By Drew Wilson
The lawsuit campaign against individual file-sharers is probably one of the older online anti-piracy efforts record labels and movie studios have used. While the anti-piracy efforts employed today are more complex, there are still plenty of file-sharing lawsuits going around. That is where TorrentLitigation comes into the picture. It’s a website not only devoted to shedding light on file-sharing lawsuits, but also aims to support those on the receiving end of a legal notice and asking for help.
Whenever the subject of file-sharing lawsuits come up in discussion, there tends to be a strong reaction to the litigation tactics employed by different rightsholders with respect to the sharing of copyrighted material online. One might react with opposition to these lawsuits, saying something like the litigation tactics has been damaging between rightsholders and customers generally. Another reaction might be strong support for the lawsuits because one feels that it’s one of the few things rightsholders can do to protect their intellectual property. A third reaction could be of confusion because the subject in question employs two very complex and different subjects – those being copyright law and technology. Putting it all into perspective can be a rather tricky proposition, but that is one of the functions of TorrentLitigation.
One attribute of the file-sharing litigation campaign is the fact that it has touched a lot of people over the years on both the plaintiff side of the courtroom and the defendant side of the courtroom. For instance, it isn’t just a few record companies filing lawsuits these days. Those behind the lawsuits can range from movie studio’s, software companies, porn companies, anti-piracy companies, numerous law firms and there have even been cases where the American government has stepped in to help rightsholders. Then there’s the defendant’s side which can include pretty much anyone from all walks of life. As you can imagine, just touching on the subject in any reasonable fashion is no small feat. There is no shame for those who look into this and getting completely overwhelmed with it all. However, TorrentLitigation is hoping to change some of that and more.
The website has a number of features. One feature is a database for some of the numerous file-sharing lawsuits going around. It isn’t just a list of lawsuits though, it actually sorts them by jurisdiction and by plaintiff. The site even features a list of file’s that have resulted in the most lawsuits (as tracked by the site).
We spoke with Adam E. Urbanczyk of TorrentLitigation to discuss what this site is all about.
Urbanczyk told Freezenet, “The website has always been designed to be an objectively-minded “portal” through which website visitors – usually individuals on the receiving end of federal copyright infringement or state-based hacking cases, but also other attorneys and inquisitive individuals – can educate themselves and, if need be, seek our assistance. So the website has two functions, but its overriding purpose is to provide information in a sterilized form. To this day, ISPs leave it to their confused subscribers to do their own research about these cases, and short of slogging through, and paying for, PACER, there is little a subscriber can do to read the actual claims indirectly brought against them.”
Of course, for those who follow this topic, a few websites that have been around come to mind when it comes to the topic of file-sharing litigation. Three examples that might come to mind might be Ray Beckerman’s website Recording Industry Vs. People, Mike Masnick’s website TechDirt and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which have all covered this area extensively over the years.
While not referring to any website in particular, Urbanczyk acknowledged that there are websites out there that cover file-sharing lawsuits, but there is a hole when it comes to simply providing information in a neutral fashion. Urbanczyk said, “There are blog-style websites predominantly concerned with decrying the plaintiffs and their attorneys, though we find subscribers are further confused by the quasi-legal analysis. Our very large database of complaints – organized by both plaintiff and jurisdiction – and our breakdown of the works being sued-over is about as objectively-delivered as content gets in the context of these lawsuits.”
The database is also frequently updated. Urbanczyk explained, “We update the site monthly with all multi-“John Doe” copyright infringement lawsuits filed in the previous month. These updates involved ~30 cases, nationally, until August 2012 when there were 45. Since last August, the number of such cases filed every month has averaged 69. Our February 2013 update included 71 cases none of which was filed by an adult film producer. Straight-to-DVD and “independent” film producers pursuing Bit Torrent users is definitely the trend. There have also been book publishers (John Wiley & Sons), software developers (reFX Audio), and indie record labels (Century Media ) which continue to be litigious yet fly under the radar thanks to the adult film plaintiffs.”
