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There is a new problem that I am encountering where software developers are writing code in order to catch downloaders – not in the download of the software, but in the illegal USE of that software.  These software developers – with knowledge of the accused IP address of the so-called “pirates” are hiring attorneys to send out DMCA settlement demand letters, often requesting a hefty settlement for the piracy or use of that software without authorization.

Unlike the bittorrent cases that we have seen over the past six years — where an internet user would be caught downloading movies, music, or “scenes” using bittorrent or Popcorntime software (where the connection to other bittorrent users in a “bittorrent swarm” would reveal the IP address of the downloaders) — software developers are increasingly building in to their new software the capability to “phone home” to the developer. When the software “phones home,” it reports certain information to the software developer, including the IP address of users who are actively using the pirated software at that moment.

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When a downloader accesses a “pirate” site (e.g., The Pirate Bay), and downloads a piece of software with a “crack,” that crack alters the software code, to allow it to be used in a “registered state” (e.g., cracked software will allow a user to enter a serial code to register the software whereas in an “uncracked” state, that serial code would be rejected.  Thus, the user sees a message such as “your serial code has been accepted.  Thank you for registering your software.) This “registered” state allows the downloader to actively use the software; however, it does not stop the software from phoning home.

Very often included in the cracked software package will be what is known as “a .NFO file,” (which is a text file, and “NFO” sounds like “info”) where the hacker, a.k.a. the “cracker,” will instruct the user to block the software from connecting to outside networks (often advising that the downloader use a software firewall, such as Comodo Firewall). Conventionally, the purpose of this instruction to the downloader is to avoid the common scenario where the software developer automatically updates the software to work around and invalidate any cracks which it discovers in the wild. As a result, the downloader would find that his once-registered software is no longer registered.

Some software developers who have become savvy to this trend will create a pop-up screen which alerts the downloader that his IP address has been flagged and gives him an opportunity to purchase the software at a discounted rate.  By using this method, the software developer attempts to turn a pirate into a paying customer in a manner that is both ethically and morally sound.  However, and pardon my jaded view of the matter, but people get greedy, and software developers get frustrated with the piracy of their software, and thus they often turn from good business judgment to using the law as a prickly weapon to sting those caught downloading their software.

And with this greed, here is the trend for which I wrote this article.  I am now seeing a trend that the software developers are contacting attorneys and asking those attorneys to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) rules to force the ISPs to send settlement demand letters to the internet users who are suspected of illegally using that software without a license.  However, instead of trying to turn that downloader into a paying customer, the software developer decides instead to gouge the internet downloaders into paying a bloated fee for a software license. In this scenario, this internet user receives a letter demanding that the user purchase the pirated software for an amazingly high amount of money, for example, $5,000-$20,000. If that internet user does not purchase the software as the letter demands, the threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit looms.

Now the first company you might think of when reading this article is the Siemens Product Lifecycle Management Software Inc. company, who is currently suing John Doe Defendants for the download and unlicensed use of the Siemens NX software.  However, in defense of their lawyers, the Siemens attorneys are simply trying to stop engineers and companies who are using their software in a commercial manner from profiting from the use of their software without a license.  They are not gouging (so far as I know), and my personal experience with their attorneys have been (so far) positive.

Thus, the focus of this article is on other software developers and copyright holders who have begun to mimic the Siemens model of suing (or here, sending DMCA settlement letters through the ISPs and threatening to sue) users, and attempting to force them to purchase an enterprise-level, multi-thousand-dollar software license or face a copyright infringement lawsuit in a Federal court, even if they have absolutely no legitimate use or benefit from “owning” that software.

To the internet user who receives such a letter requesting a settlement:  It is important to know that following the instructions of the software developer and purchasing a license (even an expensive one (e.g., a $5,000 license where the software itself costs only $150) does not protect you from being sued. Rather, your compliance may simply operate as an admission of guilt. Instead of simply following the instructions of the settlement demand letter, here is why it is advisable to STOP, THINK, RESEARCH THE TOPIC, and hire an attorney (me, or any other attorney competent in both copyright litigation and software licensing) to resolve the claim or claims against you.

First, the attorney that you hire will provide a legal “buffer” between you and the copyright holder’s attorney. Your attorney will be able to speak on your behalf without admitting guilt, whereas an accused defendant speaking alone to the copyright holder’s attorney might accidentally claim that they were only using the software to test the software (an act which according to the law would be copyright infringement, and would subject the internet user to statutory damages of $150,000 or more if there are multiple instances of infringement). Thus, an attorney can stop the copyright holder’s attorney from contacting you directly by putting them “on notice” (a legal term) that the attorney is representing you and, thus, all communications must go through the attorney.

Additionally, the attorney that you hire (knowledgeable in both copyright law and in software licensing) would be able to negotiate a settlement to allow you to purchase a license at a steep discount from the “gouging” amount that the copyright holder’s attorney was initially asking for in the settlement demand letter. Moreover, your attorney could obtain a release of liability, releasing you from all liability surrounding the unlicensed use and the unlicensed copying of the pirated software – something you would not be in a position to negotiate if you were handling the matter.

