The USCG is accused of executing an extortion campaign that would make the Mafioso proud. It is currently trying to threaten nearly 50,000 U.S. citizens into settlements.
Record setting lawsuit against downloaders of The Hurt Locker has reached nearly 25,000 people, alone

A bizarre 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 filesharers.

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 extortion.  

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 50k mark.

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.

"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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