Porn Studios Accused of Screwing Their Fans in BitTorrent Lawsuits

Photo: s-falkow/Flickr

A handful of pornography producers are being accused of racketeering, fraud, defamation and other charges in connection to their BitTorrent online litigation trolling strategies.

The program is simple: They sue IP addresses in court — addresses detected to have allegedly and unlawfully downloaded copyrighted pornography without permission. Often, judges in these cases order internet service providers to cough up the identities of the account holders of the ISP — and the shakedown begins, according to the Kentucky federal court suit (.pdf), which seeks class-action status.

The companies have no intention of litigating, but instead demand settlements from $1,000 to $5,000, and many people settle due to the fear of embarrassment over being accused of downloading pornography. Moreover, under the U.S. Copyright Act, defendants face up to $150,000 in fines for a single copyright violation.

The suit comes a week after a federal judge declared a BitTorrent lawsuit brought by Malibu Media “an extortion scheme.”

We’ve written about the scams repeatedly, and a year ago we were aware of 130,000 IP addresses targeted.

In contrast to the Recording Industry Association of America’s much-criticized and now-abandoned litigation war against music pirates — which targeted 20,000 downloaders in six years — the movie lawsuits appear to have been designed from the start as a for-profit endeavor, not as a deterrent to piracy.

“The pornography purveyors know that this amount of money is less than the cost of defense would be if suit were filed. They also know that individuals such as the plaintiff in this matter are embarrassed to have their names associated with pornography, and therefore, are susceptible to being shaken down,” according to the suit, which claims it could represent as many as 200,000 people.

“In fact, if the individuals could be proven to have downloaded the pornography unlawfully from the internet, the pornography purveyors could collect civil statutory damages of $150,000 for a willful infringement such as they allege, yet they settle for $1,000-$5,000.”

The RIAA was hit with a similar lawsuit years ago, but that eventually fizzled.

Lory Lybeck, a Washington state attorney not connected to the Kentucky class action, said he is defending hundreds of clients accused of downloading porn. “There’s a slime element associated with the porn cases, which makes it much more apparent than the music cases that there is an extortionist element to this,” he said in a telephone interview.

The case targeting the porn studios was brought on behalf of a Kentucky woman named Jennifer Barker. A representative of Intellectual Property Protection, which works for the porn companies named in the suit, allegedly called her at home and at work seeking a settlement for allegedly downloading X-Art videos produced by Malibu Media, the suit said. She claims she is innocent.

The company, the suit said, “demanded that Ms. Barker pay money to settle the lawsuit or she would be identified publicly as having downloaded pornography and would be subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars as a judgement if the suit went forward because there were multiple downloads.”

Malibu Media did not respond for comment. Third Degree Films and Patrick Collins Inc. declined comment. Raw Films was not immediately reached.