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Posts Tagged ‘Ira Siegel’

I am observing “shifting sands” when it comes to the number of internet users who are getting caught in the web of CEG-TEK DMCA-based settlement demand letters.

For almost two years, I have been telling people that there are three internet service providers who are working with Ira Siegel — Charter Communications, SuddenLink, and CenturyLink. This has been true, and continues to be true.

I have also told people that if your ISP is participating in the “Six Strikes” anti-piracy system — specifically, Comcast (Xfinity), Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision – then there is nothing to worry about (because these ISPs are no longer forwarding Ira Siegel’s DMCA settlement demand letters, meaning that there is nothing at the moment to settle).  This is NO LONGER TRUE.

In recent weeks, I have observed Comcast (Xfinity) infringement notices sent to subscribers in spite of the “Six Strikes” system being in place.  [The Comcast notices contain relevant infringement information, yet only reference the “CEG-TEK Case Number;” Comcast has, however, neglected to provide the password so that the accused downloader could visit CEG-TEK’s website to determine what claims they have against him.  The unintended consequence is that in order to see what claim(s) CEG-TEK has against the accused subscriber, the subscriber would be forced to contact CEG-TEK directly to obtain the password corresponding to the Case Number (thus exposing his identity, and potentially incriminating himself when answering questions). Direct communication with copyright trolls is a big no-no, as you know it is my opinion that communicating directly with them is a bad idea because their goal is to extract a large settlement from you on behalf of their clients.]

As for the 100+ small and mid-sized ISPs who did not join the “Six Strikes” system, with hindsight, we now know that CEG-TEK has spent the last two years on an aggressive campaign to enroll as many ISPs to work with them as they could… “to stop piracy,” of course.  While it was surprising to us is that CEG-TEK went after Giganews and a growing number of VPN providers (finding the downloaders where the downloaders allegedly reside), the breaking news is that CEG-TEK has signed on COX Communications to send Ira Siegel’s DMCA letters to their subscribers.

Again, just in case you missed it — COX COMMUNICATIONS is now working with CEG-TEK.

Cox Communications has literally millions of subscribers.  They were almost expected to be part of the “Six Strikes” system, but then they declined to join keeping them free of the “Six Strikes” rules.

On a personal note, Cox used to annoy me when various copyright trolls would sue their subscribers. Instead of housing a subpoena department internally, they used to outsource all of their business relating to their subscribers to a company named NEUSTAR, a company that was complicit and merciless in turning over the records of hundreds of accused defendants in the copyright trolling lawsuits over the years.

In sum, with this article I take back a number of things that I thought almost two years ago, namely that the Six Strikes system would kill CEG-TEK’s business.  As you can see from the list below, CEG-TEK has responded to the “Six Strikes” system by focusing their efforts on growing the number of ISPs who are working with them.  Now that they have Cox Communications on board, this will be a problem for many thousands of users in the months and years to come.

Below is a list of ISPs who have been known to forward Ira Siegel’s DMCA settlement demand letters.  This list is obviously incomplete (and I have no intention of updating this list), but what is important is that two years ago, these ISPs were not working with CEG-TEK.  Now they are, and accused internet users are receiving notices of infringement instructing that they visit CEG-TEK’s website and settle the claims against them.

LIST OF INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS KNOWN TO WORK WITH CEG-TEK:
AeroSurf
AirtranNet
Arvig
Ashland Home Net
Bloom Broadband
Blue Ridge Communications
CenturyLink
Charter Communications
CondoInternet
DigitalOcean
EPB Fiber Optics
First Communications
GigaNews
Google Fiber
Hotspot Broadband
Internet Services of Cincinnati (ISOC.net)
MetroCast
Midcontinent Communications
Mid-Rivers Communications
Morris Broadband
NeoNova Network Services
OlyPen Cable
PenTel Data (another name for Blue Ridge Communications)
ResTech
SuddenLink Communications
ViaSat / Exede Internet
StrongVPN
Whidbey Telecom
WildBlue (service through ViaSat)

UNIVERSITIES KNOWN TO FORWARD CEG-TEK SETTLEMENT DEMAND LETTERS:
Rice University
Columbia University
Cornell University
Stanford University
University of Michigan
Wisconsin University
University of Alaska

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The first rule of Usenet is “you do not speak about usenet.”  While writing something like this can upset those I would not want to upset, there is a bigger problem — what happens when the Usenet service provider (or more accurately, newsgroup service provider) fingers you as the internet user who is accused of committing a crime you did not do?

