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Download porn from file-sharing? Pay up or be exposed and sued, says attorney


More than a dozen pornography studios are using a Chicago attorney to launch an attempted crackdown on the illegal online sharing of their movies, borrowing a page from the controversial campaign launched this year by the Hollywood makers of “The Hurt Locker”to go after thousands of alleged copyright violators.

John SteeleJohn Steele, 39, dubbed a “pirate slayer” recently by an adult-video trade publication, has filed the first seven of what he expects will be 10 lawsuits this year, each potentially targeting thousands of people. It’s the first time that type of lawsuit has been filed here, copyright attorneys said. Federal judges here have so far ordered Internet service providers to turn over the names of around 3,000 customers.

The legal technique of filing ” John Doe” lawsuits naming thousands of defendants from across the country has come under fire from privacy groups. They question what they call the heavy-handed tactic of going after BitTorrent users who typically lack an attorney, often live in a different state than where the lawsuit is filed and fear the embarrassment of being named in a court file as having downloaded pornography.


Such lawsuits drew headlines last spring when the producers of “The Hurt Locker,” this year’s best-picture Oscar winner, went after thousands of BitTorrent users in a case filed in Washington.

“It’s a fundamentally unfair process,” said Corynne McSherry, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which intervened in the “The Hurt Locker” case. “And there is the added reason that they’re going to be named as a person who downloaded porn. Some of it is gay and lesbian porn, and not everybody is out about their preferences.”

Steele said judges have upheld the technique, which he said is the only feasible way to go after so many defendants.

“There are people out there that don’t support the idea of going after pirates, the idea that we’re going after the little guy,” Steele said. “But really there is only the little guy. So if we are just to sit back and let the little guy steal, there won’t be any industry left.”

Porn producers “deserve all the same rights as anybody else,” he said.

The industry, faced with sagging revenues, has become deeply concerned about piracy. Though traditionally a splintered trade, the porn industry banded together this year to launch an anti-piracy campaign — complete with YouTube public-service announcements. “We work hard to entertain you and arouse you,” says performer Alektra Blue in one, “so please show your support by buying our product.”

“2010 is going to be the year of lawsuits,” said Steve Jones, owner of Lightspeed Media, an Arizona porn studio and Steele client that runs 40 Web sites, giving what he said was the general consensus among about 30 studios that met this month for the first porn anti-piracy conference.

While there are no public figures for how much studios, many of them privately held, are losing due to piracy, Jones said most attribute an estimated 30 percent of their revenue declines to illegal sharing. DVD sales have shriveled up, and most mid-size studios release new scenes or films electronically.

But so far the industry trade group is opposed to taking potential customers to court, preferring instead to do battle with what it calls the “tube sites” — YouTube-like sites that studios allege are illegally hosting their copyrighted porn, said Diane Duke of the trade group, called the Free Speech Coalition.

Still, a growing number of small to mid-level studios — which Steele said have revenues of $1 million to $8 million — have signed up with his Media Copyright Group, which he said is only paid a percentage of any money recovered. Steele said he and a partner spent about $250,000 to develop software that tracks illegal BitTorrent sharing from an office in Minneapolis.

BitTorrent is a popular file-sharing method in which larger files are, typically, eventually split up into pieces that are shared on numerous private computers. People who download the file can then “seed” it, making it possible for many others to download part of it and share it themselves.

Steele’s software logs BitTorrent activity along with what is known as the computer’s IP address. That address is then included in a federal lawsuit that asks Internet service providers to turn over the name of the customer using that IP address.

Those customers then get a letter from Steele informing them that if they don’t want to be named in federal court as having shared, for example, an “Amateur Allure” film, they can settle the case by paying a fine. Steele said it typically ranges from $1,900 to $3,000.

Steele said all the BitTorrent data gathered is public and his software doesn’t leave traces on anyone else’s computer.

During an interview at his Loop high-rise office suite, in a conference room stocked with cognac and first editions, Steele said he’d just gotten off the phone with a defendant.

“He was more than willing to say, ‘I don’t want my name in a federal lawsuit for, in this case, downloading transsexual porn,’” Steele said. “We worked out a very reasonable, minor fine.

“If we resolve the matter prior to actually naming them … then no one knows who those people ever were. I don’t like the idea of trying to pressure somebody into settling in exchange for keeping their name secret. I think that what we’re doing is pressuring people into not being revealed for stealing.

“People always ask me that — are you trying to extort things? I guess there’s something to be said about people being more embarrassed about this than (illegally downloading) a regular movie like ‘Titanic.’

“But I think I’d be most embarrassed that they’re committing a crime.”

Steele said the porn industry is trying to avoid the highly publicized mistakes the music industry trade group, the Recording Industry Association of America, known as RIAA, made in its fight against piracy. Among other things, he said his firm’s software has so far had no “false positives” like those that gave the recording industry black eyes.

“All you have to do is sue a priest who’s never owned a computer and this is a major PR problem,” he said.

But McSherry said the attorneys filing the lawsuits — others are now pending in Texas and West Virginia — have missed the point.

“These guys have decided not to learn the RIAA’s lessons — they’ve taken it beyond what even the RIAA did, suing thousands of people in one court,” she said. “These are judicial resources being spent, I fear, primarily to extract settlements.”

Jones, the studio owner, said the industry for years has tried issuing takedown notices without much effect. He believes the best approach is to go after both the “tube sites” and the end users who are sharing films illegally.

“The porn industry in general has never been one to worry too much about its own reputation,” he said. “Going after pirates is not one of the worst things you could say. We’re just like any other business, and we have to protect it.”?

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3 Responses to “Download porn from file-sharing? Pay up or be exposed and sued, says attorney”

  1. Susan says:

    Hmmm thanks for yet another nice and interesting post. Where do you find your inspiration for all this?

  2. LOLJTX says:

    ahahah fuck off I will never stop d/ling porn and if i get sued i will LOL so hard IRL

  3. Juice says:

    Intellectual property is not a natural right.

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