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Posts Tagged ‘DMCA letter’

As an attorney, unfortunately there is often information that I need to be tight-lipped about when discussing a case or a particular copyright holder. Malibu Media, LLC and their implosion with Keith Lipscomb (who ran each of their thousands of lawsuits filed across the US) was one such example, but not for the reasons you may think.

This summer, I sat back and watched what was once one of the biggest copyright trolls and their scheme implode as the relationship between the attorney hired to represent their cases across the US (Keith Lipscomb) and Malibu Media, LLC crumbled. Regardless of the screams of autonomy each local counsel hired by Lipscomb claimed in the courts, it was still plain and obvious to me that Lipscomb was running each of the thousands of lawsuits filed against single “John Doe” defendants (not only because the filings were identical, and the court documents allegedly filed by different attorneys had the same spelling errors in each filing, but because every settlement payment — regardless of which local counsel was allegedly in charge of the lawsuit — went to Lipscomb’s Florida office).

Recognizing that there is ‘no honor among thieves‘, I laughed when I learned that Malibu Media sued Lipscomb for not paying them the settlement monies him and his attorneys extorted from hundreds if not thousands of John Doe Defendants across the US, and… he appears to have kept the settlement monies for himself.

However, the reason I stayed quiet was because I knew of something going on internally at Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK), and I saw a possible reality where Keith Lipscomb got into negotiations with CEG-TEK, and he got them to agree to send DMCA letters to thousands of accused downloaders through their ISPs, but instead of asking for a $300 settlement for one copyrighted title allegedly downloaded, he would list each-and-every title from his X-Art.com siterips.

Instead of CEG-TEK sending a notice for each title allegedly downloaded, Keith would have them send one notice for the siterip [when accessed by clicking a link on a bittorrent website, and that bittorrent file wold contain possibly 100+ titles to be downloaded]. However, when that unsuspecting user logged into CEG-TEK’s copyrightsettlements.com website using the username and password provided in the DMCA notice, each-and-every title in the X-Art Malibu Media siterip would have appeared. Thus, a $300 per accused downloader settlement could have easily turned into a $30,000+ per accused downloader settlement ($300/title x 100+ titles in the siterip). This could have even been exacerbated if Lipscomb asked for higher per-title settlement amounts, as his attorneys are accustomed to negotiate with other attorneys in the $750-$500/title range.

In my opinion, a Lipscomb-Siegel/CEG-TEK marriage would have been a nightmare, and because at the time CEG-TEK was changing their business model and shifting how they send out letters and to whom (remember the Girls Gone Wild fiasco?), the timing was right for Lipscomb to reach out to them, and I was concerned that they would have accepted his plan.

[In passing, I want to note that CEG-TEK had a shake-up as well over the summer. They were changing their business model from sending DMCA notices and soliciting small $300 settlements for copyright infringement claims for just a few titles to sending notices only to “more egregious downloaders” which in turn would increase the per-person settlement amount paid to CEG-TEK on behalf of their clients. They also appear to have been changing their client base by transitioning away from little porn companies to more well-known copyright trolls (e.g., Millennium Films, LHF Productions, etc.) — copyright holders who threatened to sue downloaders (and in at least one circumstance did sue at least one client of mine in federal court.) The point is that they were changing their image from being a company who’s clients didn’t sue to a company who’s clients do sue. Lipscomb fit their former profile of bringing pornography copyright holders to the table, and he matched their new profile because he brings a strong proclivity to sue defendants who ignored the notices. Thus in a possible reality, I saw Lipscomb meeting with CEG-TEK, and I did everything I could behind the scenes to avert this reality.]

Now we are roughly six-months later, and I am happy to share that the marriage between Lipscomb and CEG-TEK never took place, and CEG-TEK is no longer in a place where they would accept Keith Lipscomb or the $10K/client+ settlement amounts he would have brought to the table.

For this reason, I am sharing the story of this nightmare which — even though the ‘stars aligned’ — never happened (and thankfully, will never happen).

…there is new news for Lipscomb’s former Malibu Media, LLC client. I will post about that next.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

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There is a new problem that I am encountering where software developers are writing code in order to catch downloaders – not in the download of the software, but in the illegal USE of that software.  These software developers – with knowledge of the accused IP address of the so-called “pirates” are hiring attorneys to send out DMCA settlement demand letters, often requesting a hefty settlement for the piracy or use of that software without authorization.