My mind can swirl with the possible implications of the above inquiry (oh what crimes can one commit), but in the context of this TorrentLawyer blog, there is a Usenet provider which is causing problems for their subscribers by identifying them as being the users who downloaded one or more copyrighted videos.

Many privacy-minded individuals flock to a service called Giganews because the content they provide is parallel to none.  The problem is that Giganews providers their subscribers with a Virtual Private Network (“VPN”) called VyprVPN (in conjunction with their Golden Frog service), where their VPN is supposed to hide the identity and the activities of the users while they are logged into the Giganews service.  This is effective for privacy-minded individuals who wish to communicate with others privately (e.g., stream a VoIP phone conversation over an encrypted connection) or mask their IP address from websites they visit.  Similarly, a VPN is useful when your ISP monitors your connection for the purposes of what is known as “traffic shaping” — making certain activities happen faster, and slowing down less-favored activities.

[To those that have been paying attention, VPN providers are not created equally.  Notoriously, some (e.g., HideMyAss) have turned over the identities of their subscribers causing their arrest and incarceration.  Giganews has also been implicated as being infiltrated by the FBI, and they are known to track and log all of their subscribers’ activities, even those activities apparently masked through their VyprVPN service.]

To the chagrin of those who have placed their trust in the VyprVPN service, many have received notices from Giganews implicating them as being the downloaders of copyrighted materials.  They are sent one or more DMCA settlement demand letters from companies (such as CEG-TEK), even when they have not done any downloading at all.

While in this case I cannot fault any of the parties (accused subscriber, CEG-TEK) who are now enmeshed in a “yes you did,” “no I didn’t” fight, I can fault Giganews / Golden Frog / VyprVPN for mistakenly pointing the finger at one of their users for activities that user did not partake in.

Now obviously as an attorney, I represent many accused internet users, many of whom “have always been downloaders, and will always be downloaders,” but specifically with Giganews, too often there is an inaccuracy where the wrong user is accused of downloading copyrighted media when that user was not even logged into the Giganews service at the time the downloads allegedly happened.

This is a problem with timekeeping and recordkeeping, something Giganews (or Golden Frog) should remedy ASAP.

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As we near the end of 2013, I expect to see “2013 Year in Review” articles. I decline to write my own here, but it has been a very busy, work-intensive year. I would compare it to using nothing but strength and muscle to push metal against a spinning wheel with the result of seeing sparks flying.

Prenda is dead. Or, is it. Lawyers spent most of the year enjoying the exposure of Prenda Law, Inc.’s failings (or more accurately, “fallings”) where their scams and schemes became unraveled over and over again for all to see. Judges called them on their bluff, brought the principals into court, and ordered them to pay large sums of money. Yet, what was actually paid (and what will actually be paid) is still hidden from our eyes. My guess is that they’ll pay something, but compared to the millions they raked in since 2010, it will only be a tiny fraction of their windfall profits.

It is my opinion that what undid them was greed. Had they continued to sue defendants en masse, and had they continued to “name and serve” defendants and move forward with the lawsuits in good faith (if there ever was good faith), they may still be in business. Thankfully, where there is “rolling in dough,” there is also born greed and corruption. AF Holdings was born, the “Alan Cooper” alter-ego was invented, papers were forged, settlement money was sent offshore to various entities, honeypots were discovered (where it was discovered that Prenda Law Inc. was seeding the pornography they later sued on), and so-called paralegals became the named “owners” of the entities who were suing to enforce their copyrights. If all this (and getting caught) was not enough, they threw their own local counsel attorneys “under the bus,” they sued the internet and bloggers for defamation, and they started a war with the internet service providers (ISPs) and Cable Companies, a fight they could not have won. Why they went after the ISPs, nobody will know, but in my opinion, this was their mistake.

But this article is not only about Prenda, or the Steele|Hansmeier gang, or the Mark Lutz characters of the world (or their many life-altering experiences over the year), but it is also about what has been happening outside the federal courts (“out-of-court”).

