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Pirates win the day, even as movie studio faces its own claims of infringement, exploitation of U.S. soldiers

It was supposed to be a landmark case against file sharing.  Hoping to sue those who downloaded its Hurt Locker film via torrent, Voltage Pictures retained the services of the U.S. Copyright Group (USCG), led by the trio of Washington, D.C. lawyers Thomas Dunlap, Daniel Grubb, and J.W. Weaver.  The USCG quickly unloaded lawsuit claims against 47K members of the unwitting American public, even as Voltage Picture spewed a stream of vitriol suggesting that the children and families of file sharers would hopefully "end up in jail".  

With an average target settlement of $2,000 USD, USCG and Voltage hoped to rake in $94M USD -- a blockbuster total.  If the scheme worked it could have launched a new era of reverse class action claims, in which media corporations targeted thousands of members of the public for hundreds of millions in damages.  In fact, the USCG alone announced a goal of suing over 150,000 Americans for copyright infringement of various works.

Instead the case imploded.  Internet service providers, wary of throwing out paying customers and spending extra money to track down the infringers carried out the USCG's requests for information at a leisurely pace.

A panicked USCG was forced to drastically scale down the claims to 2,300 defendants.

But in the end even that wasn't enough.  Without sufficient information to carry out its reverse class action tactic, the USCG was forced to grovel before the presiding judge asking for extension after extension.

In the end, despite the fact that the presiding judge -- Judge Beryl Howell -- was a former RIAA lobbyist who spent years decrying the evils of piracy, even he grew tired of the USCG's antics.  After asking for one extension too many, he threw the group's case out of court, ending Voltage Picture's costly experiment in mass litigation.

Hurt Locker
A scene from The Hurt Locker [Image Source: AP]

The death of the lawsuit is a victory for those who claim that the U.S. intellectual property system is out of control and out of touch with modern reality.  While many of these individuals frown on piracy, they find charging citizens thousands of dollars for what amounts to petty theft to be a ludicrous proposition.  

They also point to growing legal support for the notion that an IP address cannot be equated to a person -- something the tech community has long understood.  Given that somebody can crack your Wi-Fi connection, download content, and leave you with the fine, this seems a pretty valid point.

Voltage, for its part, appears to be unwilling to give up the fight.  It reportedly is changing gears, hoping to launch a number of smaller suits against individuals, with higher settlement targets.

But like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), it may find itself fighting against the wind.  The RIAA spent $64M USD to win a mere $1.4M USD from pirates during its most prolific lawsuit period between 2006 and 2008.

The greatest irony is perhaps that, like big music labels, Voltage and Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal are accused of ripping off and stealing intellectual property from "the little guy".  A U.S. Army Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver has accused Mr. Boal and Voltage of lifting the plot from Mr. Boal's time spent with Sgt. Sarver's company, while passing the story off as fiction in order to make sure the soldiers who put their lives on the line to serve received no compensation.  The accusations are similar to those leveled against major music labels who reportedly have been engaging in large scale theft of works of independent artists.

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"Pirates win the day"
By nafhan on 12/27/2011 3:32:27 PM , Rating: 5
Pirates win the day
While this subtitle is kind of funny, I would say sanity and almost everyone who's not an MPAA lawyer (along with the relatively small group known pejoratively as "pirates") are winners thanks to this ruling.

I'm happy to see someone who was attempting to abuse the US court system for profit getting (figuratively) kicked in the nuts. Now if that producer could just get literally kicked in the nuts, my day would be complete.

RE: "Pirates win the day"
By Shig on 12/27/2011 3:59:19 PM , Rating: 2
"The RIAA spent $64M USD to win a mere $1.4M USD from pirates during its most prolific lawsuit period between 2006 and 2008."

I wonder what cool new things the RIAA could have actually done with that $62.6M USD.

RE: "Pirates win the day"
By nafhan on 12/27/2011 4:24:50 PM , Rating: 2
Q: what cool new things could the RIAA have actually done with $62.6M USD?
A: Nothing, it's the RIAA! HAHahaaa <cough, cough>... actually, that's more sad than funny.

RE: "Pirates win the day"
By FITCamaro on 12/27/2011 11:39:46 PM , Rating: 2
Make half of another shitty Saw movie?

RE: "Pirates win the day"
By JonB on 12/28/2011 4:57:36 PM , Rating: 2
I can't believe it. I actually agreed with an FITCamaro post. Merry Christmas!!!

RE: "Pirates win the day"
By spread on 12/28/2011 11:31:09 PM , Rating: 2
And then use rejected scenes from the first half to make the second half. Doesn't even need an ending.

RE: "Pirates win the day"
By ProZach on 12/27/2011 11:54:22 PM , Rating: 3
How about using the money to clone Jim Morrison and put him at his would-be age today. Then get him and Lou Reed a podium each and fiercely battle for the "Mumbling Rock Poetry Award" hosted by the usual VH1 reps.

The tickets will guarantee to sell out... baby.

RE: "Pirates win the day"
By RivuxGamma on 12/28/2011 8:08:12 PM , Rating: 2
The Hurt Locker wasn't even all that good. Maybe that's why they tried suing everybody. Just as an extra kick in the junk for having to endure that crap anyways.

I give you "Joe Shmo and the Pirate go to Downloadtown"

Joe Shmo: Doo de doo... I heard 'The Hurt Locker' was turds in movie form, but it won a bunch of awards. I sure don't wanna get cornholed at the theatre, but I kinda want to see it.

Pirate: "Nyeeehh!" *hisses* "Why pay for anything when you can download it for free?! AHAHAHAHAHA!" *hisses*

Joe Shmo: "Really? You sound kinda shady, but I do like free. What is this 'downloading?' Can I find it at Best Buy?"

Pirate: "AHAHAH-what?" *chokes on own spittle* "LOL, SRSLY? FML. Put this in your address bar and then press Enter: '' They'll help you. Don't talk to me until you're sure you've watched 'he Hurt Locker.'"

Joe Shmo: "Thanks Mr. hissy-pirate-man! I'll get right on it!"

Time passes...

Joe Shmo: "Man, it sure takes a while to find someone helpful on the internet..."

More time passes...

Joe Shmo: "Hey Mr. Pirate! I just watched 'The Hurt Locker' and I hated it. I want my money back."

Pirate: "AHAHAHAHA!" *hisses* "Idiot! You paid nothing for it, so nobody can give you money for it! Now, if you didn't like that, try watching 'Animal Farm.' It's a classic. AHAHAHAHAHA!"

Voltage/USCG: "BTW, that'll be $2000."

Joe Shmo: "Hey, no fair! I didn't even like your crappy movie! You tricked me, Pirate!"

Pirate: "AHAHAHAHAHA! I did not!" *hisses* "I merely omitted certain details!"

Voltage/USCG: "In lieu of said dollars, we will accept all-inclusive, exclusive rights to your b-hole."

Joe Shmo: "You can't do this! Help me, Pirate!"

Pirate: "AHAHAHAHAHA!" *hisses* "Help yourself, ya Mac-lubber! Nyeeeehhh!"

Voltage/USCG: "You were going to get boned one way or the other. This way we make more money."


Pirate and Voltage/USCG: (together) "AHAHAHAHAHA!" *hisses*

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