Similarly, [or in the alternative,] your attorney might negotiate a software license to allow you to pay for your “experimental” use of their software.

If you are a student, then it may be a good strategy to have your attorney negotiate in the settlement agreement to allow you to purchase that product at a student discount at your local college as your “settlement payment.”

 The above are all options that an experienced copyright/software development attorney (me, or anyone else) would be able and knowledgeable to negotiate on your behalf.  Your attorney would be able to oversee the payment of the licensing fee or the purchase of the actual software [for your own future legitimate use] and to obtain for you a written release of liability from the software copyright holder’s attorney, which means that following the conclusion of the settlement or the signing of the software license, you would never be sued for copyright infringement or any sort of piracy in a Federal court.

These are the benefits of hiring an attorney for your settlement demand letter issue rather than simply going out and paying whatever fine is requested of you.  Remember: Following the copyright holders instructions to pay them a fee or to purchase a piece of software after-the-fact (after the unlicensed activity or infringement occurred) will not provide you any protection.  Paying a settlement fee alone will not provide you with a settlement agreement or a release of liability.  Without a release of liability, you could still be sued in a federal court for copyright infringement, piracy, or any other relevant law relating to the unlicensed use, piracy, and possibly the cracking of software.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

[NOTE: I might be accused at a later time of stating that piracy is a black market SOLUTION to the copyright problem using the URL title of this article as “proof” that my initial thought was that it was a solution, not a symptom.  Rather, this was a mistyping error (I was looking at a “Group Buying is one SOLUTION to fix the broken copyright system,” note and correspondingly used that word in the title.  Because I did not want to interrupt the publication of this blog (in which the old URL was posted to Twitter, Facebook, etc.), I left it as it is.]

This blog post is a response to the “Close to Anonymity” author who is proposing a “group buy” solution to the copyright problem. It is also a follow-up article to my “Group Buying” Through The Eyes of Piracy article written on August 24th, 2016.

[To the author:  Once again, I want to reiterate to the author that I wholeheartedly support the concept of group buying as he proposes it. It is clear to me that he has put a tremendous amount of time and effort thinking this through, specifically on how to implement it. I support him 100% and there needs to be more individuals like him to speak out to fix the broken copyright system.]

The running theme of this blog has been that the copyright advocates (MPAA / RIAA) and copyright holders are over-exerting power given to them by the copyright statutes. Further, the copyright holders are focusing their efforts not on the creation of new and useful content, but on the extreme monetization of old and recycled content, often using unethical means (unconstitutionally high [$150,000] statutory damages for copyright infringement) to achieve their financial goals. I would suggest that while piracy is a legitimate problem, it is a symptom of greed, dishonesty, and an unwillingness to make content reasonably available to the consumer at a price the consumer is willing to pay for that content.

Instead of fixing the problem, those in power have called our side names, e.g., the “copyleft,” or the “pirate party,” whereas most of us who fight copyright holders believe staunchly in copyright, but disagree in the way their enforcement has been applied, often lobbying politicians and lawmakers and asking them to increase penalties and punishments to those caught infringing their copyrighted content, while at the same time clamping down on providing avenues for those same consumers to purchase or view the content lawfully at a reasonable price.

The reality is that a media company selling a piece of software for $100 would in fact claim that [of the 9 individuals who came together to purchase that piece of software at $10 a piece,] if the “group buy” were not available, *IF at least two* would have purchased the software product at full price, they would have lost profits under the group buy model.

*THIS IS THE FALLACY WITH THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS — THEY FALSELY BELIEVE THERE WOULD BE A MARKET FOR THEIR PRODUCT IF PIRACY (OR IN YOUR CASE, A GROUP BUY) WERE MADE IMPOSSIBLE, AND IF YOU PIRATE SOFTWARE OR IF YOU MAKE GROUP BUYING OF COPYRIGHTED MEDIA POSSIBLE, IT WOULD BE YOUR FAULT THEY HAVE LOST THE PROFITS THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN ENTITLED TO.*

Assume for a moment that you are correct in that there would not be two purchases, possibly NOT EVEN ONE at full retail price. The copyright holder would rather make ZERO sales ($0 profit) rather than risk that multiple (here, 9) individuals would group together to make ONE purchase because they would see that as a disaster for their bottom line and they would count each group buy as a loss (here, of 9 potential sales).

Realistically, the answer is that the market should determine the price of a product, and not a copyright monopoly, threats under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) or statutory damages for copyright infringement. The existence of a “black market” for their copyrighted products (here, through piracy) is a strong indication to the copyright owners that they are either 1) mispricing their products, or 2) that they are failing to make them adequately available to the paying public.

