A report crunching more than six years of copyright lawsuits filed in the U.S. has revealed that porn troll Malibu Media is the country’s most litigious plaintiff. The company, which demands thousands of dollars from individual file-sharers, filed 4,332 lawsuits since January 2009, fifteen times more than its nearest rival. Overall, it’s estimated that 90% of file-sharing cases are settled out of court.
iiNet, the second biggest ISP in Australia, has been a bit of a magnet when it comes to BitTorrent lawsuits. In 2008 they were sued by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) for failing to prevent its subscribers from infringing copyright via Bittorrent, a case it won, as the court found it was not iiNet’s responsibility.
In late 2014, Voltage Pictures – the company behind Oscar winning movie ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ – started proceedings against Australian users it accused of downloading its movie, just as it has in both the US and Canada. The alleged Australian infringements all occurred between 2 April 2014 and 27 May 2014.
iiNet refused to hand over the account details of the 4,726 IP addresses demanded by Voltage, and took it to court, where, in early April, the judges sided with Voltage. However, in a massive blow to Voltage, they required that any letters sent out to people be approved by the court, undermining the key tactic of exaggerating claims in these kinds of cases. Most such cases rely on threatening significant damages at court in order to ‘encourage’ the recipient to settle, but Justice Perram has indicated that the damages could be as low as AU$10 (US$8), although there could be significant court costs as well.
Now iiNet has dealt Voltage another blow, announcing in a blog post:
“If you do receive a letter you may want to get legal advice. iiNet is working with a law firm that has offered to provide pro-bono services for any of our customers”
This would be a major setback to the speculative invoicing model used by Voltage, which relies on the high potential damages, plus the significant cost of defending a case (greater than the settlement demanded) to ensure a steady revenue stream. With the court restricting the intimidating language, and the offer of free legal counsel to defend the cases, it may end up being far more costly for Voltage to pursue claims than they can hope to recoup.
And while iiNet has jumped to the defense of its customers in this way, it may not be alone. The M2 group has also indicated it may provide pro-bono legal assistance in similar cases, although they have refused to commit prior to a court hearing on May 21st when a date for the transfer of customer information will be agreed.
It is not looking like Australia will be a fruitful venue for copyright trolls.
There are dozens of companies engaged in so-called “copyright trolling” worldwide, the majority connected with adult movie companies.
While most are generally dismissed as second-rate companies out to make a quick buck, U.S. producer Voltage Pictures has developed a reputation for making fairly decent movies and being one of the most aggressive ‘trolls’ around.
The company has targeted thousands of individuals in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and most recently Australia. The company has largely prevailed in these actions but a new case filed this week in the U.S. sees the company on the receiving end of procedures.
The spat concerns Voltage’s plans for a new movie. Starring Anne Hathaway and titled ‘Collosal‘, the flick sees a giant lizard-like creature stomping its way over Tokyo. It sounds an awful lot like Godzilla, recognized by Guinness World Records as the longest-running movie franchise ever. Toho, the Japanese movie studio behind the Godzilla brand, noticed the similarities too.
In a lawsuit filed yesterday in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Toho highlights the hypocrisy of Voltage’s actions.
Describing the company as a “staunch advocate for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights” after filing hundreds of copyright suits involving its movies The Hurt Locker and Dallas Buyers Club, Toya says that Voltage began promoting its new movie via email at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this month.
As can be seen from the screenshot below, the email features three large photos of Godzilla, actress Anne Hathaway, and a giant robot.
“Gloria is an ordinary woman who finds herself in an extraordinary circumstance. Tokyo is under attack by Godzilla and a giant robot and, for some strange reason, Gloria is the only person who can stop it,” the email reads.
Predictably Toho is upset at Voltage’s use of the Godzilla character and associated breaches of the company’s copyrights and trademarks. Only making matters worse is the fact that the image of Godzilla used by Voltage is actually taken from promotional material published by Toho to accompany the release of its 2014 movie, Godzilla.
“Godzilla is one of the most iconic fictional characters in the history of motion pictures. Toho Co., Ltd., the copyright owner of the Godzilla character and
franchise of films, brings this lawsuit because defendants are brazenly producing,
advertising, and selling an unauthorized Godzilla film of their own,” Toho begin.
“There is nothing subtle about defendants’ conduct. They are expressly informing the entertainment community that they are making a Godzilla film and are using the
Godzilla trademark and images of Toho’s protected character to generate interest in
and to obtain financing for their project,” the company continues.
“That anyone would engage in such blatant infringement of another’s intellectual property is wrong enough. That defendants, who are known for zealously protecting their own copyrights, would do so is outrageous in the extreme.”
Noting that at no stage has Voltage ever sought permission to exploit the Godzilla character, Toho says it asked Voltage to cease and desist but the company refused.
After numerous experiments elsewhere, notably in the US, two years ago Voltage Pictures took its turn piracy-into-profit business model to Canada.
The company’s targets were 2,000 Internet subscribers at local ISP Teksavvy. The early stages of the case saw the ISP dig in its heels while bringing on board the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) with the aim of protecting consumers from potentially large fines.
While CIPPIC was allowed to intervene, the subscribers’ identities were ordered to be handed over and with that in hand the arguments turned to who would have to pay for proceedings thus far.
Needless to say, Voltage Pictures’ and Teksavvy’s assessments were at the opposite ends of the spectrum, with the former saying that should it pay around $884.00 and the latter claiming a few hundred thousand dollars, $346,480.68 to be exact.
In the event the court rejected both sides’ claims, but the ruling was far away from Teksavvy’s expectations. The Federal Court told Voltage to pay $21,557 – $17,057 in technical administrative costs plus $4,500 in legal fees – associated with the IP-address lookups.
After being awarded just 6% of its original claim, it comes as little surprise that the ISP has now filed an appeal against the decision.
while the company has no real idea of the nature of the people they’re targeting, Wickstrom said his company had limits on who would be pursued for cash demands. According to SMH, the executive said that his company “would not pursue an autistic child, people who were handicapped, welfare cases, or people that have mental issues.”
Some compassion from Voltage perhaps? Not exactly – the company seems more interested in how that would look on the PR front.
“That kind of press would ruin us,” Wickstrom said, adding that “the majority” of piracy was in fact occurring at the hands of vulnerable groups.
If that’s truly the case and any “vulnerable” people inform the company of their circumstances, Voltage stands to make very little money from their Australian venture, despite all the expense incurred in legal action thus far. Strangely, they don’t seem to mind.
“This is truly not about the money here, it’s about stopping illegal piracy,” Wickstrom said.