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Adult Content Producers Take On BitTorrent Traders

Mass litigation lawsuits target people who allegedly pirated copyrighted movies through the peer-to-peer network.




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Three adult content producers have filed lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against hundreds of people, accusing them of pirating the companies' content using the BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) network.

The three plaintiffs are Hard Drive Productions, Lightspeed Media, and Millennium TGA.

Each company's lawsuit alleges that numerous people across the United States engaged in "willful and intentional infringement of its copyrighted creative works" by downloading and loading torrent files into BitTorrent clients and entering a BitTorrent swarm that traded copyrighted work. No defendants were named, but each lawsuit includes a list of 100 internet protocol (IP) addresses, which the companies say they expect to tie to internet service provider (ISP) subscribers during the trial.

"This kind of action resembles the much-criticized mass litigation undertaken by the U.S. Copyright Group against hordes of unknown accused Bittorrent users trading movies like Hurt Locker," according to a blog post by technology and intellectual property attorney Evan Brown.

That is to say, rather than suing individual downloaders in federal court, which typically costs $400 per case, plus separate paperwork, the U.S. Copyright Group's lawsuits have been emulating tactics previously practiced by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which sought to discover the identities of hundreds or thousands of alleged downloaders through a single lawsuit.

All three of these new lawsuits were filed by attorney John Steele of the Steele Law Firm in Chicago, which specializes in family law and consumer bankruptcy law. He also reportedly operates the Media Copyright Group, which, according to its website, "tracks, identifies, and pursues damages against people who pirate copyrighted media via P2P networks." The organization promises to discover the identities of downloaders and pursue them for damages, either via settlements -- "in which case the damages collected will be relatively low" -- or via litigation. The organization promises clients that "you do not pay us any money up front, and we are paid only out of the damages that are collected for you."

But many ISPs are resisting law firms' requests to match IP addresses with their subscribers' identities. ISPs cite the cost and time required to fulfill each match, not to mention the questionable legal strategy behind mass litigation. The Electronic Freedom Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union, notably, have been calling on the courts to prohibit large P2P lawsuits and require law firms to only sue one "John Doe" at a time.

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