The US Copyright Group (USCG) has sued more than 16,000 people this year for sharing movies online, with the lawsuits all based on anonymous IP addresses—but it has yet to actually name a single defendant. When an ISP looks up the subscriber name associated with an IP address, USCG doesn't immediately add that name to its lawsuit; it sends out a settlement letter, asking the person to pay a few thousand dollars in order not to be sued.
How long can this go on before the lawyers either have to sue or stop threatening to sue? Not long. Federal Judge Rosemary Collyer, who oversees several of these cases in the DC District Court, wants to see action. In March 2010, USCG brought cases for the films Far Cry and The Steam Experiment, and Collyer set an initial deadline to name defendants in July, later extended to November 18. When November 18 came along, USCG asked the judge to extend their time again… for nearly five years.
The request stems from the fact that ISP Time Warner had earlier complained about the cost of processing all these lookups. As a result, Time Warner only has to do 28 USCG lookups each month—and those are split between the two separate cases. In the Far Cry case, for instance, this means that USCG will only learn the identities of 14 people each month. With almost 800 IP addresses to look up in the Far Cry case alone, this could take 58 months to resolve, and the lawyers want that entire length of time before they have to name anyone in a federal lawsuit.
Collyer is having none of it. "The request is patently unfair and prejudicial to all John Does who have been identified by an ISP," she wrote on Friday.
Instead of five years, USCG has until December 6 to name those it wants to sue (and it can only sue those it believes the court has personal jurisdiction over). The order only applies to the IP addresses for which ISPs have provided a name; those IP addresses that have yet to be looked up are exempt, but Collyer has no intention of letting the whole process drag out for years when accused file-swappers are already filling her docket on a daily basis with complaints about jurisdiction. If USCG has the names, it needs to act.
One attorney representing file-sharing defendants told Ars this weekend that the order was "what it looks like when a judge starts to lose her patience," and that Collyer wants USCG to "sh-- or get off the pot." Another attorney called it a "step up or step off" order.
Since USCG already knows most of the names behind the 4,577 Far Cry and the 1,653 Steam Experiment IP addresses, we should—finally—know within weeks who it actually intends to sue in these cases.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
"Put up or shut up" time for US Copyright Group