Posts Tagged ‘DMCA letter’

Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK) has sent possibly hundreds of thousands of letters to internet users accused of downloading copyrighted content via bittorrent. In their letters, they invoke the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) as the justification for their “intellectual property (IP) enforcement” activities. They claim to be the good guys, but are they?  Are they “naughty or nice”?

CEG-TEK claims to be the good guys — they stop piracy, and as a result of their efforts, fewer people download on the ISPs’s networks (a social “good” and a “win” for the copyright holders). They have stopped the copyright troll lawsuits, for the moment. And, although they are charging $300 per title for each downloaded movie (sometimes higher) for what is often an accidental “click of the mouse,” they claim that they are not “bad” or “vindictive” like their Rightscorp competitor, which charges only $20 per title, but then sues the accused downloaders in federal courts, and then even go so far as contacting the ISPs in order to attempt to shut down the internet accounts of those accused of downloading their clients’ copyrighted titles via bittorrent.

But then again, CEG-TEK is a business. While I have had success negotiating away cases against veterans, the elderly, and in many cases, college kids, CEG-TEK has taken a number of steps which at best would be questionable.

Most relevant is the “admission of guilt” clause in their settlement agreements, which at the time of writing this article has flipped back to the version which does not include this clause. Months ago, when CEG-TEK expanded into Canada and then Australia, the settlement agreements which released those who have settled from liability included the following clause:

111715 Admission of Guilt in CEG-TEK Settlement Agreement

[For those of you who cannot see the image, it says, “…in the event of a (i) failure to clear, (ii) chargeback, (iii) cancellation, (iv) failure to complete…this Release shall be considered admissible and conclusive evidence of RELEASEE’s infringement of the copyright in the Work and that RELEASEE will be liable to CONTENT COPYRIGHT OWNER for all damages, statutory and/or otherwise, for such infringement plus attorney fees plus costs as of the Settlement Date…” (emphasis added)]

[Now as a side note, for those who are particular about formatting and details, note that CEG-TEK placed that inflammatory clause at the bottom of Page 2, and they split it up where half of it is at the bottom of the page, and the other half is at the top of the next page, where even a careful individual might not read the clause in its entirety because the inflammatory clause is separated by being on different pages.]

The problem with such a clause admitting guilt is that it is binding on an unsuspecting individual who tries to settle the claims against him by paying with a credit card. How?  These contracts are available to the individual paying the settlement fee on the CopyrightSettlements.com website to review, and upon processing the credit card payment, they agree to the terms contained within the contract.

Then, when their credit card transaction fails (either because their card is not accepted by CEG-TEK’s website, or because the transaction is declined, or, if through no fault of their own, because of the website itself the bank flags the transaction as suspicious (fraud alert for a large online charge) and fails to approve the transaction), at that point, the individual has admitted guilt to copyright infringement, which carries a $150,000 statutory fine for each title downloaded. Assume for the moment that the individual has five (5) cases.  Multiply this $150,000 amount by five separate copyright holders, and the individual could be looking at 5 x $150,000 lawsuits (= $750,000 in statutory damages separated into multiple lawsuits filed by different copyright holders all of whom hired CEG-TEK as their agent to enforce their copyrights) where the internet user has already admitted guilt.

Then, when the confused internet user who tried to settle calls CEG-TEK on the phone already having admitted guilt, what sort of leverage does the individual have if they are asked for more than $300 per title? Legally, they likely have no defense because according to the terms of the agreement, they already admitted guilt — even if the credit card transaction failing was not their fault.

So… Copyright Enforcement Group may be the “good guys” because they let attorneys negotiate away cases for vets, old ladies, and elderly gentlemen who don’t realize that they should be using a VPN when they download adult content, and CEG-TEK may serve the public good by demonstrating that piracy has gone down because of their efforts. While this is all true, remember: watch their contract, because caveat emptor still applies.

I don’t want to make this into a “you should have hired an attorney for your $300 matter” blog entry, but really, this is but one example of how even the “good guys” need to be approached with caution, and better yet, through a proxy by using an attorney. [I won’t even go into the conspiracy theories about CEG-TEK trying to get more than the $300 per title that is listed on the website.] Let’s stick to the facts and look at their contract to judge them on whether they are truly “naughty or nice.”

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Copyright Enforcement Group (a.k.a. CEG-TEK) and RightsCorp at first glance look alike, but they are different animals. While they both use the DMCA laws (or with CEG-TEK, their foreign-country’s equivalent) to send letters to internet users accusing them of copyright infringement, and while they both attempt to force account holders to pay a “settlement fee” to settle all claims claimed against them, the mechanisms of how they operate are quite different.