It is 12:30am and I really do not have time to go into this, but I just learned that Dallas Buyers Club, LLC is suing Voltage Pictures, LLC in Montgomery County, TX for, among other things, not paying fees to Dallas Buyers Club for the licensing fees owed to them.

[Hat tip to SJD @ FightCopyrightTrolls for breaking the story.  Her link to the lawsuit can be found here.]

It appears from the TX case filing (Cause No. 15-06-06049) that Voltage Pictures, LLC approached Dallas Buyers Club, LLC and offered to pay for the license to act as Dallas Buyer’s Club’s agent so that they can sell the film abroad and… so that they can file lawsuits against John Doe Defendants across the US. Part of this agreement appears to be that Voltage Pictures was permitted to use Dallas Buyer’s Club’s name.

082516 Voltage-DBC Power of attorney

…and skipping down a bit:

082516 Voltage-DBC Exclusive Agent

Well, now we learn that Nicholas Chartier and Voltage Pictures are being sued because after making all of the sales and suing all of the John Doe defendants for copyright infringement, Voltage Pictures is accused of cheating Dallas Buyers Club out of their earned licensing fees.

I feel as if I just fell down a rabbit hole…

Thus, whenever we saw a Dallas Buyers Club, LLC lawsuit, and whenever we represented a client against Dallas Buyers Club, LLC, we were really representing them against… VOLTAGE PICTURES, LLC?!?

This brings me to the Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC cases.  Did Voltage Pictures, LLC make the same licensing deal with the Fathers & Daughters movie producers, and are they also not paying them the money that is due to them?  When we see a Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC case, are we really representing clients against the makers of the Fathers and Daughters movie? Or are we representing clients against VOLTAGE PICTURES, LLC who is parading as Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC and claiming that they are Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC, when really they are not?!?

This also makes me ask who the attorneys for the Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC are really representing? Are Josh Wyde and Gary Fischman suing on behalf of Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC? Or are they suing on behalf of Voltage Pictures, LLC pretending to be Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC?  I know Josh is watching this blog, so please feel free to comment.

Who is their client? Voltage or Fathers & Daughters Nevada?

Last question, and then I’m going to sleep. Will Voltage Pictures, LLC soon be sued by the real Fathers & Daughters copyright holders for failure to pay the licensing fees, proceeds, and sales from the monetization of the Fathers & Daughters movie copyright? Have the same facts that are coming out with the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC lawsuit also transpired with the Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC copyright holder?

One more thought — a while back, I was concerned that perhaps the shell companies that were created for various movies were not properly funded. [Well, okay, I backed away from that accusation, but that was on my mind.]  The original thought was that production companies made movies, and to limit their liability, we understood that they set up shell companies as limited liability companies so that if something went wrong or if, say, Dallas Buyers Club caused damage to someone and they were sued, fined, sanctioned, or otherwise held liable for damages from their activities, those damages would be contained to the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC limited liability entity, and they would not trickle “up” to what I thought was the Voltage Pictures, LLC production company.

However, now we see that Voltage Pictures, LLC is NOT the production company, but a LICENSEE (one who signs an agreement to acquire a license to sell or act on behalf of the copyright holder [the licensor]). Thus, this brings me back to the entity that was formed to sue John Doe Defendants in federal court. Dallas Buyers Club, LLC, and Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC (the two Voltage-related companies that are currently on my mind). Are they properly funded? Who owns them, and who are the real parties acting through them? Voltage Pictures or Dallas Buyers Club? Voltage Pictures or Fathers & Daughters? Who is providing the funding for them?  And did they properly notify the court of this arrangement when they filed the lawsuits against the John Doe Defendants?

Wow, when they say that there is “no honor among thieves,” they weren’t kidding.  First Keith Lipscomb is sued by Malibu Media, LLC for not paying them the royalties and/or funds received through Lipscomb’s Malibu Media, LLC v. John Doe lawsuits across the US, and now Voltage Pictures, LLC is being sued by Dallas Buyers Club, LLC for the same thing. I also want to point out that Liberty Media also sued their lawyer, Marc Randazza (although the circumstances were different, and if what Marc wrote in his defense was true (e.g., that they used his office desk to shoot adult films), both Liberty Media and Randazza are both to blame, but for different reasons). I also remember when Prenda Law Inc. stopped paying their local counsel here in Houston the fees and commissions he earned through the filing of the lawsuits.

So… in sum, is this the scenario of thieves stealing from thieves as we have seen before? Or is this an example of “copyright trolls stealing also from their own clients”?? Wow, this field of law has skeletons hidden in closets all over the place.

UPDATE: For more on this topic, SJD covered this topic in detail.  See FightCopyrightTrolls article, “How copyright trolls plunder both US citizens and… rights holders.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

I was reading an article called “Collaborative Intellectual Property Purchasing” by a blogger called Close to Anonymity. In his article, he clearly describes the concept of “group buying,” and suggests that it is one method to provide a solution to the piracy problem. The problem is that in many circumstances [as the copyright laws and DMCA statutes are in their present form] “group buying” is illegal.

