File-sharer skips court date; hit with $1.5 million in fines

A federal court in Illinois has handed out the largest-ever damages award in a BitTorrent case, TorrentFreak reports.

The case, Flava Works, Inc. v. Kywan Fisher, is a little different from your typical copyright trolling case—that is, it’s not a copyright-trolling case at all. Rather, it’s a case of alleged illegal file-sharing, while most copyright-trolling cases involve dubious claims of sketchy activity on anonymous IP addresses.

I’m not a fan of how our current legal system handles piracy or how certain unsavory characters exploit the system. In other words, I don’t think that it’s a great idea to give copyright trolls what they want, if you can help it.

That said, if you get served, then it is still in your best interest to appear in court—otherwise you might be found guilty of willful copyright infringement and slapped with paying an insane $1.5 million in damages, like Fisher was.

In this case, Fisher legally downloaded 10 videos from Flava Works, Inc., which is an adult entertainment company (read: porn studio). Fisher originally paid for these videos, which he then downloaded using BitTorrent. The problem was when he later (allegedly) shared copies of these files on BitTorrent.

According to Flava Works, the company has “proprietary software that assigns a unique encrypted code to each member of [Flava Works’] paid websites,” and was able to use said code to trace illegally-shared copies of the videos back to Fisher.

Because Fisher signed a user-agreement statement saying he would not copy films or share them on the Internet, Flava Works was able to sue for willful copyright infringement.

Flava Works says the films Fisher shared were downloaded “at least 3,449 times.”

Anyway, long story short—Fisher failed to show up in court to defend himself, and U.S. District Judge John Lee was forced to hand down 10 times the maximum statutory damages ($150,000) per each of the 10 pieces of infringed content, or $1.5 million. This is the largest BitTorrent-related damages award in history.

As BitTorrent points out, it’s no surprise that the judge was forced to find Fisher guilty since he failed to appear in court. That said, the damages boil down to about $435 per instance of infringement—that is, $435 for each time Fisher allegedly shared the file with another person—and that seems just a tad excessive.

Will this fuel copyright trolls?

While this is not a case of copyright trolling, it could spell trouble for future victims of such trolling. In this case, the plaintiff knew its victim—Fisher—and could allegedly track his online activity.

In copyright trolling cases, the plaintiff often does not know much about its victim(s) at all. Instead, the trolls in copyright trolling cases often know nothing more than that an anonymous IP address may have been used to illegally download material.

What copyright trolls do is arm themselves with this small bit of information, subpoena the Internet Service Provider for the contact information associated with that IP address, and then contact the person associated with that IP address. However, since copyright trolls often have no other real evidence against this person, they don’t really want to take them to court.

Instead, they will send a letter threatening a court case if the defendant doesn’t pay up—usually to the tune of between $1000 and $3500. Many defendants “settle,” either because they’re uninformed about the shady practices of copyright trolls, because they fear an expensive legal battle, or because they think they have to.

Though this case seems a bit more cut-and-dry than copyright trolling cases, it’s no doubt likely to be cited in many of the letters that future trolls send out to their victims. This will likely drive the point home—you’d better pay us now, or you could get smacked with a $1.5 million fine—even though the point doesn’t really apply.

So remember—if you get a letter from an attorney stating that your IP address has infringed on content and that you must pay up in order to avoid a legal battle, it’s still in your best interest to do your research and contact a lawyer or a digital rights organization such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation before you settle right away.

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