Porn studios accused of extortion in BitTorrent lawsuits

Porn studios accused of extortion in BitTorrent lawsuits

Lying downPorn studios have turned to extortion of BitTorrent users to make money, looking for payouts of $1,000 to $5,000 from victims too embarrassed or shamed to defend themselves in court, a class action suit claims.

That paltry sum pretty much proves the point that the pornographers are trolling for file-sharing users regardless of whether they’ve actually downloaded porn, according to the class action suit [PDF], which was filed in Kentucky on Thursday.

From the filing, which Wired posted in its ongoing coverage of the issue:

The pornography purveyors know that this amount of money is less than the cost of defense would be if suit were filed. They also know that individuals such as the Plaintiff in this matter are embarrassed to have their names associated with pornography, and therefore, are susceptible to being shaken down.

In fact, the filing continues, if the shake-down victims were actually guilty of having illegally downloaded porn, the penalty could hit $150,000 for willful infringement of the US Copyright Act.

The case was filed by Jennifer Barker, a woman who the filing claims has never downloaded porn and didn’t even know what the heck BitTorrent was when she first got the shake-down call.

Computer porn. Image from ShutterstockThe filing accuses the industry (there are five defendants named) of hiring a British company by the name of Intellectual Property Protection Ltd. (IPP) to troll for BitTorrent users.

IPP records and forwards the supposedly guilty IP addresses to the pornographers, the suit maintains, who then draft “nearly identical lawsuits” that allege that the defendants had been caught downloading porn.

The pornographers have recently started to file bills of discovery lawsuits in Florida that request approval for mass subpoenas to the ISPs associated with those IP addresses.

The subpoenas demand names and addresses associated with the harvested IP addresses.

That’s when the phone calls begin.

As Wired’s David Kravets points out, this is no war on piracy à la the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The RIAA has waged battle against pirates with high-profile lawsuits against file-sharing service providers, by going after college students and parents of file-sharing children, and by trying to get ISPs to go along with a a three-strike warning system for file sharing that would lead to the ultimate castration of Internet service altogether.

In contrast, the lawsuit claims, pornographers have designed a “new business model” that’s not set up to deter illegal downloads but is instead set up simply to reap profit.

Wired quoted Lory Lybeck, a Washington state attorney not connected to the Kentucky class action, who told Kravets that he’s defending “hundreds” of clients accused of downloading porn:

"There’s a slime element associated with the porn cases, which makes it much more apparent than the music cases that there is an extortionist element to this."

Slimy doesn’t even begin to describe how loathsome this is, as well as dangerous to the targeted victims.

Witness these words published by Queerty. The site claims they were written by a gay teen who says he’ll kill himself if outed in a lawsuit against illegal filesharers:

Story on Queerty

I have not been able to eat and I am paralyzed with fear. If a letter comes, [my parents] will know immediately it is true and they will know this is what the terror they have been reading in my face is, I will not be believed if I try to say, like they have offered that, I was looking at ‘straight’ porn. I will be thrown out of the house, with nowhere to go and no options. I realize I was wrong but I was not profiting over it, I never uploaded a torrent, nor did I try to seed after it was done so I thought it would be okay, I do not have the money for any settlement and this will ruin my life. … If [I] get sued, I will end my life first.

Aaron James, who identifies himself as a single gay man, addressed this issue on a Quora discussion regarding how the porn industry has shot itself in its own foot by giving away free downloads:

"This is completely the studios' fault. If they want to control their content, they should never have allowed downloadable (and thereby shareable) content. They could prevent a lot of this by 'locking' down their content and just provide it via streaming video with log-in session tokens."

Or maybe the pornography purveyors could both defend copyrights and profits while also protecting individuals’ privacy and potentially the lives of closeted young people, by following in the footsteps of the company that knows how to conduct file-sharing that’s both profitable and affordable to the teens who are the least able to come up with the extortionists’ fees: Apple.

As noted by UnicornBooty commenter Pezalinski, charging low fees for file-shared porn à la iTunes would accomplish a host of benefits:

  1. The porn studios would earn the profits they deserve,
  2. The porn studios wouldn’t have to shell out the money for lawyers and the investigators who are tracking down IP addresses in these witch hunts,
  3. Teenagers would be able to afford legally obtained porn, and
  4. No teen – or anybody else, for that matter – would be terrified into suicidal thought or action at the idea of being outed.

LucretiusTwo thousand years ago, Lucretius put forward a radical idea in his poem On the Nature of Things: pleasure is not incompatible with virtue.

That idea is still radical.

Pleasure can be compatible with legality, as well. If the porn purveyors could follow a smarter pricing and delivery model, perhaps they could abandon the pairing of pleasure with shame.

The porn industry has apparently used that pairing to craft a weapon. They’re using it to beat profits out of people.

There are better ways.

Computer porn download image, courtesy of Shutterstock.