Porn studio a step closer to revealing pirates' IDs

A niche movie producer has provided a court with the IP addresses of 1,568 people it accuses of sharing one of its titles. The next step: attaching names to the numbers.

Few film companies are assailing piracy with the vigor of Third World Media.

Third World Media (TMW), a porn studio headquartered north of Los Angeles, filed a lawsuit two weeks ago against 1,568 unnamed individuals, accusing them of using peer-to-peer networks to unlawfully share copies of "Miss Big Ass Brazil #4," records show.

"Each of the defendant's acts of infringement have been willful, intentional, and in disregard of...the rights of plaintiff," TWM's attorneys wrote in their filing of October 4.

The suit came just two weeks after TWM filed a similar complaint against an additional 1,243 unnamed defendants in U.S. District Court in West Virginia involving another adult film. What makes TWM's efforts noteworthy is that not only is the company filing copyright complaints against more individuals than most porn studios that are taking a similar tack, but the company is also filing claims in different courts around the country and has indicated more suits are on the way.

In the more recent complaint, filed in U.S. District for the Northern District of California, TWM included 64 pages of information containing the defendants' IP addresses, the names of their Internet service providers, and dates and times they allegedly shared the files (you can check out a sample of the information by clicking on the photos below). Ira Siegel, the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based attorney representing TWM in the California complaint, declined to comment.

The defendants are named as John Does because the studio will learn their identities after only subpoenaing records from each person's ISP. What all this comes down to is this: if you've illegally downloaded "Miss Big Ass Brazil #4," or any of TWM's other films, the studio appears to be preparing to take you to court .

This is only the latest attempt by adult-film companies and indie film studios to take the antipiracy fight into the homes of people ripping them off and trying to conceal themselves in the Internet. Since 2008, when the music industry gave up on filing suits against individuals for sharing music illegally, litigation against individual file sharers appeared to be no longer a threat.

But the adult-film industry appears to be following the lead of Dunlap Grubb & Weaver , the Washington, D.C. law firm based that in January began filing complaints on behalf of independent film studios and began a trend of naming thousands of accused illegal file sharers as defendants in individual lawsuits.

What separates the copyright suits filed by indie film studios from those filed by pornographers, however, is that being accused of sharing pornography has the potential to be far more stigmatizing than being accused of sharing a film like "The Hurt Locker."

Cindy Cohn, legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for tech companies and Internet users, believes that this is the kind of veiled threat that makes these lawsuits much more like a "shakedown."

Click on the image to see a Q&A with EFF's legal director, who says suits against individual file sharers is more about money and less about copyright. Screenshot by Greg Sandoval/CNET

"People have a very good interest in not being sued but also in not having their name associated here if they've been wrongly accused," said Cohn, who has led EFF's opposition to the suits from Dunlap and porn studios. "The leverage to get people to pay to make it go away when what they are accused of having done, in cases of hard-core porn or gay porn, is much higher."

In the suit filed in California, all the cases of alleged illegal file sharing appear to have occurred between March and July of this year.

The defendants appear to come from across the country and are represented by a wide swath of ISPs, including all the majors: Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. In addition to a score of smaller regional players (Cablespeed Maryland, Midcontinent Communications and Alaska Communications Systems Group to name a few), are service providers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, the University of Central Florida, the University of California at Riverside, and the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Louis Svendsen, general counsel for the Tennessee Board of Regents, said in an e-mail that his office was unaware of the copyright complaint until contacted by CNET. "We are just beginning our investigation and have no comment at this time," he said.

Another way that the lawsuits from Dunlap and the porn industry may differ from previous attempts to sue individuals is that the copyright owners appear to have less accurate information, Cohn said. EFF has seen a high number of apparent false positives, according to her.

"It does appear to us that whatever investigative techniques that [some copyright owners] are using are not very good," Cohn said.

At this point at least, the adult-film industry doesn't appear to be backing down. Last month, on the same day that TWM filed its copyright suit, three other porn studios filed nearly identical suits in West Virginia federal court as well.

Note to readers: If your ISP gets a subpoena on this issue, please send me a copy. My e-mail is below. I won't include your name or any identifying info in any story if that's what you wish. Thanks.

 

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