Porn studios to subpoena accused file sharers

A law firm in West Virginia will demand that ISPs hand over the records of customers accused of violating the copyrights of porn studios.

The latest wave of copyright litigation against illegal file sharing was ignited by indie filmmakers, including the producers of "The Hurt Locker."

Getting into the action now are creators of such titles as "Tokyo Teens" and "Pornstar Superheroes." Three adult-film producers will soon begin sending subpoenas to Internet service providers, or ISPs, across the United States in an effort to learn the identities of people they claim shared their movies without permission over the Internet, Kenneth Ford, the attorney representing the filmmakers, said today.

Third World Media, an adult-film studio, is one of the companies bringing copyright suits against accused illegal file sharers. Third World Media

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia granted motions for early discovery filed by the studios this week, said Ford, who operates an antipiracy company called Adult Copyright Company. When combined, the seven separate complaints accuse more than 5,000 defendants of illegally distributing the studios' films via peer-to-peer services.

"My intention is to file suit against several thousand more illegal downloaders in the next week or two," Ford told CNET. "The coming lawsuits will name in the neighborhood of 10,000 Doe defendants."

Copyright owners typically don't know the identity of an accused illegal file sharer, when first bringing a complaint. Internet Protocol addresses are collected, and each defendant is initially listed as John Doe. To learn the names of the accused, copyright owners need a judge to issue subpoenas to ISPs, who are then compelled to turn over customer records.

Apparently, Ford wants to be to the porn industry what Thomas Dunlap is to indie films . Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver is the law firm that has generated lots of headlines this year by filing copyright suits on behalf of independent filmmakers, including Voltage Pictures, makers of this year's Academy Award winner for Best Picture, "The Hurt Locker."

If the adult-film industry seeks to adopt Dunlap's strategy, this could raise the fear factor to a new level with some file sharers. While being named in a federal complaint for allegedly downloading a mainstream or indie film may be threatening on a financial level, being accused of downloading certain brands of porn could prove to be much more stigmatizing for some.

In addition, questions were raised over the past weekend about the ability of antipiracy groups to safeguard records they keep on those they allege downloaded their films.

Members of 4Chan, an online forum launched a DDos attack against ACS: Law, a firm based in Great Britain that chases down illegal file sharers on behalf of the porn industry. The attack resulted in a compromise of the company's servers and information such as the names of accused file sharers and the porn they downloaded, were flooded onto the Web. Some watchdog groups are worried that a similar data leak could happen here.

In the United States, a law called the Video Privacy Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1988, was created to prevent the "wrongful disclosure of videotape rental or sale records." The law was a response to the release of Robert Bork's video-renting history during his Supreme Court nomination. Bork's rentals were all pretty tame, but his nomination was rejected.

While the law was created to protect the privacy of the public's video-viewing habits, it doesn't appear that the law includes any protections for those who share films illegally online.

 

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