Posted on Sunday, May 16th, 2010 by David Chen
A few months ago, U.S. Copyright Group tried to sue over 20,000 people for downloading indie films such as Uwe Boll’s Far Cry. Seeing some modest success with that plan, they arranged to follow it up with a new lawsuit, targeting people who had downloaded The Hurt Locker. The original idea was to use software to track down the IP addresses of people downloaded these films over bittorrent networks. The Group would provide the IP addresses to Internet service providers (e.g. Comcast, Time Warner Cable, etc.) and subpoena them to turn over downloaders’ real names and addresses. These people would then be offered the opportunity to settle for a modest sum of money. Refusal would result in a lawsuit.
It’s a classic, time-honored way of ruthlessly extracting money from people that want your product, used by the RIAA back in its golden years. But it turns out, Time Warner Cable isn’t too happy with the plan.
According to court filing (written up in detail by Ars Technica), Time Warner Cable (TWC) has better things to do with their time than to match names with IP Addresses. See, it’s not that TWC believes that the lawsuits are a grave breach of privacy; it’s that they are a huge pain in the ass, which TWC can’t afford right now. The company typically receives 567 IP lookup requests per month, mostly for law enforcement reasons. Each IP lookup costs the company about $45, and it only has four full-time staff devoted to taking care of these duties.
You can quickly see why receiving requests for thousands of names names within the span of a month from one company might tax TWC’s resources. TWC writes:
Copyright cases involving third-party discovery of Internet service providers have typically related to a plaintiff’s efforts to identify anonymous defendants whose numbers rank in the single or low double digits….By contrast, [U.S. Copyright Group] alone seeks identifying information about 2,049 anonymous defendants, and seeks identifying information about 809 Internet Protocol addresses from TWC.
Essentially, it is impossible for TWC to comply with these requests. TWC continued:
If the Court compels TWC to answer all of these lookup requests given its current staffing, it would take TWC nearly three months of full-time work by TWC’s Subpoena Compliance group, and TWC would not be able to respond to any other request, emergency or otherwise, from law enforcement during this period…TWC has a six-month retention period for its IP lookup logs, and by the time TWC could turn to law enforcement requests, many of these requests could not be answered.
TWC also alleges that U.S. Copyright Group is responsible for abusing the discovery process in several other ways as well. So what now? TWC wants the subpoena quashed, and Comcast and Cablevision may do the same thing if they can’t work out an arrangement to make the workflow easier. One possibility is that the cable companies may opt turn over only a few names per month. But either way, it looks like U.S. Copyright Group’s plans to get the names of huge swaths of people may not work out as easily as they’d hoped.