ArtsWatch: New Infringement Lawsuits Target Thousands

U.S. copyright group aims wide, suing more than 20,000 movie downloaders
April 05, 2010 -- 7:12 am PDT
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

On March 30 The Hollywood Reporter broke a story that appears to prove consumer file-sharing lawsuits are back in a big way. (link) SaveCinema.org is the home page for U.S. Copyright Group, a team of intellectual property attorneys who sued more than 20,000 movie downloaders in Washington D.C.'s U.S. District Court and are finalizing another lawsuit against 30,000 more. THR's report seems to indicate this is a new contingency venture of the established law firm Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver, (link) using torrent-tracking technology to identify the Internet addresses of infringers and then pursuing users' identities through their Internet service providers to negotiate settlements. Consumer advocates Electronic Frontier Foundation said, "If this story is correct, it's the latest evidence that copyright law has become unmoored from its foundations. Copyright should help creators get adequately compensated for their efforts. Copyright should not line the pockets of copyright trolls intent on shaking down individuals for fast settlements a thousand at a time." (link) A counter-argument could be made that this approach finally puts Internet technology on the side of copyright owners, and that lawsuits like these can enable movies' creators to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation for actual infringement. The potential bad publicity from this approach might deter trade organizations that lobby elected officials from openly supporting the effort, but there is no shortage of film producers who would appreciate revenue that could help them make their next project.

Four submissions were published on the Web on March 24 responding to the request for comments by the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel (link) — three from rightsholders organizations and one from consumer advocates.

  • AFTRA, DGA, IATSE, MPAA, NMPA, RIAA, and SAG combined efforts to provide an extensive review of economic impact studies across a number of years, to offer many specific suggestions for inter-agency coordination, and to encourage pressuring online advertising companies and payment transaction firms to reduce their support for client Web sites that infringe copyright. (link)
  • International Intellectual Property Alliance submitted comments surveying international norms and best practices for fighting commercial piracy and also addressed technological measures to control access or prevent infringement. (link) MPAA, NMPA and RIAA are among IIPA's member organizations. On the topic of intellectual property education, while its submission observed that many countries make greater efforts than the United States, IIPA also wrote, "In many countries, piracy is so prevalent that large percentages of the population do not even realize that they are engaging in infringing activities as there is so little consequence for their doing so."
  • Copyright Alliance reviewed economic studies of domestic and international harms caused by infringement, reflecting the wide variety of creative media produced by its more than 40 institutional members — including AFTRA, DGA, MPAA, NMPA, and RIAA. (link) Their comment also focused on studies finding federal money spent on IP enforcement results in substantial economic dividends. Regarding education, the organization announced the formation of the Copyright Alliance Education Foundation in May of 2009 — a launch that was balanced on the consumer advocacy side by EFF's announcement of a competing curriculum. (link) Copyright Alliance's comment forcefully promoted the place for copyright education within the digital literacy efforts of multiple federal agencies as well as state systems.
  • EFF joined with Public Knowledge and several library associations to present the tech-friendly, consumer advocacy point of view. (link) While calling for rigorous cost-benefit analysis of IP enforcement, these groups simultaneously encouraged consideration of hard-to-quantify chilling effects and unintended consequences. Their comment also warned against industry-generated educational materials that could be "biased and inaccurate."

The IPEC will proceed to develop a joint strategic plan considering all the comments that were submitted by the March 24 deadline — potentially a major landmark in the history of intellectual property in the United States.

Umbrella rights organization UK Music published seven recommendations for British music's next decade on March 29 in a document titled "Liberating Creativity." (link) Its executive summary begins, "Unsurprisingly, our ambition for the music industry is simple yet challenging: we want to be number one."

On March 26 British regulator Ofcom released its annual "UK Children's Media Literacy" report. (link) Among children between ages of 12–15, only 1 percent "do not use the Internet at all" and 44 percent believe "downloading shared copies of music and movies should not be illegal."

 

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