Class Claims Porn Distributors Extort People Over the Internet
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CN) - Pornography distributors have "a new business model": threatening to sue Internet users for illegally downloading - whether they have or not - using the threat of embarrassment to shake them down for thousands of dollars, a class action claims in Federal Court.
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Named plaintiff Jennifer Barker sued four California-based companies: Patrick Collins Inc., Malibu Media, K-Beech, and Third Degree Films, and London-based Raw Films. She claims the porn distributors have "a new business model" which uses the court system to "extort" money from users of file-sharing sites who have never downloaded their videos.
"These entities, various pornography purveyors, have filed suit in numerous venues seeking to extort money from individuals they claim have downloaded pornography from the Internet," the complaint states. "The pornography purveyors utilize a technique known as trolling, whereby individuals hired by the various pornography purveyors search for Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with the use of file sharing software such as BitTorrent. Once the IP addresses have been harvested, the various pornography purveyors file suit naming defendants as John Doe. They then seek to have mass subpoenas issued for the Internet providers associated with the harvested IP addresses in order to obtain the name and address of the owner of the IP address on the date it was harvested. Recently, the pornography purveyors have begun using the court system of the state of Florida to file true bill of discovery lawsuits in which they seek only to extract the names and addresses of individuals associated with the various IP addresses.
"Once they obtain contact information, the pornography purveyors begin to shake down these individuals by telephone. The tactics of the pornography purveyors clearly indicate that they are not convinced that the individuals they accuse of downloading pornography from the Internet have actually done so. This is true because they often shake the individuals down for $1,000 - $5,000. 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, if the individuals could be proven to have downloaded the pornography unlawfully from the Internet, the pornography purveyors could collect civil statutory damages of $150,000 for a willful infringement such as they allege, yet they settle for $1,000 - $5,000.
"In effect, the pornography purveyors have developed a new business model using the court system to extort money from individuals who are merely identified by IP address and with no proof whatsoever that they downloaded copyrighted materials from the Internet. By extorting settlements of $1,000-$5,000 the pornography purveyors have developed a model whereby they can unlawfully gain more money than they can by selling access to their pornographic videos."
Barker, of Louisville, claims a representative of the porn distributors called her in May, accusing her of illegally downloading videos from a porn site.
She says the representative falsely claimed that Barker was a defendant in a lawsuit pending in Dade County, Fla., though she had not received a subpoena for her IP address.
Barker says the defendants asked her to pay a settlement or "she would be identified publicly as having downloaded pornography and would be subject to hundreds of thousands of dollars as a judgment if the suit went forward because there were multiple downloads."
Barker says she was not familiar with file-sharing software and had never downloaded any pornography from the Internet.
Barker says she refused to pay, but many other people who received similar phone calls chose to settle, though they had never downloaded porn from the defendants' websites.
Barker claims to represent more than 200,000 people who were pressured into "settling" lawsuits filed by porn distributors who alleged copyright infringement.
She claims the porn distributors used "improper litigation tactics" by hiring an entity to "negotiate settlements" on their behalf, even though their lawsuits did not seek any damages, but merely sought access to contact information associated with certain IP addresses.
"The pornography industry has begun a campaign to shake down users of file sharing technology such as BitTorrent as well as individuals who have never used any file sharing technology," the complaint states. "Often these targets of the pornography industry have had their IP address 'spoofed,' a process whereby an IP address is forged and made to appear to be an IP address other than the actual IP address of the person using the Internet. Others have been the victims of a compromised home network that has been used by others unbeknownst to the owner of the network. Furthermore, even if the IP address has been correctly identified, the mere fact of ownership of the IP address does not in any way indicate that the owner participated in an unlawful download of copyrighted material."
Barker seeks class certification and compensatory and punitive damages for RICO violations, fraud, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and unjust enrichment.
She is represented by Kenneth Henry.
Defendants K-Beech and Third Degree are based in Chatsworth, Calif., which CBS News called the "epicenter" of the U.S. pornography industry. Patrick Collins is based in Canoga Park, and Malibu Media in Malibu, according to the complaint.