NOTE: While he approaches the topic from an honest and upstanding discussion on how to provide a “fix” to the copyright statutes, this article is a dark, cynical, and corrupted view of the topic from a jaded view of the law. This article approaches the merits and faults of group buying, but it does so by viewing it through the eyes of a “pirate.” Up front, I ask for the forgiveness from the author.

Collaborative buying, or “group buys” is something that you will find on various bittorrent websites (not public websites like Pirate Bay or what was KAT, but more often on “private” file sharing websites which host “private” trackers). To get access to these websites, you usually need an invitation and need to know someone who knows someone, etc. The private tracker sites are often topic-specific, so if you are looking for art-related books, you’ll go to one bittorrent website which hosts this kind of content, and if you are looking for business-based torrents, you’ll go somewhere else.

The idea as I have seen it in practice is that someone posts a proposed “Group Buy” on a forum for a digital product. This can be a DVD course, a piece of software, or anything that can be copied and shared online. This digital product costs, say, $100, so to get the price down to $10 per person, the user proposing the group buy will ask for ten people to commit to spending $10 a piece. I am not aware of how the funding happens (e.g., through an intermediary website), but one person will purchase the product on behalf of the group, and they will share it with the other users who participated in the purchase. I suppose the group buy participants believe that they are not “pirating” the software or the media because they each contributed a few dollars to purchase it, and in a way, they are right.  However, the law disagrees.

As for the legality of group buys, copyright licenses for multimedia products and software often think in “one purchase, one license, one copy, [or, one purchase, one installation]” terms. You see this concept of “one purchase, one copy” on full display when trying to view a digital copy of a book purchased by your local library via the Overdrive app.  If a library has purchased one copy of an ebook or an audio book, they can only allow that one digital copy to be “taken out” by one user at a time, even though the technology is there to share the ebook or audio book with all of their patrons at the same time.  It’s a silly model for a library to prevent all of their patrons from accessing the copyrighted content at the same time, and my best guess is that if they were to negotiate unlimited licenses, then the cost of licensing the content to the library would be significantly higher, perhaps on the level of a scribd, or a Netflix.com.  Thus, they opt to buy the “one copy” and they strictly adhere to the “one copy owned, one copy available for use” copyright model.

In the context of piracy and group buys, when one end user purchases the product and shares that product with ten other individuals (each of whom paid a proportional share of the cost of the product, and each of whom install the software product on their machines and use the same serial code to activate the product), when the software “phones home” to authenticate the same serial number for the ten computers, the software developer sees the 9 users as “infringers” and the original purchaser as someone the one who is responsible for the piracy, and they’ll deactivate the software for everyone.

Similarly, when group buying something as simple as a movie or a DVD title, the individual who breaks the copy protection on the DVD and provides copies of the cracked DVD to a number of his friends who contributed to the purchase is seen as both violating the DMCA laws (breaking copy protection), and violating the copyright statutes because that user copied the DVD without authorization from the production company.

Thus, the copyright rules and the DMCA rules do need to be updated to stop piracy. I commend the author of the “Close to Anonymity” blog for proposing a viable solution to making products more affordable to end users while at the same time providing the content creators (the copyright holders) with extra money and sales through the group buy. The solution will not stop the “piracy problem,” but allowing for group buys on a large scale can at least mitigate (somewhat) the damage that copyright holders claim to suffer at the hands of piracy.

I am jaded somewhat, however, and I cannot stop the nagging feeling that group buying will never be legalized. The content producers will claim that group buying would hurt their sales, in that if the nine (9) users were unable to get together to purchase the $100 piece of software, if at least two (2) of them paid the full $100 for it, then the content producer would have made $200 in sales, whereas with group buying they would only be making a $100 sale. Thus, they would not go for such a concept.

Similarly, I cannot imagine the lawmakers [who are showered with benefits for voting in line with the MPAA / RIAA lobbyists] would ever try to make content more readily available to end users. If you look at the way lawmakers have voted over the years, copyright statutes only get worse and worse for the public, not better. Case in point (and I am going by memory here without checking this fact) — the statutory damages for copyright infringement were not always $150,000 in the US. This ever-increasing statutory damages limit is the doing of the lawmakers who I can only think had their pockets lined for voting in favor of harsher and harsher penalties for copyright infringement.  Between you and me, I am already of the opinion that the statutory damages for copying one video, music, or copyrighted work are already unconstitutionally high, but good luck getting a judge to rule this way.

Lastly, in the author’s article, he mentions the idea of a group buy for a $1.29 hypothetical song called “Hey Moe.” If the copyright holders knew that multiple individuals could purchase their same song in a group buy settling (e.g., increasing the price to $1.34 by having one purchaser pay $1.24 [a discount] and the other purchaser pay $0.10), while the solution proposed by the author would provide the copyright holder with a $1.34 sale, the “greedy” copyright holder would sulk at the $1.24 in lost profits by claiming that if such a group buy were not available, both purchasers would have paid $1.29 each for the song.

