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'Hurt Locker' lawyers continue antipiracy fight

In filing copyright suits against thousands of alleged file sharers, a group of indie film studios avoid jurisdiction issues by enlisting help from lawyers who can pursue cases in 23 states.

Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver, the law firm that has filed copyright complaints against thousands of accused illegal file sharers on behalf of independent filmmakers this year, is getting some important help.

Voltage Pictures

DGW, which also operates under the name U.S. Copyright Group, has recruited lawyers from as many as 23 U.S. states to file lawsuits against thousands of suspected film pirates in local courts, according to Thomas Dunlap, the firm's co-founder and one of the participating attorneys.

DGW represents about a dozen movie makers, including the producers of Oscar winning film, "The Hurt Locker." Last month, the firm's efforts appeared to be doomed when it was forced to drop thousands of defendants from one of its suits. The firm had accused hundreds of Time Warner Cable subscribers of pirating a clients' movie and the bandwidth provider agreed to identify only 28 customers a month. DGW possesses Internet protocol addresses but needs ISPs to identify the owners of those addresses. The firm told a federal district court that because of TWC's stance, it would need five years to obtain the names of all the defendants.

A federal district judge in Washington, D.C., denied the extension request. She said she wanted to determine sooner rather than later whether her court even had jurisdiction over all the defendants, many of whom live in other states. Dunlap said he would partner with lawyers licensed to practice in other jurisdictions and continue to press the cases. Many attorneys who oppose Dunlap in these copyright cases were skeptical.

They figured that there was too little money in suing individuals for violating copyright to cover all the costs and still eke out a profit for attorneys as well as copyright owners. But Dunlap told CNET today that his firm "plans to have all jurisdictions covered by March...we have already identified and served individual defendants in the D.C. cases."

Plenty of obstacles could still trip up DGW's litigation campaign. The courts could still decide that it's not proper to name thousands of defendants in a single complaint. The firm still has yet to prove it will spend the money to pursue someone in court who refuses to pay to settle the case. Dunlap must show that it is willing to absorb big legal fees in order to prove that defendants who don't settle early may end up on the hook for millions of dollars.

Jammie Thomas-Rasset, who has fought a copyright suit filed against her by the four largest music labels for five years, currently owes the labels $1.5 million. Her lawyers are appealing that amount.

Update, Wednesday 6:05 a.m.: The Hollywood Reporter has published a story about DGW signing up Nu Image Films, makers of last year's Sylvester Stallone action pic, "The Expendables." According to TorrentFreak, the film was popular on peer-to-peer sites. Dunlap also told THR that he is doing background checks on those he may sue presumably so he can determine whether they have enough assets to make it worth filing a suit.