Granny successfully fights porn download charge


In July, I wrote about the case of a 70-year-old woman who was fighting back against one of the thousands of lawsuits filed against John and Jane Doe defendants who allegedly downloaded copyrighted material from BitTorrent.

While many people cave in to the demands from lawyers to pay a “small” settlement fee of $2,000-5,000 rather than face the cost of hiring a lawyer and risk losing at trial where damages could be much higher, the Bay Area woman decided to fight back. She recruited the Electronic Frontier Foundation to defend her, and she also went to her local newspaper (The San Francisco Chronicle), which wrote the first of many articles about her case.  

Earlier this month, the suit was dropped by the Chicago law firm representing a pornography production company that claimed the woman had downloaded a porn film. You’d think that the combination of the publicity and the EFF’s intervention had something to do with the result. Not so, according to the law firm. 

Chicago law firm Steele Hansmeier has a flash banner on its website http://www.wefightpiracy.com that explains its approach to file-sharing litigation.

In its letter notifying the woman that the suit against her had been dropped, the law firm says it found the person actually responsible for using the woman’s unsecured WiFi connection to download the film. 

But Jane Doe thinks otherwise. “They had an unwinnable case, and I called them on it.  And I hope other people do, too,” she says.  

The San Francisco Chronicle’s James Temple, writing in the SFGate blog, says of the law firm’s assertion about why the suit was dropped:  “If the firm did find the ‘real’ criminal, one might think it would — or at least should — offer an apology for the strain the case placed on an elderly woman.  No such luck.  

“Instead, in a snide aside, the letter underscored that the firm knew she talked to the newspaper – but that it was impervious to such actions.

“‘Regarding the San Francisco article, publicity about our efforts are always welcome as it deters infringers,’ read the letter signed by firm founding partner John Steele. ‘Also, a movie producer hired our firm after reading the article and for that I thank you.’”

Mr. Steele has claimed in the past that the software his firm developed to capture the IP addresses of illegal file sharers has “never yet produced a false positive.”  If this case doesn’t prove otherwise, perhaps a look at what one of Steele’s own employees told a judge might need to be considered. 

In a case titled Boy Racer vs. John Doe, Attorney Brett Gibbs, an associate at Steele Hansmeier, told Judge Paul Singh Grewal of the Northern California District Court that while an IP address can identify Internet subscribers, “this does not tell Plaintiff who illegally downloaded Plaintiff’s works, or, therefore, who Plaintiff will name is the Defendant in this case.”  This was his argument in asking the judge to allow him to search all of the computers in a home that the defendant in the case — a grandfather this time — shared with a number of other people ranging in age from 16 to over 70.

It will be interesting to see what judges do with cases like these, which continue to be filed in spite of several significant losses in similar cases.  The hope for consumers who fear being targeted for something they didn’t do may lie with the costs associated with prosecuting them.

After all, the RIAA spent $58 million pursuing claims against music file-sharers, and netted a return of just $2 million in paid damages.  Video producers have refined the techniques used by the RIAA  in an effort to cut costs and make the process faster and easier, but judges (and grandmothers) are beginning to push back. 

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Granny successfully fights porn download charge

  1. Pingback: Net Neutrality: Why We Need It Now! | Wendy Cockcroft Web Design

  2. Pingback: Top Posts from 2011 | Marketing Where Technology Intersects Life

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s