[How would they see lost profits? $1.29 x 2 sales = $2.58 in sales – $1.34 for the group buy sale = $1.24 in lost profits.]

Thus, the realistic result [if a “group buy” framework were legalized and made possible when purchasing copyrighted media] is that the “greedy” copyright holders would steeply increase the price of the media so that the “net” amount they make is the original $1.29 per copy that they would have made were there no group buy in the first place.

In sum, group buying is a great idea and it should be considered when revising the copyright statutes. But practically, because copyright holders in my experience are profit-driven to a fault (greed), and lawmakers are corrupt to a fault, I do not think we will ever see group buying being made legal in the near future.

However, for the pirates out there on private trackers, “group buying” will remain a viable method of obtaining new content to be shared first with the participants of the group buy, and then later with the members of the website. I am by no means encouraging or endorsing the practice, but with things as they are, group buying seems to be the most “ethical” (and still yet illegal) way to obtain content without paying full price for it, and bittorrent websites seem to provide the perfect forum for allowing such a practice to happen. In my opinion, if the bittorrent website only shared content with members who “bought in” to the group buy without sharing it with anyone else, that would be the closest to an ‘ethical’ solution (and yet it would still be illegal). A less ethical solution is to allow each user to buy in after the fact, making the product progressively cheaper-and-cheaper with every downloader “buying in” to the group buy, and thus crediting every previous purchaser’s account every time a new downloader “buys in” to the group buy after the fact.

But then again, through this example, I just made the point of the copyright holder. Eventually with group buys [after-the-fact], the product price would become infinitesimally small, and the copyright holder would only have made one sale of the product, which would then be shared with potentially hundreds or thousands of downloaders. This is copyright infringement in the classic sense — the unlawful copying or duplication of a copyrighted work, and one sale through a group buy would not adequately compensate the copyright holder for the purchase of his work.

In sum, the copyright system is broken, there is piracy, and until the content producers work with end users to make their content more readily available, or they price their products correctly to the point where they could capture the sale of a majority of those who would purchase their product, there will remain end users who might have purchased the product if it were more available or priced lower, but who instead turn to piracy to obtain that media because of the unavailability of that content for a price that the “market” can bear.

I thought that TAC’s response to my article last night deserved a spot of its own, so I am pasting it below.

In short, he’s right. As a lawyer, I get so caught up with each individual client and defending whether copyright infringement actually happened or not that I overlooked the big picture “elephant in the room” point — that if the movie production companies would actually make good content which would inspire someone to buy a movie ticket, and if they would make that good content readily available rather than blaming downloaders for a few bucks of loss of revenue, then piracy wouldn’t even be a problem.

I used to be a movie buff. I would see every movie in the theaters, and if there was something I missed, I would catch it later when it came out on DVD. However, the… pardon my language… “crap” that has been coming out of the theaters over the last ten years has lost me as a fan. I cannot remember the last time I saw a movie and felt that I got my money’s worth. More often then not, I leave the theater feeling cheated.

The internet created a problem for the movie companies where it enabled average internet users to share digital copies of movies which [by definition of being “digital”] are the identical quality as the files burned on DVDs from which they are ripped. They tried to stop the copying through creating privacy measures that blocked an individual from being able to copy videos, but individuals got around those protections.  Then they passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) statutes and made it a crime to unblock the copy protections, but people did it anyway.  Then they sued the downloaders and claimed they were going after the lost revenue, but instead, they went after statutory damages of $150,000 per instance of infringement.  In the process of suing downloaders (rather than suing the initial uploader or working to take down the infringing videos), with the birth of the Dunlap Grubb and Weaver, LLC Voltage Pictures, Inc. “Hurt Locker” and “Expendables” lawsuits, Voltage Pictures, Millennium Films, and other production companies turned their failed b-rated movies into a money-making extortion-like shakedown scheme where they asked for tens of thousands of dollars for what was really the loss of a movie ticket or a DVD rental.

The point is that Hollywood and their production companies spend so much time trying to clamp down and stop people from getting content that if they spent those same dollars finding new ways to make content readily available, they would stop the piracy problem (or at a very minimum, they would convert many would-be pirates into paying customers).  Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Redbox have the right idea of trying to find ways to get movie content into consumers’ hands, but even they run into licensing problems where the Hollywood movie studios won’t let them provide content to their subscribers (and thus great movies and TV shows are commonly lost to history).

[Case in point — The Stargate TV series (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Unvierse) — all AMAZING shows, but there was a point that Netflix took them down from their site citing licensing issues, and if you wanted to see them, you would have needed to either buy the DVDs on Amazon, or “look elsewhere” for them (meaning, piracy).  I would have happily paid more to Netflix to keep them available, even in a “click here to pay a bit more to see this video” fashion.  UPDATE: I am happy to share that Amazon Prime provides all seasons of these shows to their paying customers, so yes, Jeff Bezos is doing his job of making content available.]

