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'Hurt Locker' lawyers launch nationwide copyright fight

Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver, the law firm representing "The Hurt Locker," names three people in separate copyright suits, also starts refiling suits across country.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read
A publicity still for the movie 'The Hurt Locker.' Voltage Pictures

After several setbacks, Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver, the law firm that last year filed thousands of copyright suits against accused illegal file sharers on behalf of independent filmmakers, has made good on promises to push on with the cases.

Dunlap has begun to refile lawsuits across the country against people accused last year of pirating movies via peer-to-peer networks. To do that, Dunlap established a network of lawyers who are licensed to operate in different federal districts.

The firm, which also works under the name U.S. Copyright Group, made headlines last year by suing thousands in a federal court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the makers of such films as "Far Cry" and "The Hurt Locker," last year's Oscar winner for Best Picture. The Washington court, however, appeared hostile to Dunlap's strategy of filing against thousands of people from outside that jurisdiction. That's when Dunlap vowed to file against defendants closer to their homes.

'Hurt Locker' sharers: Expect docs like this (photos)

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In the case of "Far Cry," a film based on the popular video game, Dunlap told CNET that lawyers working with the firm have filed complaints on behalf of the filmmakers in Massachusetts, Colorado, Minnesota, and West Virginia.

"Filing in Florida in about 10 minutes," Thomas Dunlap, one of the firm's founders, e-mailed today. "I am driving to courthouse now, should have cases already in Illinois. We will file in California, Texas, Washington, and Oregon in the next two weeks."

Here's what's most interesting about the aforementioned complaints: each one names an individual defendant. Dunlap has begun to go after people who have refused to settle. Records show that the firm has already filed suits in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia against Linaka Stein and Gina Morrison, residents of West Virginia, and Richard Ball of Virginia.

Dunlap typically offers an accused file sharer a chance to settle out of court for a sum between $1,500 and $3,000. The firm has always said it would file lawsuits against those who refused to settle. But there were those who had their doubts. Dunlap lawyers appeared to drag their feet about wading into the potentially expensive and years-long process of winning a copyright judgment against a defendant.

The case of Jammie Thomas-Rasset, the Minnesota mother accused by the music industry of illegal file sharing, is an example of how hard a process it can be to pursue a copyright judgment. The Thomas-Rasset case has cost the major labels millions of dollars in legal fees and the case continues to drag on.

Dunlap shows no signs of letting up.

A half-dozen people have contacted CNET since Tuesday about receiving notices from their Internet service providers informing them that Dunlap had subpoenaed their names and other information about them. Before filing a suit against someone, copyright owners must first acquire a person's identity from his or her ISP.

Dunlap's lawsuits gave rise to a wave of antipiracy litigation last year. Attorneys in West Virginia, Texas, and California began using Dunlap's legal strategy as a template. The porn sector appeared to be the most zealous in pursuing these cases. But the adult-filmmakers have run into trouble. A federal judge in Texas recently "severed" thousands of defendants from copyright suits filed by attorney Evan Stone on behalf of 11 copyright owners, most of them porn studios, according to a report in Ars Technica.

In 13 of Stone's 16 suits, only a single defendant remains.

The judge in the case ruled that there wasn't enough binding the defendants together to name them in one suit. Stone argues that the defendants "were improperly severed." He said that to use BitTorrent, people must work together to share files.

"This isn't over," Stone told CNET. "There are numerous other tools for obtaining the names and addresses of pirates, and we're not going to stop until justice is served."

In West Virginia, a federal court came to a conclusion similar to that of the Texas judge. Attorney Ken Ford had filed against thousands of people on behalf of adult-film studios, but most of the defendants were also severed from those suits. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has led the opposition against these suits, says the suits rob defendants of the ability to defend themselves--how, the group asks, can individuals tell their story when they're lumped together with so many other people?