If you, your children, or anyone using your IP address downloads copyrighted content online, you may find yourself in the dragnet of civil litigation. Copyright holders of movies such as Hurt Locker and Expendables have taken the shotgun approach to litigation, suing BitTorrent (described more fully below) users who downloaded their films. For example, in the Hurt Locker litigation, nearly 50,000 people who downloaded the movie using BitTorrent’s peer-to-peer (“P2P”) downloading software have been sued. On one side, the copyright holders are accused of being copyright trolls, a derogatory term used to describe aggressive litigation to enforce its copyrights. In their defense, the copyright holders argue that their property has been stolen and they are using legal channels that provide compensation.
To prevent being sued for copyright infringement, some background on BitTorrents is necessary. BitTorrent is a P2P file sharing protocol. With BitTorrent, every downloader is a source for other users who want that file. Torrents differ from traditional P2P networks like Napster, Kazaa, and Limewire, in that each new file downloader is receiving a different piece of the data from each user who has already downloaded the file that together comprises the whole. Thus, a downloader of Torrent is also an illegal uploader. In legal terms, this means that every BitTorrent user downloading Hurt Locker is infringing copyrighted material by simultaneously acting as a source for others to download the copyrighted material.
BitTorrent users are not anonymous. Therefore, it was possible to obtain the IP addresses of all current and possibly previous downloaders of the movie Hurt Locker. Hurt Locker served a subpoena on the downloader’s ISP requesting that they disclose the personal information for the IP addresses that downloaded the film, and a federal judge ordered the ISP to release the identities of the defendants. In general terms, this is the story of how 50,000 people, based on their IP address, have been sued for copyright infringement for downloading Hurt Locker.
The defendants, if found to have violated the Hurt Locker copyrights, could be liable for damages up to $150,000, not including attorney’s fees.
The foregoing illustrates the dangers of illegal downloading. To protect yourself, you must know who is using your IP address. To do this, password protect your IP address and monitor whom you give the password to. You should contact your internet service provider with any questions regarding this procedure. In sum, to prevent exposure to costly, time consuming, and potentially embarrassing (depending on what was downloaded) litigation, understand the dangers of using torrent technology, limit access to your IP address, and monitor your children’s use of the internet.