True, both CEG-TEK and RightsCorp send DMCA notices to ISP subscribers (internet users). CEG-TEK (currently) asks for a settlement of $300 per title (C$225 for account holders in Canada), and RightsCorp asks for $20 per title.

The big difference between CEG-TEK and RightsCorp is that CEG-TEK releases the accused downloader from liability when the settlement is paid; in CEG-TEK’s contract, there is NO ADMISSION OF GUILT (UPDATE: CEG-TEK recently updated their settlement agreements and now they have an inflammatory “admission of guilt” provision, speak to your attorney about this), whereas RightsCorp contracts explicitly have the settling party admit guilt in an “I did it, I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again” fashion. This ‘admission of guilt’ issue was the initial reason I wouldn’t work with RightsCorp.

There are obviously other issues with CEG-TEK settlements that we’ve discussed before, just as there are obvious issues with RightsCorp settlements (namely, with RightsCorp, many have reported that after paying one $20 settlement, they received 10-40 additional infringement notices, whether or not the downloads actually happened).

Lastly, there are customer service differences between CEG-TEK and RightsCorp. CEG-TEK retains multiple individuals who respond to inquiries and convince those who call in [with inquiries, objections, and website troubles in processing payment] to pay the requested settlement amount or face a lawsuit. They have been known to claim that they record the conversations (watch out for this, as an admission of guilt here can be used against you, as can a lie later be used against you later in a perjury claim).

The important thing to note about CEG-TEK is that CEG-TEK DOES NOT SUE PEOPLE. Rather, they are a SERVICE PROVIDER providing COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT SERVICES TO THEIR CLIENTS (namely, the copyright holders). CEG-TEK has also been known to scrape the list of callers to ascertain their identities (although this used to happen before we learned that they are now able to obtain [from select ISPs] the geolocation data identifying where the download took place). Thus, if a settlement is not reached, they forward the file over to the copyright holders to allow them to follow-up with the accused downloader using their own attorneys.  At this point, CEG-TEK is out of the picture.

Well, to be accurate, first CEG-TEK has their own attorney Marvin Cable send out settlement demand letters asking for $1,750 per title, and only after he is unable to obtain a settlement from the accused downloader, only then do they forward the file over to the copyright holder(s) for their own attorneys to do what they will with it. This is where in my opinion the “ignore” route can result in an accused downloader being contacted by an attorney requesting a settlement, this time asking for a significantly higher amount. Again, depending on the COPYRIGHT HOLDER [namely, whether they have sued in the past (you can look this up on http://www.rfcexpress.com), and whether they intend to sue again in the future], this is how to best determine whether to ignore or settle the claims listed on the CEG-TEK website.

In my opinion, this CEG-TEK policy of “we forward your file over to the copyright holders” is where the misuse of that information *can* originate. Not all copyright holders are upstanding citizens (note to self to write about how a particular action might be illegal or unethical, but we see lawyers doing it anyway, unpunished — “LEGAL, BUT NOT LAWFUL”), especially considering that most of Ira Siegel’s clients are adult entertainment companies (pornography), and their lawyers do not think twice before reminding the accused downloaders that they could be involved in a lawsuit for the download of pornography.

RightsCorp has its own set of problems. First of all, aside from the settlements having accused downloaders admit guilt to one or more downloads, there is a difference in the validity of the claims between RightsCorp and CEG-TEK.  RightsCorp’s initial claim may be valid, but the many follow-up claims have been said to be fabricated.  Contrast this to CEG-TEK — CEG-TEK sends an infringement notice within days of a download taking place, but when the internet user logs in to CEG-TEK’s site, CEG-TEK’s computers have already searched and found any older downloads somehow linked to that internet user (based on the geolocation provided to CEG-TEK, presumably by the ISPs themselves, and also based on the list of IP addresses leased to the subscriber over how long the ISP keeps these lists of past IP addresses based on their “IP retention policy”).

NOTE: There is more to say here, but the jist is that CEG-TEK uses fuzzy science (same geolocation, same bittorrent software, same port number) to link cases together.  This causes problems when CEG-TEK’s system links together multiple tenants’ downloads in an apartment complex or dorm, or when an unlucky VPN subscriber receives an infringement notice containing all of the downloads from the hundreds of other users connecting through that same VPN IP address.

And, while CEG-TEK provides what they call “Customer Service” (a.k.a., “tell me about what a bad boy you were so that I can thank you for admitting guilt and force you to settle or face a lawsuit”), last I checked (and admittedly, it has been some time) there is ABSOLUTELY NO CUSTOMER SERVICE from RightsCorp. Yet, RightsCorp won’t hesitate calling you with their Robocalls all day and night.

