< The US Copyright Group's Anti-Downloader Crusade


Friday, December 03, 2010

BOB GARFIELD: And now, an update: Earlier this year we reported on a Washington, D.C. law firm called Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver that had joined with other lawyers to form the U.S. Copyright Group, an organization dedicated to bringing pain to anyone caught downloading movies illegally. The USCG’s business model is simple. If you download a movie illegally, they track you down and bust you. You can immediately settle with the group for 1500 dollars, money that’s split between the lawyers and the movie companies they represent. The group has even set up a website so you can pay quickly via credit card. Or they will sue you to the tune of 150,000 dollars. Nate Anderson of the website Ars Technica spoke to us in June about the U.S. Copyright Group.

NATE ANDERSON: There's two real concerns with the approach. One is the amount of money involved here. I think it's debatable whether being hit out of the blue with a demand to pay 1500 dollars for maybe one film you've downloaded, or you could face 150,000-dollar penalty, you know, is really a proportional response to what happened. The other question is whether everyone is, in fact, guilty. And it's clear that that's not the case. So then the question is how many people were innocent, and how many of them just decided to settle, rather than dig up a lawyer and pay several thousand dollars just to try to prove their innocence.

BOB GARFIELD: The U.S. Copyright Group has sued more than 16,000 people, nearly as many individuals this year alone as the Recording Industry Association of America did in its entire campaign. But then the Copyright Group hit a few bumps in the road. In September, a loose-knit collective of Internet pranksters called Anonymous launched Operation Payback, a series of denial of service attacks on the Copyright Group which took its website down for a number of days. In October, the firm was evacuated after a bomb threat called to its offices. In November, a D.C. court judge ruled that the U.S. Copyright Group cannot file lawsuits against John Does that are outside the court’s jurisdiction, which happens to be limited to the District of Columbia. And perhaps the cruelest cut of all, a Massachusetts man named Dmitriy Shirokov is attempting to file a class action lawsuit against U.S. Copyright Group alleging fraud and extortion. He claims the firm has no interest in actually suing people, merely in scaring them to settle. But even if he defeats the USCG, several copycat law firms have already popped up to replace it. The latest specialization in this burgeoning mini-industry: pursuing illegal downloaders of porn movies. Now we know the wages of sin, roughly 1500 bucks.