This argument has gone around in circles for many years. Point being, the movie companies have obviously chosen that their focus will be to clamp down and spend their money to fight the losses from piracy rather than innovate and make good content that would inspire people to open their wallets and pay for a movie ticket or rent a DVD.

This is my point, this is my feeling, this is how I see things. I could be wrong, but who cares. Unless I see quality new content in the theaters (and not recycled old story lines), I’m not buying a ticket. Superman versus Batman?!? Really? Yet one more Borne Identity?!? Really? Ice Age in Space?!? Really? How many times can I hear the same story told over and over again? I’m honestly bored of all of this recycled media crap and I wish they would start looking for new and original content.

Thus, in all fairness and thanks to “That Anonymous Coward (TAC),” below is his comment to last night’s “We are winning the bittorrent piracy war against copyright holders, but what are the unintended consequences?” article which inspired this entire line of thought.

TAC from that anonymous coward :
 

And there in lies the biggest problem.
People look at Popcorn Time, and don’t understand how it works. They might assume that its just an awesome service. It works like everyone imagines we should be able to get content.

The “war” has always been pointless.
Everything done to “stop” pirates, ends up punishing paying customers… and eventually when you hassle paying customers enough they look for other ways to get the content.
We’ve missed out on technology moving forward, because of screams that it MIGHT hurt the bottom line of an industry that has its own special ‘accounting’ practices that manage to make a world wide blockbuster look like it lost money.
They aren’t honest about their books, they aren’t honest about actual harm, they aren’t honest about why they refuse to stop punishing paying customers & creating more consumers that might turn to piracy because it meets their want for the content how, where, when they want it that the industry can’t seem to understand.

When they cling to an outdated business model, ignoring the consumer demand for access, they have forgotten they are in business to sell content… not impose pointless control over people who already paid them who get treated worse for playing by the rules.

Imagine what they could have done with all of the time and money they have dumped into the anti-piracy schemes (that never pay that well or accomplish what is promised) and had used it to “fix” the horrible patchwork of laws & rules to create a unified worldwide business model that makes getting the content customers want faster & easier. But then they would be making more money they they ever imaged possible… but would still be imagining there is a dollar out there they aren’t getting & end up harming paying customers chasing the imaginary dollars.

Every pirate knows that the only way to block the copyright trolls from identifying their true IP addresses (and thus sending out DMCA copyright infringement notices, as outfits such as CEG-TEK have been known to do) is through the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) [, and not just any VPN, but a paid VPN provider which does not track their subscribers’ activities*].

In recent weeks, I have heard from various copyright trolls that bittorrent users are “winning the piracy war,” in that their activities have thwarted the copyright holders from learning who they are. Armed with what is becoming common knowledge of free software which can be configured to stream pirated content (e.g., Kodi, formerly XBMC), internet users who wish to “unplug” from the cable companies are able to do so in a way in which it becomes difficult if not next to impossible to be caught viewing streamed content**. Not only this, but many have even purchased Amazon Fire sticks which can be jailbroken to allow the Kodi software to be installed on it, and they are watching pirated videos from their HDTV without even needing a computer.***

But what is the effect of “winning the war” on those who are left behind and don’t realize that they need to use a VPN if they are going to bittorrent their favorite movie, software, or video game? This is the point of the article.

The unintended consequence of bittorrent users learning to use a VPN, or migrating away from bittorrent and towards free streaming services is that copyright holders [who for three years now have enjoyed easy settlement money] are realizing that there simply are not enough people to send DMCA / copyright infringement notices to in order to line their pockets with gold and dirty cash. As a result, it is my experience that they are becoming “less nice” and they are trying to make more money from fewer downloaders. Case-in-point: Girls Gone Wild DMCA notices used to ask for one $300 settlement for a whole page of 60+ videos, but now they are asking for tens of thousands of dollars for that same “click” of a bittorrent file.

I am also noticing that CEG-TEK is acting differently, perhaps in response to what has been described to me as a steep decline in numbers of “pirates” to whom they can send DMCA notices. In the past few weeks, it has been my experience that Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK) is now sending multiple notices out to the ISPs for the same download. In one case regarding their Girls Gone Wild client that I mentioned above, CEG-TEK sent literally over 1,000 notices to one ISP for the alleged download of one bittorrent file.

At first I thought this was a glitch in their computer system, but then it occurred to me that maybe CEG-TEK somehow benefits from keeping the numbers of DMCA notices sent to the ISPs artificially high. Is there any benefit to them to be doing this? I have been racking my brain on this topic and I still cannot come up with a reason.

Honestly, here is my concern. When an animal is backed against the wall, what does it do? It attacks. If indeed we are winning the bittorrent piracy war, I am concerned that CEG-TEK will begin taking on new clients who thrive on stacking their bittorrent files with hundreds of adult films. Those who are sophisticated will understand exactly who I am speaking about.  