Lastly, the biggest difference between CEG-TEK and RightsCorp is that whereas RightsCorp is financially a “sinking ship,” and last I checked, their stock price dropped to $0.06 per share on the stock exchanges, CEG-TEK has only been *expanding* their operations, growing in size, expanding into other counties (most recently, sending copyright infringement notices in Canada), openly speaking about hiring foreign attorneys to enforce their clients copyrights, and they even have been going into other areas of intellectual property (e.g., going after those who sell counterfeited goods over the internet).

In sum, Copyright Enforcement Group in my opinion is the “big bad wolf” of copyright infringement, yet they do everything they can to keep their “paws” clean. What has always bothered me about them (other than that former plaintiff attorney Ira Siegel‘s name appears on each of their settlement demand letters), is that with their growth comes the ability to push around attorneys and internet users with boilerplate settlement agreements, (recently) new terms on their settlement agreements which are less friendly than the former friendly terms, and the ability to continually raise the settlement amount (which was initially $200, then $250, then $300), and nobody can do anything about it.

“Settle or ignore,” it does not matter to CEG-TEK.

As for RightsCorp, I still hold by what I said almost 24 months ago. I see no reason to get involved with them, as they have always been a sinking ship. It is only a matter of time before they are bought out by someone else.

Rightscorp’s Red Bottom Line Gets Larger and so Does its List of Copyrights to Protect (8/19/2014)
Rightscorp Scores More Copyrights to Protect from The Royalty Network (7/11/2014)
Rightscorp, ‘We Aim to Protect Millions of Copyrights as we Continue to Lose Money’ (5/14/2014)
Rightscorp Sets its Sights on the Pay-Up or Else Program for UK Pirates (5/7/2014)
Rightscorp Scores Again, Gets 600 Copyrights from Rotten Records to Protect (4/16/2014)
Rightscorp Adds 13,000 More Copyrights From Blue Pie Records to Protect (3/31/2014)
Rightscorp Publishes its Full-Year & Fourth-Quarter 2013 Financial Report (3/26/2014)
Downloaders Beware; Rightscorp Now Monitoring Billboard Hot 100 Songs (2/28/2014)

Canada begins receiving CEG-TEK DMCA settlement letters. (3/12/2015)
How time limits / purged records stop a copyright holder from learning a downloader’s identity. (12/18/2014)
CEG-TEK’s growing list of participating ISPs, and their NEW alliance with COX Communications. (11/12/2014)
The Giganews VPN Problem (11/12/2014)
CEG-TEK is now your friendly “photo” copyright troll. (6/13/2013)
CEG-TEK’s new “you didn’t settle” letters sent from Marvin Cable. (3/22/2013)
CEG-TEK’s DMCA Settlement Letters – What are my chances of being sued if I ignore? (2/22/2013)
Why CEG-TEK’s DMCA settlement system will FAIL. (2/22/2013)

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3/16 UPDATE: I have heard that CEG-TEK has retained an attorney who is filing the Dallas Buyers Club / Voltage Pictures bittorrent lawsuits in Canada to sue on behalf of their clients (it appears it may be James Zibarras).  Apparently they are doing it as a proof-of-concept to teach that Canada’s limited statutory damages ($5,000 CAN maximum) is per studio. CEG-TEK also claims that there were six months of warning letters (no settlement requested) before they started sending the settlement request letters.  Can anyone in Canada confirm or deny this?

“There is an untapped market of internet users in Canada who could be accused of copyright infringement and forced to pay thousands of dollars in settlement fees… or is there not?” -Copyright Trolls.

Canada until recently was a country which took steps to curb copyright trolling. They limited damages for copyright infringement to a maximum of $5,000 CAN (as opposed to $150,000 here in the U.S.). They set provisions where [with exceptions,] the plaintiff attorney in a lawsuit would need to pay their own attorney fees (as opposed to U.S. Copyright Law which allows a “prevailing party” to collect attorney fees from the non-prevailing party), and things were pretty good for the downloaders and pretty bad for the copyright holders. Who would ever sue in Canada?

Then it was explained to me that certain ISPs were sending what sounded like our “DMCA copyright infringement settlement letters” that we have seen from companies such as CEG-TEK. This evening, Techdirt wrote an article on the topic entitled, “More Copyright Trolls Rushing In To Take Advantage Of Canadian Copyright Notice System Loopholes.”

So apparently what was done to protect the Canadian internet users from copyright trolls has for the moment been undone. “Carte blanche, carpe diem, go get em tiger!” one might think. But I suspect this is only a temporary loophole. In an honest world, those who protected the internet users will continue to protect them, and attorneys will continue to defend against those who are accused of copyright infringement in Canada.

