GEEKALEGAL: What illegal downloading means....
If you've ever wondered whether anyone knows whether you are illegally downloading a movie, you probably have answered it with a yes. Oddly enough, there are still a lot of folks who think it is ok to download copyrighted material. Be it a movie, books, or software, there are many ways that the owner of that material can discover who is downloading illegally.
What often happens is that there are law firms that do massive “John Doe” lawsuits, which provide the court with IP addresses and request that the servers give them the names and contact information of the person who illegally downloaded, say a movie. There have been a plethora of these suits nationally, and while there has been a fight to keep the server from providing that information, it is not always successful.
Recently a DC Federal Court magistrate ordered the ISP providers to give out the contact information for thousands of IP addresses. To object would entail filing in one's local federal court AND in the DC Court as well. The legal fees to do this are expensive. And even if one fights the order of the court, there is no guarantee that one will be successful.
So then a person is in a lawsuit. There are civil and criminal penalties, and the success of the firms is much in the 'quantity' range, where they take a percentage of the fees earned. Even more interesting is that some of the downloading is of pornographic nature, and that adds to the embarrassment and 'persuasion' factor.
Is this right? It is a heavy penalty to pay for downloading something that at most might have cost around $20.00. Yet people continue to download copyrighted material daily. Is this type of lawsuit having an impact on the greater community? It is not clear that it is doing much more than putting dollars in the pockets of lawyers. I no longer do litigation, that much anyway, but there are thriving practices on both the trolling side and the defense. And with courts not understanding the financial burden, or not caring, to a defendant it is going to continue.
As authors we are cognizant of the issues of copyright, and how it effects our own industry. If people continue to believe it is ok to illegally download something that they should have bought, then the problems continue. But is this kind of remedy appropriate and even more so, effective? Time will tell.