A year ago, I wrote a few articles about Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK), a brainchild of Ira Siegel. After his experiences in the Northern District of California, followed by the experiences of his local counsel Mike Meier, Marvin Cable, and for a time, Terik Hashmi, their cases went silent in the federal courts. No new cases were filed, and for a time, all we saw were dismissals of our law firm’s clients.  Then, tens of thousands of so-called “DMCA Letters” began pouring out from various ISPs directing accused internet users to their copyrightsettlements.com website (no link, this is on purpose) to entangle themselves in their settlement system.

There was a moment where I thought the “Six Strikes System” would kill CEG-TEK’s business model because the ISPs would no longer forward their “pay us now or else we will sue you” scare letters, and by depriving the copyright enforcement companies of their ability to contact accused internet downloaders in their homes and out-of-court (without the supervision of a federal judge), this would cause CEG-TEK and their ilk to go out of business, but this was a disappointment.

The “Six Strikes System” ended up being a dud. It only applied to a few of the “elite” ISPs, and those ISPs used the Six Strikes System to demand large sums of money from the copyright owners and sent the notices to their subscribers anyway, but only a truncated version of CEG-TEK’S “scare” letter. Comcast, case in point. I watched as a fight broke out between Comcast and CEG-TEK, where Comcast only forwarded a snippet of CEG-TEK’s letter, but still directed users to their CopyrightSettlements.com website so that the settlements can continue. Then in other letters, they botched the CEG-TEK settlement link alltogether, and then, did not include the link [in their letters] at all. (And, just for “me too” news as of today, “Johnny-come-late” to the game, RightsCorpis reported by Torrentfreak to have experienced the same thing).

In sum, the Six Strikes System did not kill CEG-TEK as I thought it would, nor did it hurt the “copyright trolls” or stop them from filing lawsuits. CEG-TEK merely found other ISPs and universities to cooperate with them by forwarding their settlement demand letters to the ISP’s subscribers, and CEG-TEK’s collection attempts have continued unhindered.

Lastly, there has been little slowdown to the copyright infringement lawsuits. As I predicted a few years back (link), the lawsuits merely got smaller and more focused (link). The days of suing 5000 “John Doe” defendants bunched together in one federal lawsuit are over. Similarly, the smaller lawsuits having just a handful of defendants [where the lawsuits are filed in the states in which the defendants live] are also over. Now, the lawsuits are so small and focused that it is common to have only one defendant in a lawsuit, and this has made it impossible for our firm to watch, read, and report on every case that is filed in every jurisdiction.  Then again, it has made it more expensive for the copyright trolls, and (ugh) more scary for the carefully targeted defendant.

In sum, it has been a year of grinding and a year of watching the effects of previous years of work change, alter, and shape the bittorrent lawsuits to the form in which they are today. Congress and lawmakers have been useless in making this copyright trolling phenomenon disappear, as have been the attorney generals and the various state bar ethics boards, who [with some very notable exceptions] have been sitting on their hands. I do not think the copyright troll problem has been solved in any way. Rather, the plaintiff attorneys have gotten smarter, smaller, and more focused.  As a result, they have flown below the radar of those who have the power to stop them. And, while the lawsuits continue, former copyright troll attorneys (Ira Siegel / CEG-TEK) have continued their efforts, just outside of the court’s ability to monitor, sanction, and control their out-of-court settlement activities. And, I need not say this, but many new copyright trolls have popped up based on the lack of legal supervision, and I am concerned to say that I do not see this going away any time soon.

John Steele and his Prenda Law Inc. gang are down. CEG-TEK is thriving. Old copyright trolls such as Lipscomb & Eisenberg, along with their many local counsel across the US [and their lawsuits] are thriving. Other no-name “baby” copyright trolls are growing up and have learned to navigate the broken federal court system. And most important of all, more and more people are getting entangled into their legal spiderweb of extortion, settlement demands, and lawsuits, both in and out of court. This is grim, I know.

But there are still voices out there — SJD’s Fight Copyright Trolls website, DieTrollDie‘s website, along with organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who, [while they have been rightly so enveloped with dealing with privacy issues, government corruption, secret FISA courts, and fighting NSA police-state-like snooping techniques] are still very helpful in the copyright troll lawsuits with their countless efforts to make the problem go away once and for all.

