ArtsWatch: Educating Accused Movie Infringers

Judge orders parties to collaborate on notice explaining defendants' legal rights
  • Photo: Courtesy of Summit Entertainment
    Jeremy Renner stars in The Hurt Locker
July 12, 2010 -- 9:54 am PDT
By Philip Merrill /

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 @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

After a June 30 hearing, attorneys suing masses of alleged movie infringers in Washington, D.C.'s U.S. District Court were ordered to collaborate with the American Civil Liberties Union and Electronic Frontier Foundation on a new educational form of notice to be sent to defendants who were identified by their Internet addresses. Intellectual property law firm Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver under the aegis of U.S. Copyright Group (at now has several cases in progress, each pursuing many thousands of defendants at a time on behalf of indie filmmakers — most prominently Voltage Pictures, producers of The Hurt Locker. News coverage of these cases has often questioned whether mass consumer litigation will effectively reduce piracy, but the quick-to-settle plan for these lawsuits seems more directly geared to provide infringed indie filmmakers with helpful revenue. The large scale of the litigation is unprecedented, providing ISPs and friends of the court plenty of opportunities to raise roadblocks — such as obliging plaintiffs to tell defendants scattered across the U.S. that they have the right to object to their case being tried in Washington, D.C. court.

On July 6 the teams of attorneys representing major record labels and convicted file-sharer Jammie Thomas-Rasset collaborated on a motion to Minnesota's U.S. District Court pleading for relief from further settlement discussions supervised by a special master. Settlement negotiations began in 2007 and proceeded on and off against a background of appeals and a retrial. The joint pleading said, "As the court is aware, the parties have repeatedly attempted to settle this case, both on their own accord and by order of the court. Those efforts have, unfortunately, been fruitless because of the substantially divergent views of the parties regarding copyright law and the merits of this case." The case has caused many observers to question whether copyright law's deterrence damages can be made to stick against an infringer guilty of commonplace file-sharing. Since it is the first case against an individual consumer to proceed this far, there are no authoritative precedents available to help judges hurry things along.

July 1 was the deadline for colleges and universities receiving federal grants to have effective antipiracy programs in place or potentially face diminished funding. The requirement was passed in 2008 and has accelerated the development of a wide variety of approaches. Speaking to the Associated Press, Educause Director of Policy & Networking Programs Steven Worona said, "The problem campuses have is that commercial network providers are not doing anything to limit the amount of infringement on their networks or educate their customers about copyright law. Every fall, a new cadre of students arrives on campuses who have been engaging in infringing activity since the third grade." Since late 2008, the RIAA has sent approximately 270,000 notices of infringement to college and university networks. When the Department of Education begins efforts to enforce compliance by means of specific penalties, howls that Hollywood hates college students can be expected. Technology vendor Red Lambda helped publicize the July 1 deadline to promote its turnkey network management solution for schools needing to rapidly ramp up their compliance.

Federal officials launched the "Operation In Our Sites" initiative on June 30, announcing the seizure of nine Internet domains providing infringing movie downloads to an estimated 6.7 million visitors per month. Led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary John Morton and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, the launch event was also attended by representatives from the Directors Guild of America, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the MPAA, as well as Disney and Viacom executives. The investigation included the combined efforts of 100 federal agents in 11 states and the Netherlands. The seizures included bank and Paypal accounts, and four residential search warrants were executed. Morton said there are hundreds of similar websites on the Internet. Future crackdowns will go beyond movie downloads to shut down sites providing counterfeit and/or pirated products including electronics, games, pharmaceuticals, and software.

On June 25 White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard A. Schmidt released a draft of the "National Strategy For Trusted Identities In Cyberspace" for public comment. He said the draft "calls for the creation of an online environment, or an Identity Ecosystem as we refer to it in the strategy, where individuals and organizations can complete online transactions with confidence, trusting the identities of each other and the identities of the infrastructure that the transaction runs on." The deadline for public comments is July 19.

Regulators for both Britain and the European Union have separately issued discussion documents calling for input regarding Net neutrality and network traffic management. U.K. agency Ofcom announced its consultation on June 24 with a deadline of Sept. 9. Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards said, "At the heart of this discussion is how to ensure that traffic management practices are transparent and how to ensure that traffic management is not used for anti-competitive discrimination." The European Commission opened its consultation on June 30 with a deadline of Sept. 30. EC VP for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes said, "I do not assume that one approach or another should prevail. We need input from all sides so we can examine all the issues carefully, in a very objective way, strike the right balance between all the interests involved and work out what new measures, if any, may be needed."

As announced last October, Finland's Ministry of Transport and Communications has now established a basic right to the Internet. Ministry representative Olli-Pekka Rantala said, "Today the universal service obligation concerning Internet access of one Megabit per second (Mbit/s) has entered into force…. It is our understanding that we have become the first in the world to have made broadband a basic right."


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