Last week’s news about copyright troll Righthaven was good for those who care both about freedom from unreasonable litigation and the right of creative people to protect their work – but lest we forget that there are still plenty of risks out there, consider these news items as well.
The Northern District Court of Texas, right here in Dallas, fined attorney Evan Stone $10,000 for sending out subpoenas and offering settlements to “John Doe” defendants in a case alleging that 670 individuals downloaded a German porn film. Why fine the plaintiff’s attorney for offering settlements and sending subpoenas in a standard lawsuit? Because Mr. Stone had asked the judge for permission to do it, and the judge had said “no”.
California Magistrate Judge Bernard Zimmerman threw out 5,010 of 5,011 suits filed by a porn filmmaker called On the Cheap LLC against John Doe defendants because the judge said the litigation was “nothing more than a massive collection scheme”. The judge said that trying to try that many cases at once was impossible for a number of reasons, and that the plaintiffs never actually wanted to try any of the cases – just collect settlement payments from the defendants. Even though the suits were dismissed, the plaintiff gets to keep over $140,000 in settlement fees already paid by 70 defendants. Taking it one step further, the judge questioned whether the film was “produced for commercial purposes or for purposes of generating litigation and settlements.”
In New Zealand, where one of the world’s strictest copyright infringement laws took effect at the beginning of September, ISP traffic is down by 10% even as the country fills with tourists for the Rugby World Cup and rugby-mad Kiwis log on to follow the All Blacks and other teams. With threatened fines as high as $15,000, it seems that the draconian legislation is truly a deterrent – to Internet use, not just file sharing.
Finally, a file sharing attorney has admitted that merely having an IP address is not enough to tell him who actually downloaded illegal material – so he’s asking the judge in one case to let him search all of the Internet-enabled devices in one defendant’s house.
What does it mean to the average Internet user? It means that the courts are beginning to push back against the massive blocks of litigation filed by copyright trolls against individuals. Does that mean that any individual is less likely to get sued? Probably not.
The best advice remains the same: if you didn’t pay for it, and it isn’t clearly marked as being available for free online viewing, you can find yourself paying huge damages and or losing your Internet connection. How can you tell if it’s “safe” to download a video or watch a film or TV show online? For TV and movies, stick to safe sites like:
- Paid sites like iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix
- Free sites like The Internet Audio Archive, NBC.com, Hulu and other network or studio-sponsored sites that allow free streaming of selected content (usually including current shows)
For music, I get my free music from streaming sites if I can listen while connected — and from artist websites and social media pages for free music and music videos I can listen to offline. As the parent and grand parent of several budding musicians, I like this option because the musicians themselves decide what to share — and how long to share it.
What about YouTube, BitTorrent, and other sites where other users post their favorite videos? That’s where it gets a bit dicey. A lot of the content on YouTube is user created — and the creators have chosen to distribute it for free. But, unfortunately, a lot of the things I’d most like to watch — new episodes of British TV shows, for instance — aren’t available free in the U.S. for months (or years) except on BitTorrent. And (in my opinion) downloading them from BitTorrent still isn’t safe, because the copyright trolls are still actively pursuing BitTorrent users.
For more information on how to share files and download content without getting sued, check out the EFF’s tutorials on this subject.
I’ve said it many times before, I strongly support the rights of creative people to decide where and when their work is shared online, and to be compensated for its use. At the same time, I’m strongly against the use of “John Doe” lawsuits to intimidate, harass, and threaten Internet users into compliance.