So please allow me to be the first to wish everyone Happy Holidays, a safe winter, and a Happy New Year.

Warm regards,
Rob Cashman

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I try my hardest to separate out the “photo” copyright trolls from the “bittorrent” copyright trolls when writing articles on this blog, as they are a separate category of trolls with their own rules.

In sum, “photo” copyright trolls search the web for images that are used on websites, often by bloggers, without permission or license from the owner of that photograph. Essentially, a blogger writes (for example) about the topic of “red pepper” vegetables. To make their blog entry more visually appealing, they search Google Images for “red pepper,” copy the first image they see, and they paste it on the top of their blog.

Most bloggers stay away from pictures that have a watermark on it, or from images which have a copyright logo marked on it. The problem is that 99% of the pictures out there have no copyright marking, and are not sold anywhere. Unsuspecting bloggers use these photos or random pictures on their blogs, and unbenownst to them, the owner (or a third party who purchases the rights to the photo with the intention of suing bloggers) begins asserting their copyright interests in the photo. Many accused bloggers who I have spoken to have expressed that they didn’t think they needed a license for a photo for non-commercial activities, and now they are facing threats of a lawsuit for using an image on their website.

Where the waters get muddied is that now Copyright Enforcement Group (a.k.a., “CEG-TEK”, “CEG TEK”, and more recently, “CEG”) is sending out the same DMCA letters that they ordinarily send to my bittorrent clients, but now they are in the “photo trolling” business. Their letters assert that a particular website used a copyrighted photo without a license, and the copyright holder is now asserting his rights for the “theft” that happened to his intellectual property rights. Thus, they are asking for $500 per photo, which in my opinion is obscene considering all their other letters ask for $200 per video shared via bittorrent.

On a personal note, hitting website users with a threat of a lawsuit over an image pulled from a Google image search is simply obscene. I would certainly understand such a letter if the image had a watermark pointing the user to a website where they can purchase rights to the photo without the watermark, or if there was a copyright mark on the image. Yet these photos have none of these, and they are literally trolling old websites and blogs looking for photos which were copied from other websites.

What makes this so obscene is that the photo copyright owners are asserting the same copyright infringement claims as do the copyright holders for the bittorrent cases we deal with daily. Along with the same copyright claims come the same shock of having the law provide statutory damages of $150,000 to the copyright holder who can prove the infringement. $150,000 for a movie download in my mind is an obscene and disproportionate punishment for the “crime” of downloading a copyrighted title. Even moreso for a photo. AND, even moreso for an unmarked and unwatermarked photo freely available on a Google image search.

Now here are the details as they are unfolding. So far, it appears as if the “photo” copyright troll entity asserting the copyrights is a company called “AKM Images / GSI Media.” The letter CEG-TEK is sending out provides a screenshot image of the blog containing the photo (and in a number of cases, the blog is no longer in existence and is only shown in the internet archives on the “Way Back Machine” on http://archive.org). It appears as if even CEG-TEK was unsure if they wanted to go into this area, because many of the screenshots are said to be from last year (2012). And, the so-called DMCA letters are not sent by ISPs, but appear to be forwarded by the website admins who host the various blogs.

6/13 UPDATE: There is some talk about the copyrighted images being posted on the website owner’s website or blog by a third party RSS aggregator. In sum, the accused blogger or website owner in many cases didn’t even post the images themselves, yet they are still asked by CEG to pay $500 to avoid a lawsuit.

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Back in November 2012, I wrote an article about CEG-TEK’s CopyrightSettlements.com web site “crashes” where following a failed settlement transaction (purposeful or not), accused infringers received letters essentially saying, “[B]ecause you have decided not to settle, we will be moving forward against you in a copyright infringement lawsuit. Please pay us $3,500 or else we will sue you.” These letters were apparently sent from Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK), a software brainchild of Ira Siegel.