When I heard about what was going on this afternoon, I sighed, “O Canada!” Originally spelling it “Oh Canada,” I quickly found on Wikipedia under the “O Canada!” entry that there is actually an interesting distinction between the English version of the national anthem and the French version. The English version seemed passive (as I understand many mistake Canadians to be).  In my opinion based on my own family in Canada, the real character of Canada could be better found in the French version of Ô Canada! Where the English says, “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee,” the French version says “[We] will protect our homes and our rights. The French version also says, “As is thy arm ready to wield the sword, so also is it ready to carry the cross.”

In short, Canadians won’t stand for the copyright trolls, and I suspect this will be only a temporary problem which will be remedied by the legislature as quickly as a copyright troll might pop his head out from under the Pont de Québec and say “boo!”

A Translation of this article into French from a valued Contributor (just for fun): 

Le Canada jusqu’à récemment, était un pays qui a pris des mesures pour freiner les “copyright trolls” ou “pêcheurs à la traîne de droits d’auteurs”. Le Canada a limité les dommages pour violation de copyright à un maximum de 5000 $ CAN (par opposition à $ 150 000, ici aux USA). Au Canada, un demandeur victorieux doit le plus souvent payer ses propres frais d’avocat dans un procès (par opposition aux États-Unis ou la législaion permet à une “partie gagnante” de collecter ses frais d’avocat auprès de la partie perdante), et les choses étaient assez favorables aux téléchargeurs et assez mauvaises pour les détenteurs de droits d’auteur. Qui aurait jamais pensé poursuivre au Canada?

Ensuite, on m’a expliqué que certains FAI envoyaient ce qui ressemblait à nos “DMCA Copyright Violation Letter” comme celles que nous avons vues de la part de sociétés telles que CEG-TEK. Ce soir, Techdirt a écrit un article sur le sujet intitulé More Copyright Trolls Rushing In To Take Advantage Of Canadian Copyright Notice System Loopholes.”

Donc apparemment ce qui avait été fait pour protéger les internautes canadiens de copyright trolls est devenu chose du passé. “Carte blanche, carpe diem, go get ‘em tiger!”  On pourrait le penser. Mais je soupçonne que tout ceci est seulement temporaire. Dans un monde honnête, ceux qui protégeait les utilisateurs d’Internet vont continuer à les protéger, et les avocats continueront de défendre ceux qui sont accusés de violations de droits d’auteurs au Canada.

Cet après-midi, quand j’ai entendu parler de ce qui se passait, j’ai soupiré, «Ô Canada!» Originellement épelé “Oh Canada” j’ai rapidement trouvé sur Wikipedia l’article correspondant sous le titre “O Canada!” Article Wikipedia qui montre qu’il y a effectivement une distinction intéressante entre la version anglaise et la version française de l’hymne. La version anglaise semblait passive (les Canadiens sont parfois perçus comme passifs, à tort). À mon avis et basé sur ma propre famille au Canada, le vrai caractère du Canada pourrait être mieux trouvé dans la version française du Ô Canada! Là où les Anglophones disent: «O Canada, nous nous tenons sur nos gardes pour toi,” la version française indique ” Et ta valeur, de foi trempée, Protègera nos foyers et nos droits”. La version française dit aussi: “Car ton bras sait porter l’épée, Il sait porter la croix”.

Bref, les Canadiens ne toléreront pas les copyright trolls, et je soupçonne que ceci est seulement un problème temporaire qui sera corrigée par le législateur aussi rapidement qu’un copyright troll pourrait montrer sa tête sous le Pont de Québec et de faire ” boo! “

Canada begins receiving CEG-TEK DMCA settlement letters. (3/12/2015)
How time limits / purged records stop a copyright holder from learning a downloader’s identity. (12/18/2014)
CEG-TEK’s growing list of participating ISPs, and their NEW alliance with COX Communications. (11/12/2014)
The Giganews VPN Problem (11/12/2014)
CEG-TEK is now your friendly “photo” copyright troll. (6/13/2013)
CEG-TEK’s new “you didn’t settle” letters sent from Marvin Cable. (3/22/2013)
CEG-TEK’s DMCA Settlement Letters – What are my chances of being sued if I ignore? (2/22/2013)
Why CEG-TEK’s DMCA settlement system will FAIL. (2/22/2013)

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In July, 2010, this blog was started to address the at-the-time unknown problem of copyright trolling.  For years, myself and my staff wrote articles explaining the business model of copyright trolling, which at the time was an adaptation of patent trolling (where “patent trolls” would file [often frivolous] lawsuits against alleged infringers who refused to pay what appeared to be a “shakedown” of the patent holders [e.g., “pay us or else you will end up having to pay even more to defend the claims against you in a federal court”], even when the patent being asserted against the would-be infringer had absolutely nothing to do with the product the targeted company was producing).

