Now, did somebody else? Yeah, probably, using her internet service provider, using her internet connection. I don’t know if it was grandkids, I don’t know if it was friends or if it was neighbors or a hacker. The bottom line though is she didn’t do it and that’s a really strong defense.
We’re assessing what are the risk factors initially, and then typically I’ll talk with my clients about doing some sort of settlement. Now, I’ve seen settlements anywhere from $7,000 to about $1,200, and it really depends on the factors. It depends on the company and how aggressive they are. It depends on how often the downloading occurred. Did it occur multiple times? Are there hundreds of videos? Were you a distributor? All of these factors come into play when we’re trying to negotiate a settlement.
If you need help with this, and I do recommend you work with an attorney if you’re going to negotiate, I’d be happy to talk with you. We charge standard rates for that service and I can walk with you through what are the factors in your particular situation, what are the risks, and then start the negotiation process. All in, you’re typically looking at about two to $3,000 in legal fees. I’m sorry, not just legal fees, that would also include the settlement. But it gives you an idea on what you’re looking at as far as costs. Now, I have seen them go for less. I’ve also seen them go for lower, but that gives you at least a sense.
I’m Aaron Hall. For additional information. Feel free to click the link below.