Thousands of people will soon be informed that they're accused in a federal lawsuit of illegally file sharing the Oscar-winning movie "The Hurt Locker."
On Friday, word came that Voltage Pictures, the independent production company that produced the film, had filed copyright complaints against 5,000 as-yet-unnamed defendants.
Voltage has hired the U.S. Copyright Group to oversee the litigation and go after alleged file sharers. The group has sued alleged movie pirates on behalf of the makers of such films as "Far Cry" and "Call of the Wild 3D." Some of the people accused of pirating those movies, including Jon Harrison from Irving, Texas, have already been notified and are well along in the process.
Harrison showed CNET the documents he received from Verizon--his Internet service provider--and the U.S. Copyright Group. To be sure, without seeing the actual notices that will be sent as part of the "Hurt Locker" suit, we don't how they'll differ. But there are likely to be many similarities.
In this photo, Harrison, 64, holds up the envelope that carried the letter from Dunlap Grubb Weaver, the law firm apparently handling some of the legal chores for the U.S. Copyright Group. Harrison said his home network is unsecured and that he has no idea who might have shared the movie.
On behalf of the producers of "Far Cry," a film adapted from a video game of the same name, the U.S. Copyright Group is suing 4,577 people. Not long after the case was initiated, the judge ordered the Internet service providers whose customers had allegedly violated the film's copyright to preserve relevant information in the case.
Prior to filing a copyright complaint against those who allegedly shared unauthorized copies of "The Hurt Locker," the group had named about 50,000 defendants in copyright suits involving 10 films. It appears the company is trying to pick up where the Recording Industry Association of America left off.
The RIAA spent five years filing suits against illegal filing sharers and was never able to slow down the practice.
On April 9, the Dunlap Grubb Weaver law firm obtained a subpoena that required Verizon to turn over the names, IP addresses, phone numbers, home addresses, and Media Access Control addresses of the Verizon customers accused of downloading "Far Cry."
The court ordered Verizon to turn over the information by May 14, 2010, at 10 a.m.
Included in the Dunlap Grubb Weaver subpoena to Verizon was five pages full of Internet protocol addresses belonging to Verizon customers. In addition, the subpoena showed the time stamps of when the owners of the IP addresses were allegedly sharing the "Far Cry."
On the last page is Harrison's address. The 64-year-old said his network is not secured and that he's not very sophisticated when it comes to technology. He has considered paying the money just to make the issue go away but isn't sure that's the right thing to do.
"For me, the issue here isn't whether or not peer-to-peer is evil," said Harrison, a photographer. "It is whether or not our federal courts and Verizon should cooperate with such an obvious intimidation scam."
Verizon notified Harrison by letter that the company had received a subpoena "requiring the production of records" associated with his IP address.
Verizon told him to direct questions to the party that issued the subpoena: the law firm Dunlap Grubb Weaver. Verizon told Harrison that unless it received "a motion to quash" the subpoena by May 13, 2010, the ISP would turn over the information.
Harrison said he wasn't given much time. The letter may have been dated April 30, but it wasn't postmarked until May 5, and he didn't receive it until May 8, he said. That left him a week to decide what to do.
Weeks after Dunlap Grubb Weaver had presumably received the names and other customer information from Verizon, the law firm contacted Harrison directly, last week.
Dunlap informed Harrison in a letter that he was accused of violating copyright law for sharing "Far Cry" on March 13, 2010. Dunlap included the IP address that belonged to Harrison at the time (redacted here), and the P2P client he allegedly used (aeTorrent). Dunlap told him the letter was a "courtesy."
The photo shows the top half of the letter's first page.
In the second half of the first page of the letter Dunlap Grubb Weaver sent Harrison, the law firm declared that illegal file sharing is a big problem for the entertainment industry. Dunlap informed Harrison that to avoid being named in a lawsuit, Harrison would have to pay $1,500 by June 11.
After that, it would cost Harrison no less than $2,500 to settle the matter.
On Page 2 of its letter to Harrison, Dunlap Grubb Weaver said that if Harrison chose not to pay, the law firm would name him in a suit and that the law allowed Voltage to ask for up to $30,000 per illegally shared film.
Dunlap also said that if it could prove the infringement was intentional rather than negligent, it could seek $150,000 per film. It should be noted that no individual file sharer has ever been required to pay an amount even remotely close to that sum for a single infringing act. A jury ordered Jammie Thomas, the Minnesota woman accused by the RIAA of illegally sharing 24 songs, to pay $80,000 per song, but the judge in the case lowered the damages award to $2,250 per song.
The letter from Dunlap is similar to those once sent out by the Recording Industry Association of America. The RIAA stopped suing individuals for illegal file sharing in 2008.
Directed and produced by Uwe Boll, "Far Cry" is a German film released in November 2009.
In addition to "Far Cry," Dunlap Grubb Weaver is also suing alleged illegal file sharers on behalf of the makers of such films as "Steam Experiment," "Uncross the Stars," "Gray Man," and "Call of the Wild 3D."
While "Far Cry" and "Gray Man" presumably have their own audiences, "The Hurt Locker" is by far the most notable film being handled by Dunlap Grubb Weaver and the U.S. Copyright Group.
The movie, about a U.S. Army bomb squad, won six Academy Awards this year, including one for Best Picture. Nicolas Chartier, who co-founded Voltage Pictures, the production company that made the film, doesn't show much sympathy for file sharers.
According to published reports, Chartier responded to an e-mail he received from someone complaining about his litigation plans, by calling the person a "moron" and "stupid," and said "I hope your family and your kids end up in jail one day for stealing, so maybe they can be taught the difference."
One important thing to remember is that the legal campaign pursued by Voltage Pictures and the other companies Dunlap represents is that they have nothing to do with the Motion Picture Association of America, the trade group representing the largest Hollywood studios.
The MPAA and RIAA are pursuing much different antipiracy strategies. They have tried convincing ISPs to send warning letters to first-time offenders. In the case of chronic pirating, the MPAA and RIAA want ISPs to suspend or even terminate service.
When it comes to sending letters, ISPs have begun cooperating. One reader, who wished to remain anonymous, sent CNET a copy of a letter he recently received from Charter Communications, the reader's ISP. The reader was notified that NBC Universal had accused him or her of file sharing the TV show "House."
As for actually shutting off someone's service, many of the top ISPs have steered clear.
Update at 9:00 a.m. PDT: Slides No. 11 and 12 have been added.
The second page of Charter's warning contained a note from BayTSP, a company that specializes in protecting digital content.
On behalf of NBC Universal, BayTSP informs the accused file sharer of the law. BayTSP also shows the documentation it has obtained about the person, including IP address and date and time the infringement allegedly occurred.
The most relevant part of the letter is that there's no threat of any lawsuit.
Mike Gravlin, a CNET reader who has not received any such notification, has opinions on the matter nonetheless. "Piracy is wrong and I don't condone it," he said in an e-mail. "I just have a problem with the heavy handed approach Voltage Pictures is taking. Where's the shot across the bow?"