There were common threads between patent trolls and copyright trolls, and as the cases developed, there were common themes of how a copyright troll must act to make his model of extorting the public (the bittorrent internet users) profitable.  At the time, that included questions of 1) where and how can a copyright enforcement company or lawyer sue a group of defendants (personal jurisdiction), 2) how to link non-related downloaders into a cohesive set of defendants into a cohesive set of “John Doe Defendants,” (joinder, and my controversial strategy to force a copyright troll to sue the entire bittorrent swarm when a defendant is named and served) and 3) how to avoid risking the potential settlements from hundreds or thousands of accused bittorrent users by moving forward and “naming and serving” one or more defendants.  There were also time limits they faced based on a) how long the ISPs retained the records of which IP address was leased to which account holder / subscriber, b) statute of limitations on how long a copyright holder has to file a lawsuit, and c) how long a copyright troll attorney may keep a case alive before a judge imposes the time limits described in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP Rule 4m, a.k.a. the “120 Day Rule”).

Then, over the years, there arose a confusion under the discussions of “net neutrality” asking questions such as whether an internet service provider (ISP) was governed under the cable act, and if so, under what title.  The reason for this was that there were allegations that various ISPs were outright sharing the contact information of its subscribers without valid court orders to do so, thus violating the privacy rights of its subscribers.

In sum, there were a lot of issues, and we tackled each one over the course of almost five years.  The goal was to educate the bittorrent user and the accused downloader about the issues so that they understand how to act, react, and in many cases, fight against a group of attorneys with questionable ethics.

The problem is that these articles — the ones that have been so helpful to tens of thousands of accused defendants — these articles have been buried by the search engines because they are simply now aging and many articles are now many years old.  An accused defendant can no longer search for a “copyright troll” on Google and find any of my older articles.  [And, enterprising attorneys (and good for them) have put up websites containing SEO-based content full of keywords in hackneyed sentences, but devoid of useful content (e.g., the “contact our law firm, we can help you with your copyright troll lawsuit issue” type of website), while what I consider to be the “useful” content (not only mine, but content written by other attorneys in their blogs, and proactive users [really, trailblazers such as “Sophisticated Jane Doe” of FightCopyrightTrolls and “DieTrollDie”] in their respective blogs) is no longer accessible by typing the name of the particular copyright troll, issue, or case that has been recently filed.

What I will be doing to remedy this as far as this blog is concerned — and I apologize up front to the thousands of you who get updated on each and every article that I or a staff member of mine writes — is that I need to rehash some of the “older” content on the educational topics that I have already covered in the blog ad nauseam.  The reason for this is that the older content explaining the legal concepts in terms of the bittorrent lawsuits (and now in terms of the DMCA letters being sent to subscribers through the ISPs) is just as relevant today as it was five years ago.  There has been little-to-no judicial or legal oversight of the copyright trolls from the attorney generals of each state and from the lawmakers (both federal and in each state), and the problem and issues surrounding “copyright trolling” is just as relevant today as it was almost five years ago.

For these reasons, I need to violate my own preference not to repeat information or content that has already been described or hashed-out in previous articles (my opinion is that one article describing a topic is enough, and writing multiple articles containing the same topic “waters down” or “cheapens” the content of a website).  The reason I now feel the need to rehash some of the older topics is to re-teach those who have not yet been victimized by the copyright trolls, as my older articles are no longer found, even by those looking for that particular topic.

ALSO.  Copyright trolls are now enjoying a seed of legitimacy by the courts, where once upon a time us defense attorneys were “winning” the cases by arguing concepts such as “an IP address does not equal a person,” or “my client had an open wireless router, it could have been anyone who downloaded this video,” the arguments themselves have also aged and are now increasingly being ignored by the courts, even though the arguments remain “an elephant in the room,” meaning, just as valid today as they were yesterday.  On the flip-side, faulty and failed arguments (e.g., “are you negligent if you let someone else use your internet connection to commit copyright infringement” [Answer: NO!]) are being reasserted by the copyright trolls, and to my utter disbelief, they are not immediately being dismissed by the judges as being a faulty argument.

Copyright trolling has not changed in the past five years, and the successful arguments defending a case do not deserve to be ignored just because they have been used successfully by defendants in older lawsuits which too are aging.  Ignoring good case law is contrary to law, as successful arguments in one jurisdiction are binding on all other judges in that federal district, and are persuasive on cases in the federal districts in other cases.  Yet, I see more and more lawlessness in judges who ignore the case law from not only other jurisdictions, but from their own jurisdiction as well (creating a “split” in the court), and they are denying a John Doe defendant’s ability to assert what was a successful argument in another court (even one binding upon them in their own jurisdiction).

