Mass P2P Lawsuits Targeted Nearly 100,000 Last Year

Eighty lawsuits were filed against alleged peer-to-peer users, typically for violating adult content copyrights.

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

February 7, 2011

2 Min Read

The volume of lawsuits aimed at punishing illegal peer-to-peer file (P2P) trading has hit an all-time high. Over the last year, 80 mass lawsuits filed in the United States have resulted in 99,924 people being sued for allegedly sharing copyrighted content on P2P networks.

That statistic comes by way of the TorrentFreak blog. It said that an anonymous reader had spent months compiling the data, which spans Jan. 8, 2010, to Jan. 21, 2011, and lists all relevant case documents and people involved.

According to the research, "of the 80 cases that were filed originally, 68 are still active, with 70,914 defendants still in jeopardy." The majority of the alleged copyright violations involved adult content, traded via BitTorrent.

The number of defendants -- nearly 100,000 -- in P2P cases exceeds previous estimates. For example, in an amicus brief filed last month in support of 500 accused file sharers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) estimated that roughly 75,000 people had been sued in 2010 for alleged copyright violations involving pornographic movies. It noted that nine lawsuits in the Northern District of Illinois alone had collectively involved 4,507 people, meaning that each lawsuit named about 500 defendants.

The practice of filing mass lawsuits against alleged P2P file sharers is controversial. For plaintiffs, the technique enables them to sidestep the filing fee -- $350 per case in federal court -- and set of documents that would be associated with suing each individual separately.

But the EFF has labeled these mass lawsuits "predatory" because they accuse people of sharing pornography, then gives them a choice between settling the matter quietly -- for a fee -- or else answering the allegations in a public courtroom.

"Copyright owners have a right to protect their works, but they can't use shoddy and unfair tactics to do so," said EFF intellectual property director Corynne McSherry, in a statement released with the amicus brief. "We're asking the court to protect the rights of each and every defendant, instead of allowing these copyright trolls to game the system."

Courts may be tiring of mass lawsuits. In December, a judge in West Virginia dismissed seven mass lawsuits, and ordered plaintiffs to file against each individual defendant. The same month, a judge in Washington dismissed a case over the court's lack of jurisdiction over the hundreds of people named in the lawsuit.

But copyright holders such as Lightspeed Media have said that they will begin filing lawsuits against individual people, and within the appropriate jurisdiction, no matter the cost.

About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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