Thousands of movie downloaders sued at once

A coalition of independent filmmakers in the United States has listed 20,000 movie torrent downloaders in a handful of massive lawsuits, and is likely to target an even larger number of downloaders soon.

The Hollywood Reporter brings word of an automated system that gathers IP addresses of torrent downloaders, then lists them, thousands at a time, in a small number of lawsuits. The filmmakers’ coalition, dubbed the U.S. Copyright Group, wants Internet service providers to hand over the identities associated with each IP address, so the rights holders can seek settlements from the individual file sharers.

Thousands of movie downloaders sued at once

The system originated in Germany, where a firm called Guardaley IT figured out how to monitor torrent downloads in real time, capture the IP addresses of the downloaders and confirm that the file being downloaded is copyrighted. The firm is letting the U.S. Copyright Group try out the system.

“We’re creating a revenue stream and monetizing the equivalent of an alternative distribution channel,” said Jeffrey Weaver, a lawyer at Guardaley IT.

The Independent Film & Television Alliance is supportive of the effort, but not involved. Major studios under the Motion Picture Association of America are interested, but they want to see how Internet service providers respond before jumping on board. So far, one service provider has agreed, providing the names and addresses of 71 people, and eight of those people have settled. The rest are either fighting in court to protect their customers’ identities or contacting customers themselves.

Following this initial wave of 20,000 torrent users, THR reports that 30,000 downloaders will be targeted in another lawsuit.

Of course, the problems this method runs into are the same as any other aggressive attack on individual file sharers. It’s bad PR first of all, but more importantly, there’s no safeguard against torrent downloads that occur on someone’s unsecured wireless network without their knowledge. This unfairly leaves innocent people to fend for themselves, which can be a nightmare, and the practice of sending settlement letters is under scrutiny in the United Kingdom for this very reason.

As a scare tactic, though, I imagine this works. People may think twice about illegal movie downloads when people are getting sued by the thousands. If you’re one of those downloaders, pray that your ISP doesn’t roll over.