In sum, judges are allowing plaintiff copyright holders to sue larger number of defendants each week, even though nothing has changed making this new trend permissible (in my opinion, whether 200 defendants were sued by a plaintiff attorney in one lawsuit or in ten cases [having 20 defendants in each case] filed in the same week still means that 200 defendants were sued; it does not matter that the plaintiff made the cases “appear” to be smaller, especially if they are implicating the same bittorrent swarm in each of the ten cases).

Remember, the underlying copyright troll business model of “shakedown, extort thousands of dollars from each defendant, but avoid moving forward against anyone [but pretend that you are prepared to move to trial]” is still the same as it was five years ago.  It should not matter whether the content of the lawsuit is a Hollywood movie or an adult film.

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It occurred to me that there is some confusion as to the effect the amount of time ISPs keep IP address logs (linking a particular IP address to a particular subscriber) have on whether those records will be available to the copyright holder if a lawsuit is filed after that time period has elapsed.

The question that sparked this post is as follows:

If CEG-TEK hasn’t subpoenaed someones identity, but the ISP only retains IP information for one year, then after a year it would essentially be impossible for CEG-TEK to obtain the identity correct?

My answer:

In order to understand what is going on, it is important to know who-is-who, and who does what.

I: CEG-TEK (a.k.a. Copyright Enforcement Group):  CEG-TEK hasn’t sued anyone in two years, and thus there are never subpoenas sent to the ISPs.  CEG-TEK is hired by the copyright holders 1) to track the IP addresses of accused downloaders, 2) to maximize the settlement payment by establishing connections between current accused downloads and other “older” downloads that happened at that same location (using IP address geolocation data), 3) to elicit payment in the form of “settlements” from the accused users via their settlement website, and 4) to provide attorney enforcement for those who choose not to settle via the website.

How they do this: CEG-TEK establishes relationships with the ISPs (internet service providers, e.g., Charter, CenturyLink, Giganews, etc.) and they arrange for the ISPs to forward the DMCA settlement demand letters to their subscribers.  CEG-TEK has a website they use to elicit payments from accused downloaders.  Lastly, they have attorneys (e.g., Marvin Cable) who follow-up with accused downloaders (sometimes asking for increasingly larger amounts of money).  Contrary to what is said by the attorneys, neither CEG-TEK nor their lawyers [at the moment] sue people.

II: COPYRIGHT HOLDERS (generally, the production companies): After failing to receive a settlement via the CEG-TEK settlement process, the copyright holders themselves hire out attorneys who enforce their copyrights against those subscribers who “ignored” CEG-TEK’s offers to settle.  Sometimes the attorneys are no-name attorneys, and other times, they are prolific copyright trolls such as from the law firm of Lipscomb and Eisenberg (best known as the attorneys for the Malibu Media lawsuits).

III: ISPs (internet service providers, including Universities and select VPN service providers): ISPs generally hold IP address data (and to which subscriber it was assigned to, and on what date) for one year — check your ISP’s “IP retention policy.” Congress and the RIAA/MPAA are pushing to increase this amount of time to 18 months.  For comparison purposes, in 2010, IP address data was kept for only 6 months. 

NOTE: After the ISP’s “IP retention policy” time limit elapses, if there are no copyright infringement claims, legal claims or requests on a particular IP address assignment record, they will purge that record from their database, meaning that lawsuits, subpoenas, or requests filed AFTER DESTRUCTION will not reveal the subscriber’s identity because that data is no longer available.

HOWEVER, most ISPs have a SECOND DATABASE — this second database holds IP address assignment records which have had claims of copyright infringement asserted against the subscriber, and these records are often kept indefinitely. Thus, if a lawsuit happens YEARS later (even after the IP retention policy date has expired), the data indicating which subscriber was assigned what IP address on what date and time IS RETAINED and will be available to the copyright holders and their attorneys when suing subscribers.

Lastly, (and I did not include this in my initial response,) it is my experience that ISPs generally forward DMCA settlement demand requests LITERALLY WITHIN DAYS of the accused download actually happening.  For example, Charter literally pumps out letters to their subscribers FOUR DAYS after the downloads happen.  Now obviously there are hiccups where a subscriber will receive a pile of infringements at one time, or an infringement notice is withheld until after the CEG-TEK due date has passed, but in my understanding, when this happens, it is either a business-related issue between CEG-TEK and the ISP, or a staffing issue in the subpoena / abuse department at the ISP.

Thus, where CEG-TEK is concerned, I have never heard of a situation where CEG-TEK demands that the ISP forward a letter to a subscriber and the ISP denies that request based on the ISP’s IP retention policy making the subscriber’s information unavailable.

