Written by attorney Cynthia Ariel Conlin

Did you receive a letter from Comcast or other Internet provider about a copyright lawsuit?

In recent years, tens of thousands of people have received letters from their Internet Service Providers saying that their IP addresses were targeted for illegal downloads and that a lawsuit has been filed against them as a "John Doe." These lawsuits have flooded many of our nations courts in what one judge called " a nationwide blizzard."

The Internet provider sends the letter to warn you that it has been asked to release your identity, including name, address, telephone number, and email address, to the film company.

At this point you have an option to file what is called a motion to quash. Depending on your circumstances, especially if you live in a state outside where you were sued, you may have really good grounds to succeed -- if the motion is done properly. The goal of a motion to quash is to prevent your identity from being released. If the film company does not learn your identity, they will not be able to name you as a defendant.

If the plaintiff film company receives your name and other identifying information, they can use it to name you as a defendant in the lawsuit. Usually, however, the plaintiffs will first send you a letter demanding that you pay a fee to settle the case. Some people have described these tactics as "extortionate." Pressuring with letters and telephone calls, they will try to get as much settlement money as possible - often in the thousands - by imposing a threat of a potential judgment, or, in some cases, being publicly associated with an embarassing pornographic film title.

In some cases, settling the case may be a good idea. However, many people are completely innocent or have strong defenses. In many instances, for instance, the router was not password protected or someone else committed the download. One court observed that 30% of the names turned over by ISPs are not the people who actually downloaded the film.

In summary, when you first get the letter, you can either file a motion to quash or do nothing. If you file a motion, it may be granted or may not, depending on your circumstances. If it is denied, or if you do nothing, the film company will obtain your name. Then they will probably contact you in an effort to effect a settlement. Typically, these companies tend to bear harder on the John Does who do not have attorneys. If the film company thinks that it has a good case against you, it may name you as a Defendant. If it names you as a Defendant, you still can defend in the litigation.

Some of these lawsuits have been dismissed on various grounds: Lack of Personal Jurisdiction, Improper Joinder, Lack of Capacity to Sue, etc.

Because every case is different, to help you decide what your best course of action is, you should speak to an attorney. It's also important that you speak to an attorney who is licensed to practice in the state and court where the lawsuit is filed. The different courts are deciding these cases in different ways -- it varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The Electronic Frontier Foundation maintains a helpful list of attorneys in almost every state; that list is a good place to start in your attorney search.

Good luck!

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