They will then trap the unsuspecting bittorrent user who “clicks on a bittorrent file” in their spider web, and that user will receive hundreds of DMCA notices which will scare the b’jeebies out of him.  Then they will give in to the urging of their less-than-ethical client, and they will agree to start charging more than the $300 per title that they currently do (remember, at one point, CEG-TEK used to charge $200 per title, and then at what I understood to be the urging of their client, they raised the settlement amount to $300 per title).  So they are pliable, as we have seen in the past.

In the end, just as we saw hints of this with the recent Girls Gone Wild debacle, CEG-TEK will morph from a $300 per title copyright enforcement outfit (lamb) into a $3,500 per title shakedown outfit (wolf) where they base their settlement amounts on the client’s ability to pay rather than what they believe is a “fair” amount to compensate the copyright holders.

Last, but not least, I learned that CEG-TEK threatened an accused downloader with criminal prosecution this week. For those of you who know me, I have spent almost every day since 2010 working on copyright infringement cases. NEVER until last week have I seen a copyright holder threaten an accused internet user with criminal charges for a copyright infringement matter.

In sum, the times they are a changin’. If we are indeed winning the war, what will CEG-TEK turn into in order to survive?  And, what will their copyright holders (who for the most part have been docile and lazy these past few years) do when their easy income stream dries up?


CONTENT CUT FROM THE ARTICLE:

*[UNRELATED PERSONAL NOTE: I am a fan of such VPN providers not because they make piracy more difficult to detect, but because I believe strongly in a person’s right to be anonymous. The amount of snooping that happens with internet trackers, cookies, and newer methods literally sickens me, and I do not believe that advertising companies and ISPs should have so much knowledge about their customers. For this reason, I have nothing wrong with sharing for privacy purposes that examples of VPNs that you can rely on can be easily found by searching “torrentfreak secure vpn” on Google, or just by going to TorrentFreak’s website where they review VPN providers which take your anonymity seriously. Just be sure to have some mechanism in place that if the VPN connection goes down, even for a second, that your real IP isn’t exposed to whatever site you happen to be visiting, or to whatever server you happen to be connected to. This is called a “DNS leak,” and there are easy ways to configure your system to lock down the connection if or when the VPN goes down, even for a second.]

** NOTE: There is a popular software called PopcornTime which I am sad to share has given our firm many clients who have been caught downloading mainstream movies (e.g., The Dallas Buyers Club cases, Voltage Pictures’ Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC cases, and most recently, Millennium Film’s London Has Fallen (“LHF”) movie cases, etc.). Most recently, I have been seeing new CEG-TEK notices for Millennium Film’s “Criminal” movie which the copyright holders have already started suing in “Criminal Productions, Inc. v. John Doe” copyright infringement lawsuits . The reason for so many getting caught is that PopcornTime appears to be a software which allows you to stream video content, but it uses bittorrent as its back-end to download the movies.

*** NOTE: The Amazon Fire sticks which have Kodi installed in my opinion can still get you caught for copyright infringement. The reason for this is that they connect directly to the internet exposing your real IP address. Most people don’t realize that they need to also configure their ROUTER to connect to the internet through their paid VPN provider.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

dmca gone wild

I have been sitting on this article for a few days because I was not sure what to make of it.

I don’t know if what I am noticing is based on greed on behalf of the “Girls Gone Wild” copyright holder (a.k.a., GGW Brands LLC) based on their corporate shakeup and recent bankruptcy, or whether CEG-TEK’s computer system has been going haywire sending sometimes hundreds of DMCA copyright infringement notifications for one “click” of a bittorrent file, or if there is a shift coming where CEG-TEK will be using the DMCA notices in a new way to extort larger and larger settlements from accused downloaders.

BACKGROUND [SKIP IF YOU KNOW HOW BITTORRENT WORKS]:
CEG-TEK has always tried to be a modestly clean organization.  While an internet user downloads a video using bittorrent software, CEG-TEK’s servers are “dipping in and out” of the various bittorrent swarms which share their 100+ clients’ [usually adult] videos, and while CEG-TEK is “in the room” (so to speak, meaning, while CEG-TEK’s servers are connected to the bittorrent swarm [in which the internet users’ bittorrent software downloads file fragments from multiple individuals also in that same bittorrent swarm, and in which the bittorrent software shares (“seeds”) file fragments it has acquired to other bittorrent users in the swarm who are lacking that particular file fragment in order to obtain the entire shared file(s)), CEG-TEK writes down the IP addresses of each of the file sharers, they identify which ISP that IP address belongs to, and their computer sends a DMCA notice to that ISP.  That DMCA “scare letter” notice is then forwarded to the account holder who was assigned that IP address at that particular date and time.

So with the Girls Gone Wild copyright holder, in the olden days (meaning up until two weeks ago), an internet user would click on a bittorrent file which contained something like 20-30 GGW videos, but when we logged into the CopyrightSettlements.com website to view the claims against my client, there would only be a few claims of copyright infringement.  Why?  Because GGW was having CEG-TEK ask for $300 per copyrighted DVD (which it itself contained many “files” or “scenes”).  Point being, one click, one copyrighted DVD pirated, one $300 settlement.