Now it appears that CEG-TEK is “stepping up” their game again, and more letters are being sent out, but this time from CEG-TEK’s local counsel, Marvin Cable. What is particularly concerning is that this letter appears to be sent out to:

1) ANYONE WHO CALLED IN TO CEG-TEK, BUT DID NOT SETTLE (they are scouring the CALLER-ID RECORDS and matching them with publicly available contact information), and

2) ANYONE WHO ENTERED THEIR CONTACT INFORMATION ON THEIR WEBSITE (e.g., to process their credit card payment), but the website “crashed,”

3) ANYONE WHO LEFT “BREADCRUMBS” WHEN INTERACTING WITH THEM, BUT DID NOT SETTLE.

NOTE: I have personally heard reports of 1) and 2), but 3) is a catchall for items I have not yet heard about, but expect that they are doing.

In sum, as I suspected when the Six Strikes System was put into place, with the big ISPs no longer forwarding their “$200 per title” settlement letters, their settlement stream of cash has started to run dry. As such, their production studio clients are forcing them to do whatever they can to “monetize” their clients IP (here, scrubbing the voicemail records, the caller ID records, and website tracking records, and putting names to those traces left by accused internet users), or else sue. In order to keep these clients, we see examples of letters such as this one:

Just to be clear, for a long time, when people ask “Should I settle or ignore CEG-TEK’s DMCA letters? What are my chances of being sued if I ignore?” I have been telling people that they could do either, and I laid out the factors to consider.  I am still of this opinion, namely that 1) Neither Ira Siegel, Terik Hashmi, Marvin Cable, or Mike Meier have sued anyone in MANY MONTHS (since July, 2012 to be exact), and 2) the purpose of their CopyrightSettlements.com website was to convince production companies that it is easier for them to sign on with CEG-TEK and run a settlement “IP monetization” campaign, rather than to sue everyone in a copyright infringement lawsuit.  I assume they are still trying to salvage this system, especially with the renewed efforts to find those who have not settled.

And as always, if you haven’t read my previous articles on the topic, I am still getting reports of website transactions not working (website “crashes,” failed transactions), and so once again, be smart and protect your contact information. Know that when you visit a website, unless you are using Tor or you subscribe to a private VPN, you share with that website your IP address, and when you call Copyright Enforcement Group’s phone number to inquire about your matter, you leak your phone number which can easily be cross-referenced back to you.

In other words, be careful with your information, and the “breadcrumbs” you leave when you conduct your daily life.  These breadcrumbs can be traced back to you, and next thing you know, you’ll be on the phone with me asking how to defend a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against you and 200 other Doe Defendants.

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As you can see, I am taking some time educating individuals involved in the Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK) / Ira Siegel DMCA letters being sent to thousands of individuals across the U.S. by their http://www.CopyrightSettlements.com system.

As a recap, anyone involved in receiving such a letter should read the following three articles I have written on their tactics:
1. Why CEG-TEK’s DMCA settlement system will FAIL (2/22/2013)

2. When CEG-TEK’s DMCA notices contain duplicate titles. Purposeful luring of defendants or not? (11/26/2012)

3. The trouble with Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK)’s DMCA scare letters. (11/2/2012)

Now, as far as the topic of this blog entry, the question people often ask is “what are the risks that CEG-TEK or Ira Siegel will sue me if I don’t settle?”  

While the easy answer is that so far it appears as if they are NOT suing (remember, they are soliciting their clients under the premise that they’ll make more money by making use of their DMCA settlement system rather than by suing), that answer needs to be elaborated.  I hope you will forgive me saving time in answering this way, but I have laid out my answer below in the form of an e-mail I sent to one of the individuals who called me for assistance.

LETTER SENT TO CLIENT:

It is good to hear from you. Just to reiterate, the “case” numbers are not actual lawsuits (at least not yet). If you did not settle by their due dates, their threat is that they would file a lawsuit against you [likely for only one of the titles; knowing them, in order to maximize their return, they would reserve the other titles for separate lawsuits]. Also, my opinion is that the lawsuit would be filed in the Northern District of California (where Ira Siegel is), or the Southern District of New York (where Mike Meier is). Even though you live here in [LOCATION REDACTED] and [COURT REDACTED] would be the proper location for a lawsuit, by filing in the wrong location, they know by doing so they would push you to settle rather than hire an attorney (someone like me) to fight the jurisdiction issue on your behalf.

