Hurt Locker Lawsuit Fragged in Court
December 27, 2011 1:35 PM
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
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
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.
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
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
“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads
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