Of course, TorrentLitigation doesn’t just provide information about file-sharing lawsuits. They also provide legal services for those that have been on the receiving end of a legal notice from rights holders. From the about page:
Our office has extensive experience resolving BitTorrent-related copyright infringement claims in addition to claims involving website hacking. We understand how alien the letters, pleadings, and very nature of the lawsuits seem, and we can walk you through the pros and cons of all your options.
If you’ve arrived at this website, you are probably in need of our assistance and we invite you to contact us if that is indeed the case. Our services are typically provided on a flat-rate basis and occasionally on a pro bono basis. There are no consultation fees; just an objective explanation of your pragmatic options moving forward.
So, if you reside in the United States and have received a legal notice, contacting those behind TorrentLitigation is, at least, an option.
Of course, for those that watch websites like this one know, there is also the trend of of rights holders employing things like three strikes law. The US, in particular has rolled out a six strike policy. Uniquely, it isn’t a law, but rather, an agreement between major rights holders and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). So, out of curiosity, we asked if this could mean fewer lawsuits in the future as rights holders might utilize the Copyright Alert System (CAS) more. Urbanczyk replied, “The six strike policy ISPs are adopting will, eventually, reduce the number of suits being filed.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be worried about getting a legal notice from their ISP because, as Urbanczyk already said, lawsuits are still being filed. Interestingly, the six strike policy has one of the same problems as the file-sharing lawsuits. It is all based on targeting IP addresses that is seen participating in alleged copyright infringing activity. On this subject, Urbanczyk told Freezenet, “As it is, a slim majority of everyone indirectly involved in these cases is guilty simply of having an unsecured wireless network open and available for neighbors for months at a time. What is obviously a huge problem is the ISPs marketing their wirelessly-setup internet services but failing to adequately inform their customers of how to secure those wireless networks. Relatively unsophisticated internet users who were sold wireless internet, given the equipment and rudimentary instructions bereft of securitization procedures, and who find themselves staring at a subpoena notification letter are terribly common. Discussion of this important issue, unfortunately, is drowned among the pages of anti-plaintiff rancor. Once ISPs are able to inform those unsuspecting customers that someone is exposing them to the risk of a lawsuit, the customer will hopefully take steps to secure their network and mitigate the chance that what somebody was downloading over their network was being monitored by a litigious party. Of course, these ISPs’ protocols would not likely affect an account holder’s liability, presuming that can be established through litigation. Further, considering the sheer number of files being tracked by at least 1/2 dozen forensic firms across the globe 24/7, an account holder should be immediately reacting to the first “strike.” Beyond the discussion of what else ISPs can be doing to address the issue, we’re left with addressing the internet’s penchant for downloading copyright-protected content; a non-starter if there ever was one.”
From our observations, unsecured WiFi networks has been a topic we’ve seen come up time and time again. In fact, the first conviction under the New Zealand three strikes law contained an example of this where the accused had no knowledge of some of the infringing activity going on with their Internet access. From NZHerald at the time:
“The first song downloaded was a song called Man Down by Rihanna. I accept responsibility for this. I downloaded the song unaware that in doing so from this site was illegal,” the submission said.
However, the offender did not claim responsibility for the Hot Chelle Rae track.
“It wasn’t [downloaded] by myself or anyone in this household,” the submission said.
By far, this hasn’t been the first known case that we’ve observed that unauthorized use of someone’s Internet access came up in a case of copyright infringement and we certainly know it won’t be the last. We’ve also commented in previous reports that while it’s one thing for someone with extensive knowledge about copyright and technology to secure their access, it’s quite another for someone with limited knowledge about both to do the same and secure their WiFi network. Not everyone who has Internet access have the expertise to prevent unauthorized use of their network and this remains to be a major problem in the system.
Freezenet also asked if someone had any suggestions for the website, how could they contact TorrentLitigation. Urbanczyk told Freezenet, “Our website has an easy-to-use contact form should someone have a suggestion or inquiry, and firstname.lastname@example.org is perpetually-accessed email.”
For quick reference, the form is here.
Overall, TorrentLitigation is developing into a very interesting site and is certainly worthy of keeping tabs on.
Further Reading: TorrentLitigation website.
Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85