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In what looks like it may be a repeat of the RIAA’s litigation against individual music piraters, Eriq Gardner at THR, Esq. is reporting that over 20,000 movie torrent downloaders have been sued recently for copyright infringement by US Copyright Group in Washington D.C. federal court. Five lawsuits have been filed against people who illegally downloaded the films Steam Experiment, Far Cry, Uncross the Stars, Gray Man, and Call of the Wild 3D. Lawsuits on behalf of five more films targeting another 30,000 people are on the way.

According to Gardner, US Copyright Group is utilizing proprietary technology from a company called Guardaley IT which allows them to see which movies are being downloaded via torrents in real-time. The Group is suing on behalf of a coalition of independent film producers (not on behalf of the MPAA, which nonetheless expressed interest in using the technology).

The lawsuits so far have been for films that aren’t widely known. The reasoning for this is to create a low key “launch” for these lawsuits, which are very much test cases for whether or not the legal strategy could work on an even wider scale. According to one lawyer at the Group, “We’re creating a revenue stream and monetizing the equivalent of an alternative distribution channel.”

There are several reasons why the MPAA has been loathe to sue individual movie downloaders thus far. Gardner lists three:

  1. Many believed that the RIAA lawsuits were a huge PR disaster, repeatedly attacking customers that were ostensibly music lovers and drawing loads of negative press.
  2. Current methods of identifying users can be unreliable. IP addresses can be faked and “false positives” can result in innocents being targeted.
  3. Internet Service Providers (ISP) aren’t eager to hand over the private information of their customers.

Thus far, one ISP has handed over 71 names and addresses, with eight of them already settling. If the current lawsuits yield financial dividends, it’s possible that downloaders of more popular films will be the next targets. If that goes well, larger groups like the MPAA might decide that the lawsuit game is one worth playing, although the future of this strategy is far from clear.

I’m all for content producers getting their fair share of the money, but suing individual downloaders has proven to be catastrophic in the past for a myriad of reasons, and it doesn’t look like this time around will be any different. Plus, my heart just goes out to the person out there who’s now being forced to pay thousands of dollars because he wanted to enjoy Uwe Boll’s Far Cry for free on a lonely Friday night. Doesn’t his life already contain enough disappointment?

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