A group called the U.S. Copyright Group (USCG) has filed a lawsuit against thousands of as yet unknown people who may (or may not) have downloaded or uploaded movies on file sharing networks. The strategy, which has been employed by others in the past, is to file or threaten to file a lawsuit and then offer to settle for a few thousand. Defending a copyright lawsuit will almost certainly cost much more so the offer is tempting. Plus, copyright law allows statutory damages of up to $150,000 per work, so the potential risk can be severe.
One problem with employing this strategy on the scale that the USCG is doing is that it will almost certainly result in a large number wrongly identified people who feel compelled to pay up because its cheaper than fighting. It undermines rights to privacy and anonymity. Furthermore, it doesn’t get to the real issue of how to compensate artists for their work. Lawsuits can’t possibly be a realistic long-term business model.
As far as I know, the USCG only has a large list of suspect IP addresses and is currently attempting to obtain the identities of people so they can give them the pay up or go to court offer. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created a resource for people who are faced with responding to a subpoena and would like advice with responding. I have volunteered to work with people in Minnesota who are faced with this situation. There are other attorneys in other states who have volunteered as well.
The EFF Subpoena Defense Attorney List
The EFF’s press release about the case.
Novell recently won a 7 year battle against the SCO Group over the copyright to UNIX source code. A jury in Utah found that Novell was the owner of the copyrights in question. Its a victory for open source software generally, because it was probably the most serious legal threat to development of Linux, an open source UNIX-like operating system. SCO had alleged that Linux infringed copyrights it held in UNIX. Though Novell’s offerings have changed over the years, currently it offers SUSE Linux and related software and services.
The blog Groklaw has been following this case in great detail over the years. There is an unbelievable amount of information there which illustrates how much work can go into litigating a case of this scale.
Minnesota has rules regarding starting a lawsuit that are a bit different than other states and may not be what you assume is normal. These rules have been given the quaint name of “pocket service.” Pocket service is the process for beginning a civil case in Minnesota. It involves serving on the opposing party a summons and complaint. What it doesn’t involve is filing anything with any court. This can and often does lead to confusion not just for out of state defendants but lifelong Minnesotans as well.
The reasoning for pocket filing is to encourage people to settle disputes privately. Which is a generally good thing. The problem is, someone who receives these strange documents might assume that because they are not filed in court, they don’t have do do anything. Big Mistake. Once you have been served, the clock is ticking. If you don’t reply in time, the plaintiff can go to court and file for a default judgment. That means they can get everything they asked for. Even if the lawsuit was a loser. Even if they don’t have evidence. You don’t answer, you lose automatically.
Moral of the story: Answer the Complaint. If you’re not sure how, contact an attorney.
There’s even a blog about it. I use Yelp! only occasionally but I do rely on reviews on Google and elsewhere. This can be a touchy subject for many small business owners as they can and do find customers through online reviews.I found my barber through those reviews and I know he takes those online reviews pretty seriously. Its also ripe for abuse as small businesses may be tempted to put as many five star reviews up as the can. What this lawsuit alleges though is that Yelp! asked for money to make the bad reviews go away. Yelp! denies this and states that they only remove reviews that they believe are illegitimate.