Lawyers representing Voltage Pictures, the independent production company behind the Oscar-winning war movie The Hurt Locker, has announced via legal findings (Scribd) that they plan to go after 24,583 individuals who allegedly shared the movie via BitTorrent. The copyright complaint originally sought after 5,000 "John Doe" defendants back in May 2010 when it was filed with the federal court in Washington D.C.
According to the announcement, most of the supposed copyright infringers reside on Comcast's network: a whopping 10,532 individuals. The company is reportedly playing hard ball with the plaintiffs, refusing to fork over personal information solely based on an IP address. Verizon, on the other hand, has agreed to provide the information of its 5,239 accused customers, but only 100 per month. Charter is ratting out its 2,699 defendants too at a much faster rate: 150 customers per month. Time-Warner has 1,750 defendants on its hands, although it's unclear if the broadband provider is caving in or sticking with Comcast.
Voltage Pictures' case is similar to others filed across the United States: it's a fishing expedition to acquire the names of broadband and wireless internet subscribers associated with an infringing IP address. These people may or may not be responsible for actually downloading the studio's movie, but apparently in some states it doesn't matter. Someone is going to pay.
Right now the lawsuit is in the "fishing" stage, pushing ISPs on a legal front to provide their customers' information. But unlike several cases in other states which have been thrown out of court, the defendants listed in the Hurt Locker lawsuit might not get off so easy. Voltage Pictures' trio of lawyers Thomas Dunlap, Daniel Grubb, and J.W. Weaver, whose main office is located in Washington D.C., is backed by the U.S. Copyright Group (USCG). To make matters worse, the judge presiding over the case – Judge Beryl Howell – was a former RIAA lobbyist.
Last month the USCG announced a separate lawsuit (Scribd) against 23,322 defendants for allegedly downloading The Hurt Locker. Combined with the case filed by Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver, Voltage Pictures is looking at 47,905 defendants it can possibly sue. The USCG is looking to pull $2,000 from each individual – a meaty $95.81M if everyone coughs up the cash. The movie itself only raked in $17M at the box office, and even if only a fourth produced the $2,000 fine, that would still be more than what the film actually earned.
Monday brought reports that one Illinois judge banned "John Doe" cases from his court, complaining that many of the alleged defendants weren't even residents of Illinois. Another judge ruled that an IP address doesn't equal to a person because the address could be used by anyone, whether it's the subscriber, a guest in the house, or a neighbor leeching off an unprotected network. The latter judge even referred to an incident where the FBI raided the house of one man, accusing him of downloading child porn. Eventually it was discovered that a neighbor was accessing his home wi-fi network from a nearby apartment.
The problem with these federal court rulings is that they're not applied nationwide, only within their specific state. Judges residing in other states can use those judgments as references, but still have the freedom to make their own conclusions. Unfortunately for the 47,905 defendants who face charges of copyright infringement, Judge Howell resides in a district that still believes that IP addresses are tied directly to specific people.