So far as we discussed, their lawsuits are few and far in between. In fact, up until a week or so ago, I was ambivalent whether a client ignores the letter or settles it (see below article link for what has changed). If you want to see what they are doing lawsuit-wise, you’ll find them by looking for the words “Digital Sin” or any of their other clients on the http://www.rfcexpress.com website. Alternatively, you can search for “Mike Meier” since he seems to be their top guy as far as skill in suing defendants aside from Ira Siegel himself.

It is my opinion that they are not in the habit of suing at this point, which means they are trying to “milk” the settlements for all they are worth. However, they do have three (3) years from the alleged date of infringement to sue, so if you didn’t settle, you’ll be looking over your shoulder waiting for them to have a bad day when they decide to press the button and sue everyone.

I wrote an article yesterday on my http://torrentlawyer.wordpress.com website which should answer your questions as to the factors influencing the odds of whether they’ll be suing defendants in the near future, or whether they would wait the full three-years to sue everyone at once.

Once again, it drives me nuts when attorneys try to scare defendants into settling their cases.  With these DMCA “scare” letters, I am merely stating the obvious paths CEG-TEK and their attorneys can take.

For me, I think Ira Siegel and the Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK) would like to avoid suing defendants.  It didn’t seem that profitable for them the first time around, and it took incredible resources to maintain their copyright infringement lawsuits prior to the creation of their out-of-court turn-key settlement system. Then again, they are IP enforcement companies who are serving the needs of their production company clients (the copyright holders), and if the clients pay them to use their CopyrightSettlements.com system and send DMCA letters to the ISPs, they send the letters.  If the clients instruct them to sue, they sue. It is my understanding that they dislike the other copyright trolls, and that they compete for business (e.g., the production companies). Thus, if their settlement system dries up as I believe it inevitably will, they will do anything not to lose their clients to the likes of Lipscomb, Steele, or the other less credible trolls out there.

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This is a rather tricky article to write, especially since I am setting some copyright trolls apart from others, and I am unsure whether this is a good idea or not.

It is my opinion that the “Six Strikes” System which has recently gone into effect will ultimately kill Copyright Enforcement Group’s (CEG-TEK)’s “CopyrightSettlements.com” settlement system. In short, their selling point of attracting new copyright holders (the production companies) with the promise of big profits through volume settlements (from you, the internet users) by the sending of DMCA scare letters directly to internet subscribers via their ISPs will fail. I am concerned that the production companies / copyright holders might decide to start once again suing defendants in copyright infringement lawsuits.

Copyright trolls take two forms — the “copyright troll” lawyer, and the production company who embraces the concept of extorting settlements from so-called “infringers” rather than selling their copyrighted product on the marketplace.  There is one entity often missing from our blog’s focus on lawyers and their clients — the “IP enforcement company” (“IP” = intellectual property) who is working behind the scenes to 1) acquire clients for their firm, 2) track the peer-to-peer / bittorrent downloads and torrent swarms, 3) hire and maintain one or more attorneys capable of suing, and 4) converting their tracking efforts into CASH [in terms of $$$ settlements from accused downloaders].

This explains why whether you are sued by Patrick Collins, K-Beech, or Malibu Media, you’ll be contacted by someone on the Lipscomb & Eisenberg law firm’s collection team. Similarly, if the production company is Digital Sin, Zero Tolerance, Girls Gone Wild, etc., then your IP enforcement company is the Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK) and you will be sent DMCA letters suggesting that you settle their claims against you or else they may sue you (so far, this has not been the rule, but the exception). Yet, if your plaintiff is AF Holdings, Hard Drive Productions, Openmind Solutions, or any of the others connected with Prenda Law Inc. or the new Anti-Piracy Law Group, your IP enforcement company is one of John Steele’s entities. In other words, every copyright troll plaintiff is a client of a particular IP enforcement company, and that IP enforcement company has one or more lawyers on their team (or more often then not, as with John Steele and Ira Siegel — very different entities) — the lawyers themselves appear to own an ownership interest in the IP enforcement companies they run and work on behalf of.

It is my understanding that an enterprising attorney (or members of his IP enforcement company’s sales team) will often attend annual pornography conventions, and they will rub shoulders with production companies who end up being the copyright holders in these lawsuits.