This is no longer the case.  Now when an internet user clicks a download link on a bittorrent website (sample screenshot of a GGW bittorrent link below — this one containing 95 video files), the same 20-30 video files are downloaded, but instead of ONE (1) DMCA notice being sent to the internet subscriber’s ISP, these past few weeks, 20-30 DMCA notices are being sent.

TPB_GGW

To make the effect of downloading Girls Gone Wild videos more egregious, instead of asking for $300 for each GGW DVD pirated, the copyrightsettlements.com website now lists 20-30 “cases,” asking for $300 for each file downloaded, rather than $300 for each DVD.  Thus, in the 20-30 file example, now an accused internet user will see a settlement request of $6,000-$9,000 for one click of a bittorrent website (or in the example shown above with 95 video files, CEG-TEK would now be asking for a $28,500 settlement, when before it would have been just a few hundred dollars).

Now, let’s take the scenario further, because I’ve seen settlement amounts as high as $78,000 in the past few days.  How?

That same internet user who clicked on this link above containing 95 titles leaves his bittorrent software running in the background.  He does not realize that after the downloads are complete, his software is set to “seed” (upload) the files to other bittorrent users who have not yet acquired all 64.02 Gigabytes of data (as if someone actually has that amount of free space on their hard drive to download all of those videos, and as if each and every video was actually downloaded — both topics outside the scope of this article).

It takes roughly 4-5 days for a Charter or a CenturyLink subscriber to receive his DMCA notice, so by the time he learns that he has done something wrong by that “one click,” his ISP has changed his IP address 5 times (IP addresses are leased to subscribers for 24 hours, although this differs from ISP to ISP), that means that CEG-TEK “thinks” he has 475 instances of infringement (MATH: 95 videos * 5 days seeded = 475 instances of infringement).  Thus, when those 29 downloaders and 5 uploaders shown in the image above (listed as “29 leechers” and “5 seeders”) get their DMCA copyright infringement notice for this particular torrent five (5) days later, each one of them will see a settlement amount of $142,500.  Obscene.

Now obviously a lawyer (myself or anyone else) can negotiate the amount of the settlement, or, based on the copyright holder’s tendency to sue or knowing the limitations of CEG-TEK’s abilities to know who you are [taking into consideration the ISP and the known information such as geolocation data as to where you live, etc.], I may just as easily suggest that you ignore the claims against you, but quite frankly, if CEG-TEK is really expecting to get a $142K settlement (or even a $10K settlement), well, this suggests to me that maybe they are getting a bit greedy.

In sum, here is what I know:

1) Girls Gone Wild and CEG-TEK (as their agents) are now asking for $300 settlements for each and every video file downloaded.

2) CEG-TEK’s computer systems are going haywire, and ISPs are receiving HUNDREDS of DMCA violation notifications for files contained within one bittorrent file.

3) CEG-TEK’s computer systems lock out users who have more than ten (10) claims against them with a note to call their 800 number to discuss the claims with them.  This means that your claims WILL LIKELY BE LOCKED when you try to log in and you will get their “Please contact Ira Siegel” notice.

4) If you made the mistake and called them, you would be faced with an obscenely high settlement amount to negotiate down from.

My interpretation:

Here is my interpretation of what is going on.  I see two possible causes for what we are seeing.

The founder of Girls Gone Wild appears not to be an upright citizen.  He has been reportedly convicted of tax evasion, bribery, false imprisonment, assault causing great bodily injury, dissuading a witness, record-keeping violations, and he has even reportedly pleaded no contest to child abuse and prostitution.  It does not jolt me to add copyright trolling to his list of indiscretions, and thus if this new development is coming from CEG-TEK’s “Girls Gone Wild” client rather than from CEG-TEK itself (management), I am not surprised by what I am seeing.

From 2007 – 2013, GGW advertised up the wazoo on late night infomercials, and they used to sell their DVDs, but there was a point where something happened to their business — the internet happened, and people stopped purchasing their videos.

In 2013, I remember hearing about a lot of drama and “shake-ups” on the corporate level, where Girls Gone Wild was talking about filing for bankruptcy, and where they were no longer putting their focus on the sale of DVDs.  Rather, moving forward, they would be focusing on “intellectual property monetization,” which is another way of saying that they hired a number of lawyers and copyright enforcement entities (e.g., CEG-TEK, or Copyright Enforcement Group) to elicit settlements from those internet users who they blame for the collapse of their company.

In sum, either Girls Gone Wild is tired of collecting a few bucks here and there, or CEG-TEK is no longer happy with the $300 settlement and they are trying to increase the settlement amounts to lawsuit levels without having to file a lawsuit.  Either way, be aware that things are changing, and I will let you know as I see the shift reveal itself in a more pronounced way.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.