Beginning in 2003, our firm began to represent individuals sued by the Recording Industry Association of America ("RIAA") for alleged downloading and uploading of copyrighted works. Soon thereafter, our firm also began representing individuals sued by the Motion Picture Association of America ("MPAA") for the same alleged conduct. While some may debate the issue, the RIAA and MPAA engaged in their litigation initiative as a misguided effort to deter unauthorized distribution, downloading, and sharing of their copyrighted works (many times, the recording companies and film studios own the copyrights to the sound recordings or films and not the artists involved).
After several years, the RIAA and MPAA abandoned their mass peer-to-peer lawsuits. Other entities, however, emerged to adopt the RIAA-MPAA practice of filing suit against mass numbesr of individuals for alleged copyright infringement. In this instance, some of the entities appeared to do so for purposes of securing settlements from individuals. Since this model of litigation began, our firm has represented individuals caught in this maelstrom of purported efforts to protect intellectual property rights and oppressive settlement demands.
The Internet Does Not Mean Free
As an initial principle, people need to understand that simply because content exists on the Internet does not make it lawful to download and distribute such content without payment. Many times in our practice, we find individuals who misunderstand this aspect of the Internet. If content - particularly such as a film - appears on the Internet and can be accessed without payment of some kind (even Netflix has a monthly fee), you should be wary. With rumors of some companies intentionally making available copyrighted works available for "illegal distribution" to "catch" infringers, you should again be wary. You should determine whether the website is a primary source (eg an artist's website from which the artist offers their music free to fans) or a third party distribution network (eg P2P or BitTorrent network).
Notice from Internet Service Provider
Typically, our representation of indivduals in these situations begins when they have received a notice from their Internet Service Provider ("ISP") that a third party seeks identifying information about them. The notice will most often provide a date by which information will be disclosed unless an objection or motion is filed with the Court.
To ensure consideration of all options, you should speak to an attorney before this deadline passes.
When people contact us after receiving such a notice, they wonder how the film company or Plaintiff in the litigation found them. Usually, someone in the household or business accessed a website that tracked the Internet Protocol address associated with the individual's connection to the Internet from their ISP. With an IP address, you can easily determine
(in most cases) the ISP associated with that IP address.
The Plaintiff then files litigation, obtains leave to issue discovery through subpoenas, and serves the ISP with a subpoena seeking information about which subscriber used that IP address.
Fight or Settle
When an individual receives a notice from an ISP indicating a subpoena has been served upon it seeking the individual's information, a few options exist. The first - which we do not recommend - is to ignore it. We have spoken with many people over the years who initially ignore it and then become named as defendants in the litigation. Most likely, not everyone who ignores it will be named in the litigation as a defendant. But, certainly, some will and have been so named. Again, we do not recommend ignoring any legal notice.
Next, one could file a motion objecting to the subpoena or motion to quash. However, in the copyright context, the likelihood of success on these motions is minimal.
One could settle. A settlement does not always involve payment of money, but in most all cases falling within these circumstances it does. Unfortunately, there does not exist any way to specify here what a settlement amount may be because it depends on the Plaintiff, an individual's specific circumstances, the nature of the copyrighted works, and much more. Moreover, prior settlements aften include agreements of confidentiality.