The Real Risk of being Caught for Downloading a Movie or Posting a Copied Photo

Movie owners and counsel, and professional photographers and their counsel, regularly register their claims to copyright in their works, and many troll the Internet looking for their works on unlicensed sites on the Internet. BitTorrent.com and other sites, like Napster before them, make unlicensed, pirated movies and songs available for downloading through various technologies; each can be searched or browsed for specific titles and protected, unlicensed material downloaded to the searching computer. BitTorrent also provides that participating computers will also upload parts of the material to others seeking unlicensed movies and songs. The copyright owner then can download the movie and see the Internet Protocol addresses where the downloads originate. From those IP addresses the Internet Service Providers used by the downloaders can be identified, but not the actual names or addresses etc. of the downloaders. However a court will direct the ISP to reveal that information.


When you receive a Notice from your Internet Service Provider that you have been caught

Contact knowledgable copyright counsel promptly. Normally only IP counsel deal with copyright matters such as infringement charges. Counsel will obtain from you (by fax or e-mail) the letter from your ISP, and counsel can find and download from the federal court in which the infringement action is pending the underlying Complaint, which will identify the movie or photo at issue. He or she will inquire whether you downloaded the movie or photo or uploaded it; if so, you must fess up and will pay "statutory damages" for the infringement as demanded by the copyright owner, subject to negotiation by your counsel. If not, some defenses exist, such as having had at the time of the download an unprotected wireless access point to your Internet connection that is available to neighbors, drive-bys, and others in your household.


Negotiating payment and exiting the lawsuit

Your counsel should contact counsel for the plaintiff, as named on the subpoena or in the Complaint. On your behalf, your counsel will either admit downloading the movie etc. and offer payment or advise of the open wireless connection or other circumstances, such as having disliked the movie and/or deleted it promptly from your computer. Statutory damages for willful infringement of a registered copyright run from $750 to $150,000 per infringement - very pricey for a single movie! If the case went to settlement later or to trial, attorney fees of the plaintiff can and usually will be added to the damages for the download. You want to avoid aggravating the plaintiff's attorney and increasing the time and expense incurred in resolving your particular case.


If you discover an unauthorized download, see if you can pay up to correct the problem

One client of mine was able to resolve an old downloading problem by paying a relatively small (as, $125) fee for each download made by a guest to a service chartered by the movie house. The Copyright Enforcement Group is one such service. The movie producer can advise you, often in a note displayed at the beginning or end of a film, if it participates in any such payment service, but you have to act before the lawsuit is filed and you are identified as having the IP address that downloaded the offending movie without authorization or license.


In any event, Secure your Wireless Internet, and Subscribe to an Authorized Movie or Music Download Service

To avoid problems in the future, immediately (1) subscribe to an authorized movie or music access service, as Netflix (just $9 per month), Blockbuster, iTunes, or such, (2) secure your wireless Internet system with strong password protection, and (3) limit the number of connections made available by your wireless router to just the number that you need - usually just 2 or 3, if that's how many laptops, BluRay connections, visitor laptops, notebooks, etc., that you have or anticipate. Strong passwords have letters in both upper and lower case and numbers and special characters, as # $ % ^ &, in a random, usually non-meaningful order -- don't use your name, your house number, your phone numbers, or pre-set (generic) passwords.