case just became more bizarre. Lawyers for Voltage Pictures, makers of
the Oscar-winning war movie The Hurt Locker, have announced [Scribd]
in legal filings that they are dramatically expanding their record setting legal crusade against
I. A Reverse Class Action?
The Hurt Locker lawsuit is perhaps the first of its kind. It
represents a reverse class action, with a company acting as a plaintiff and
suing a large class of defendants.
Originally this class was set at 5,000. But as promised, lawyers for
Voltage Pictures have expanded the class, adding close to 20,000 newly accused
defendants, for a total of 24,583 defendants.
The majority of defendants are on Comcast. A total of 10,532 Comcast
users currently stand accused. Comcast has refused to cooperate with the
plaintiffs in targeting its customers according to filed legal documents.
By contrast Verizon, who had the second most defendants at 5,239, agreed to
hand over the names and information of 100 customers a month. Third place
Charter, with 2,699 defendants, agreed to hand over 150 customers a month.
Time Warner rounds off the list with 1,750 defendants.
If Comcast can hold off the legal assault, it may safeguard approximately two
fifths of the customers targeted in the case. The plaintiffs do not
currently have users' true identities -- just the offending IP addresses.
So as long as Comcast refuses to cooperate its customers will be safe.
Even in the case of Verizon and Charter it will take years at the promised rate
to successfully obtain information on all the accused.
II. USCG -- Nearly 50,000 Sued
The legal brains behind this audacious lawsuit is the U.S. Copyright Group
(USCG). The men leading the USCG are a trio of lawyers Thomas Dunlap, Daniel Grubb, and J.W. Weaver whose
main office is located in Washington, D.C.
The USCG have borrow a page from the Mafioso playbook, creating a mass
"pay or else" scheme of legal threats, which many consider pure
In many ways this scheme is the entertainment industry's anointed successor to
the notorious Recording
Industry Association of America (RIAA) campaign of legal
threats. However the USCG suits are a bit different, as they actually
have been filed in court, versus the RIAA threats that were negotiated out of
court. Amazingly, federal courts appear to be cooperating with the USCG's
scheme to juice millions out of the unsuspecting public.
Last month the USCG announced [Scribd]
a suit against 23,322 defendants for downloading the movie The Hurt
Locker. That brings the total to 47,905 -- close to the eye-catching
The USCG hopes to gains settlements of $2,000 from the defendants. If it
can get everyone to settle, it could in theory make $95.81M USD. Of
course it probably will get nowhere close to that, but even if it got a mere
fourth of defendants to settle it would receive almost $24.0M USD -- a handsome
payout compared to the $17M USD The Hurt Locker made at the
box office at the $103M USD box office scoop from The Expendables.
The USCG has said that they hope to sue 150,000 U.S. citizens for
various infringed works.
III. Former RIAA Lobbyist-Turned-Judge Presides Over the Case
If the selection of Judge is any indication, the defendants could be in very
bad trouble. The happy news for the USCG is that the judge presiding over
the case -- Judge Beryl Howell -- was a former RIAA lobbyist who spent years
decrying the evils of piracy.
Judge Howell will deliver her ruling on whether the case by Voltage Pictures
with the new details can proceed and under what stipulations.
One complication is a recent ruling Judge Harold Baker, a judge at the Central District Court of Illinois that an IP address does not equate to a physical person/defendant.
However, typically federal court rulings only apply within a state, or
sometimes are considered by nearby states.
Judge Howell (Washington, D.C.) is free to draw her own conclusions as she's in
a separate jurisdiction in which the legal system still seems to think an IP
(internet protocol) address identifies a single person.
The association between IP and identity remains a thorny legal issue in the
United States. In court, the U.S. largely upheld IP logs as evidence in
trials such as the cases against Jammie Thomas-Rassert and Joel Tenenbaum.
And recently, the U.S.
Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and its sister agencies
have been conducting raids on suspected child pornography viewers based solely
on IP logs -- with minimal background research. In many cases these raids
were later discovered to be case of mistaken identity -- but that discovery
came too late for brutalized homeowners.