With the uptick in copyright infringement cases involving BitTorrent file sharing, you might have been named a defendant in a copyright lawsuit. Or at least your IP has been named and you might have received a letter from your internet service provider (ISP) informing you that it will release your information to the plaintiff.
If you have been targeted in this way, you need to understand what is happening and how you can defend yourself. Especially if the plaintiff is a “copyright troll” targeting you for streaming its copyrighted pornographic material, you are probably being manipulated into a costly settlement agreement.
How does BitTorrent copyright litigation work?
BitTorrent is a file sharing protocol that allows users to share files quickly over the internet. This is a perfectly legal activity, as long as the people sharing material are not violating someone’s copyrights by doing so.
In BitTorrent copyright litigation, the plaintiff owns copyrights to a work like a movie or song and sues for copyright infringement the people streaming and sharing this work.
The problem with this type of online file sharing claim is that the defendants are hard to identify. The plaintiff can only see the IP addresses of the people sharing the files. So the plaintiff will subpoena the defendant’s personal information from the ISP.
How is this type of lawsuit manipulative?
If you received the letter from your ISP about releasing your information, it is important to note that this could be part of a larger plan to squeeze some money out of you. The ISP is not suing you. In fact, at this point, the copyright holder is not even suing you yet. They are trying to get your information, ostensibly to determine whether you did in fact infringe on their copyrights.
But in many cases, the real reason for this letter is to reach out to you to seek a settlement agreement. The idea is that you will be motivated to settle with the copyright holder in order to avoid a public lawsuit. This motivation is particularly strong in cases involving the sharing of pornographic material. People with families and careers often do not want their pornography use to be made public in a courtroom trial, so they will happily agree to a settlement that will make the problem go away.
What can you do?
You have a couple of options. First, you can file a motion to quash the subpoena or at least to get more time for your response. This doesn’t always work, but it can be a helpful option.
Another option is to fight this case. Basically, call their bluff. After it obtains your information, the copyright holder (via that party’s lawyer) will write you a settlement demand letter. In some cases, copyright holders seeking this type of settlement are not actually interested in or willing to take the case to court. Especially if the facts of the case leave room for doubt as to who actually downloaded the copyrighted material, plaintiffs will not want to put forth the time and money to take the case to court. They are seeking a quick settlement and they don’t want to take the case all the way.
This second option is risky. Do not take this approach without consulting an experienced copyright lawyer. In fact, the best approach is to talk with a lawyer right away if you have been informed of a BitTorrent copyright suit against you. This is risky, legal complicated territory, so working with an attorney is the best way to protect yourself.