As far as copyright lawsuits in general, yes, the IP retention policy does factor in to when a lawsuit is filed.  I have personally seen a handful of copyright infringement lawsuits filed against John Doe Defendants fail because the ISPs were unable to identify the identities of the accused subscribers because the plaintiff took too long to file the lawsuit (or a judge took too long to approve the subpoena to the ISP demanding the identities of the accused subscribers), and by the time the request or subpoena was received by the ISP, the IP address assignment records were already purged.

Thus, even though a plaintiff copyright holder does have three years from the alleged date of infringement to file a lawsuit against an accused subscriber, they are still bound by the ISP’s IP retention policy if they wish to ever identify the accused subscriber.  That being said, it is the “SECOND DATABASE” which trips up most individuals, as many individuals accused of copyright infringement are not aware that ISPs keep certain IP address assignment records indefinitely (or for a prolonged period of time), and these IP address assignment records are those which have been flagged by a copyright holder, attorney, or other law enforcement agency prior to the expiration of the ISP’s IP retention policy.

Canada begins receiving CEG-TEK DMCA settlement letters. (3/12/2015)
How time limits / purged records stop a copyright holder from learning a downloader’s identity. (12/18/2014)
CEG-TEK’s growing list of participating ISPs, and their NEW alliance with COX Communications. (11/12/2014)
The Giganews VPN Problem (11/12/2014)
CEG-TEK is now your friendly “photo” copyright troll. (6/13/2013)
CEG-TEK’s new “you didn’t settle” letters sent from Marvin Cable. (3/22/2013)
CEG-TEK’s DMCA Settlement Letters – What are my chances of being sued if I ignore? (2/22/2013)
Why CEG-TEK’s DMCA settlement system will FAIL. (2/22/2013)

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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.

Ashland Home Net
Bloom Broadband
Blue Ridge Communications
Charter Communications
EPB Fiber Optics
First Communications
Google Fiber
Hotspot Broadband
Internet Services of Cincinnati (ISOC.net)
Midcontinent Communications
Mid-Rivers Communications
Morris Broadband
NeoNova Network Services
OlyPen Cable
PenTel Data (another name for Blue Ridge Communications)
SuddenLink Communications
ViaSat / Exede Internet
Whidbey Telecom
WildBlue (service through ViaSat)

Rice University
Columbia University
Cornell University
Stanford University
University of Michigan
Wisconsin University
University of Alaska

Canada begins receiving CEG-TEK DMCA settlement letters. (3/12/2015)
How time limits / purged records stop a copyright holder from learning a downloader’s identity. (12/18/2014)
CEG-TEK’s growing list of participating ISPs, and their NEW alliance with COX Communications. (11/12/2014)
The Giganews VPN Problem (11/12/2014)
CEG-TEK is now your friendly “photo” copyright troll. (6/13/2013)
CEG-TEK’s new “you didn’t settle” letters sent from Marvin Cable. (3/22/2013)
CEG-TEK’s DMCA Settlement Letters – What are my chances of being sued if I ignore? (2/22/2013)
Why CEG-TEK’s DMCA settlement system will FAIL. (2/22/2013)

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I have been fighting with myself trying to determine whether to write this article for a problem with Warner Brothers’ $20 settlement demand letters that they are sending out to accused downloaders of their content. Yet I suspect that this is just the beginning of something larger — I fear that the MPAA might be jumping on board the “DMCA settlement letter” scheme or even worse, starting to sue defendants again en masse for copyright infringement.

Under a company named “Rightscorp, Inc.,” (Website: http://www.DigitalRightsCorp.com) Christopher Sabec is sending out “DMCA Letters” almost copying CEG-TEK’s letters accusing the internet user of copyright infringement and offering to settle the claims for a mere $20.

RightsCorp is representing, however, mega corporations such as Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. (“Warner Bros.”) on their ABC Family teen shows such as “Pretty Little Liars” (file: “Pretty.Little.Liars.S03E05.HDTV.x264-LOL.mp4”) among other TV shows geared at teenagers who are quite savvy on the internet. The expectation is that not all of the episodes are available on their http://abcfamily.go.com website, and so naturally kids will migrate to the internet and Bittorrent to download the earlier episodes taken down from their websites.

What is bothering me, however, is that the release on their https://secure.digitalrightscorp.com/settle website (pasted below) releases the accused defendant from their claim of copyright infringement for a mere $20, but it has the defendant ADMITTING GUILT to the infringement. Thus, in legal terms, an accused internet user who pays the $20 may be released from liability for THAT instance of infringement, but the next time they catch that user downloading, they can not only sue for the full $150,000 (or ask for TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS as a settlement), but in court, they would use the prior settlement as EVIDENCE OF GUILT that the accused defendant habitually downloads copyrighted videos and TV shows.