The traditional IP enforcement companies (Lipscomb, Steele, etc.) will tell them, “I am aware of your company’s piracy problem, and I have a solution. Look at all our data as to the piracy of your videos.  Our team of experts can track the piracy of your copyrighted content, and our team of “expert” lawyers will sue defendants on your behalf. Instead of defending themselves, the accused internet user will be shamed with a lawsuit and will settle with us for thousands of dollars (average asking price: $3,400), we’ll take our commission, and we’ll both be millionaires. And, we’ll cut down on piracy in the process.

CEG-TEK (the Copyright Enforcement Group) and Ira Siegel has a different approach, and I believe the Six Strikes System will be the achilles heel of their “out-of-court pre-lawsuit settlement” approach.

The Copyright Enforcement Group was essentially formed because Ira Siegel didn’t like the idea of suing defendants and having all of his settlement activities monitored by a federal judge who can ask him uncomfortable questions about his activities. Rather, he has been paying ISPs to send out “DMCA” settlement letters (invoking and in my opinion, misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) in order to scare defendants into settling cases before they are filed in federal court. Settlements average $200 per accused title, but I have seen a few $500 per-title settlements as well.

It is my understanding that the way CEG-TEK acquires new clients — their “unique selling proposition,” if you will — is that they tell production companies, “we can track and sue the downloaders if we want — we have attorneys in a number of states who can sue defendants, and possibly get a $3,400 settlement from a few of them [once in a while]. However, if you come on board with us, we will send DMCA settlement letters out to the internet user directly via his ISP, and that letter will point them to our Copyright Settlements (www.copyrightsettlements.com) website where they can enter their unique username and password and privately pay their settlement fee. The settlement fee will be $200 and not $3,400, but the quantity of users who will pay us our small fee and move on will be significantly higher than those who will settle a federal copyright infringement lawsuit. We’ll all make millions!”

The reason I think CEG-TEK’s business model of sending DMCA letters will ultimately fail is because the Six Strikes System has undermined CEG-TEK’s abilities to contact so many internet users. In short, instead of sending the DMCA letters directly to the ISP subscribers as Charter and a number of smaller ISPs do, the big ISPs have banded together and formed something called the “Six Strikes System” which essentially gives six warnings to their subscribers before giving copyright holders access to their subscriber’s contact information for the purposes of suing for copyright infringement or sending DMCA threat letters as CEG-TEK does every day.

In other words, anyone who has Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, etc. as their ISP will no longer receive CEG-TEK’s DMCA letters. Instead, they receive a notice such as “we have received a complaint of copyright infringement from your account; stop this activity.” But with ISP members of the Six Strikes Program, CEG-TEK’s DMCA LETTERS ARE NO LONGER FORWARDED OVER TO THE SUBSCRIBERS! What this means is that let’s say 75% of the market share of internet users (I’m using this number merely as a hypothetical) will no longer go online and settle CEG-TEK’s claims against them. Or in other words, the http://www.CopyrightSettlements.com website as of a week or so ago [the plan went into effect roughly a week or so ago] will have experienced a 75% drop in settlements.

Knowing the production companies who signed on with CEG-TEK with the sole purpose of making millions in settlements from these DMCA letters, I suspect that they are starting to get upset and impatient because CEG-TEK’s promise of directing would-be defendants to their website is no longer the money-making machine they thought it would be. As a result, I am concerned that the production companies who signed on with CEG-TEK might start opt for suing defendants once again en masse.

PERSONAL NOTE: I obviously don’t want to scare anyone because I am very far from screaming “the sky is falling.” We have been defending clients in countless cases filed in federal courts across the U.S., and in recent months, there has been a clear change in the level of education of the judges and their feelings towards “copyright troll” plaintiffs. Possibly with the help of our POLICY LETTER (or simply our phone calls and faxes to a judge’s chambers when one is assigned to a copyright infringement case).  Judges are now educated as to the copyright trolling problem, and it is much more difficult to go after defendants because our collective arguments (such as, “an IP address is not a person,” and “just because you can prove an IP address snapshot was involved in a download does not mean that copyright infringement occurred,” etc.) are starting to take plant themselves deeply in the federal court system. In other words, if they start suing, we are very prepared, and they are almost a year-and-a-half behind.

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