To be clear: EVERY settlement agreement for copyright infringement should have language stating that the accused defendant is not admitting guilt, or else the act of settling a copyright infringement claim can be construed as an “admission” of guilt in a court. Specifically, the language (e.g., taken from CEG-TEK’s settlements) would say something like “this Liability Release represents a compromise and that nothing herein is to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of RELEASEE.” This language appears to be purposefully ABSENT from the RightsCorp Settlement Agreements.

For this reason, it is difficult for me to suggest hiring a third party / attorney and paying one of us to anonymously settle a $20 matter, BUT it is my opinion that the RightsCorp settlements are simply dangerous to your legal rights.  Yet the flip side is that Warner Bros. is a MPAA member, and they have unlimited pockets to sue a defendant (they have in the past, and they could again in the future), and that not settling could later result in a second claim against you for a lot more money (it is not unlike them to ask for $20,000 as a settlement for one title).

My ThoughtsI am not sure I would want the MPAA (or any of its members) to have my client’s contact information with what is essentially an “I did it, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again, here’s $20” settlement agreement.  And, if I settled a claim, I would probably do so anonymously and respectfully.  

I would not want to instigate a “David vs. Goliath” fight with Warner Brothers or the MPAA on behalf of my client (who would likely end up being the HARD-WORKING PARENTS of the kid who did the download).  In a court battle, we would have the uneven legal situation [yet again] where the plaintiff copyright troll has unlimited financial and legal resources and the defendant has limited means to even hire an attorney to represent them.

The MPAA has been lying dormant these past three years while the porn companies and their copyright trolls fight out the issues in the various federal courts across the U.S. My suspicion is that they are getting ready to dip their toes back into the water and start suing internet users again. I am suspicious that perhaps this $20 scheme is just their way to start getting names and contact information to gear up to sue “repeat offenders” who have already settled one of their claims. And for $20, it appears to me that this will be an easy way to lure defendants into giving over their contact information to be solicited later for something else.

Here is a sample copy of their release (noting that the “no admission of guilt” language is missing):

WB Sample Settlement Agreement
Liability Release & Settlement Receipt

IMPORTANT: Please retain this document for your records. It releases you from liability for the below mentioned infringement and serves as official notice of settlement.

Reference # TC-4ab****************************

Title Pr*******************

Filename Pr********************

Timestamp 2013-06***********

Infringement Source Torrent

Infringers IP Address 61*************

Infringers Port 4****

In consideration of the settlement payment made and the representations and agreements made in this Release & Settlement, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (“WB”) for itself, for its past, present and future directors, shareholders, members, managers, officers, employees, agents, attorneys, representatives, partners, trustees, beneficiaries, family members, heirs, subsidiaries and affiliates, and for its and their predecessors, successors and assigns (collectively the “Releasor”);

Hereby finally, unconditionally, irrevocably and absolutely releases, acquits, remises and forever discharges robert steele, 3100 donald douglas loop n santa monica CA, 90405 and such person’s family members and heirs (collectively the “Releasee”);

From any and all manner of actions, suits, debts, sums of money, interest owed, charges, damages, judgments, executions, obligations, costs, expenses, fees (including attorneys’ fees and court costs), claims, demands, causes of action and liabilities, that arise under the United States Copyright Act, in each case whether known or unknown, absolute or contingent, matured or unmatured, presently existing or hereafter discovered, at law, in equity or otherwise, that the Releasor may now have or that might subsequently accrue against the Releasee arising out of or connected with the specific Infringement of copyrighted material(s) referenced above;

Provided however, that this release shall not, and shall not be deemed to, constitute a release with respect to any other past, present or future infringements by Releasee other than the specific Infringement of copyrighted material(s) referenced above.

Robert Steele agrees not to infringe any of WB’s filmed entertainment (including but not limited to films, videos, video games, animation and television programs), whether now in existence or later created, that is owned or controlled by WB. In furtherance of this agreement, Robert Steele agrees to immediately and permanently cease the unauthorized copying and/or distribution (including, but not limited to, downloading, uploading, filesharing, file “swapping,” or other similar activities) of WB filmed entertainment, including, but not limited to, those items listed in this correspondence.

Settlement Date 2013-06**********

Transaction Id 102**************

Settlement Amount ***

If you have any questions about this release, please contact rsteele@digitalrightscorp.com

6/21 UPDATE: I have been seeing lawsuits filed by Warner Bros Home Entertainment Inc. v. “named defendant” et al. I have provided a screenshot below from the http://www.rfcexpress.com website. After a quick investigation, these lawsuits are NOT RELATED to what I am referring to in this article.  Yet, it is still concerning that Warner Bros. is taking such an enthusiastic interest in the federal court system for copyright infringement lawsuits.
062113 Warner Bros Lawsuits

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