Unlike the bittorrent cases that we have seen over the past six years — where an internet user would be caught downloading movies, music, or “scenes” using bittorrent or Popcorntime software (where the connection to other bittorrent users in a “bittorrent swarm” would reveal the IP address of the downloaders) — software developers are increasingly building in to their new software the capability to “phone home” to the developer. When the software “phones home,” it reports certain information to the software developer, including the IP address of users who are actively using the pirated software at that moment.

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When a downloader accesses a “pirate” site (e.g., The Pirate Bay), and downloads a piece of software with a “crack,” that crack alters the software code, to allow it to be used in a “registered state” (e.g., cracked software will allow a user to enter a serial code to register the software whereas in an “uncracked” state, that serial code would be rejected.  Thus, the user sees a message such as “your serial code has been accepted.  Thank you for registering your software.) This “registered” state allows the downloader to actively use the software; however, it does not stop the software from phoning home.

Very often included in the cracked software package will be what is known as “a .NFO file,” (which is a text file, and “NFO” sounds like “info”) where the hacker, a.k.a. the “cracker,” will instruct the user to block the software from connecting to outside networks (often advising that the downloader use a software firewall, such as Comodo Firewall). Conventionally, the purpose of this instruction to the downloader is to avoid the common scenario where the software developer automatically updates the software to work around and invalidate any cracks which it discovers in the wild. As a result, the downloader would find that his once-registered software is no longer registered.

Some software developers who have become savvy to this trend will create a pop-up screen which alerts the downloader that his IP address has been flagged and gives him an opportunity to purchase the software at a discounted rate.  By using this method, the software developer attempts to turn a pirate into a paying customer in a manner that is both ethically and morally sound.  However, and pardon my jaded view of the matter, but people get greedy, and software developers get frustrated with the piracy of their software, and thus they often turn from good business judgment to using the law as a prickly weapon to sting those caught downloading their software.

And with this greed, here is the trend for which I wrote this article.  I am now seeing a trend that the software developers are contacting attorneys and asking those attorneys to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) rules to force the ISPs to send settlement demand letters to the internet users who are suspected of illegally using that software without a license.  However, instead of trying to turn that downloader into a paying customer, the software developer decides instead to gouge the internet downloaders into paying a bloated fee for a software license. In this scenario, this internet user receives a letter demanding that the user purchase the pirated software for an amazingly high amount of money, for example, $5,000-$20,000. If that internet user does not purchase the software as the letter demands, the threat of a copyright infringement lawsuit looms.

Now the first company you might think of when reading this article is the Siemens Product Lifecycle Management Software Inc. company, who is currently suing John Doe Defendants for the download and unlicensed use of the Siemens NX software.  However, in defense of their lawyers, the Siemens attorneys are simply trying to stop engineers and companies who are using their software in a commercial manner from profiting from the use of their software without a license.  They are not gouging (so far as I know), and my personal experience with their attorneys have been (so far) positive.

Thus, the focus of this article is on other software developers and copyright holders who have begun to mimic the Siemens model of suing (or here, sending DMCA settlement letters through the ISPs and threatening to sue) users, and attempting to force them to purchase an enterprise-level, multi-thousand-dollar software license or face a copyright infringement lawsuit in a Federal court, even if they have absolutely no legitimate use or benefit from “owning” that software.

To the internet user who receives such a letter requesting a settlement:  It is important to know that following the instructions of the software developer and purchasing a license (even an expensive one (e.g., a $5,000 license where the software itself costs only $150) does not protect you from being sued. Rather, your compliance may simply operate as an admission of guilt. Instead of simply following the instructions of the settlement demand letter, here is why it is advisable to STOP, THINK, RESEARCH THE TOPIC, and hire an attorney (me, or any other attorney competent in both copyright litigation and software licensing) to resolve the claim or claims against you.

First, the attorney that you hire will provide a legal “buffer” between you and the copyright holder’s attorney. Your attorney will be able to speak on your behalf without admitting guilt, whereas an accused defendant speaking alone to the copyright holder’s attorney might accidentally claim that they were only using the software to test the software (an act which according to the law would be copyright infringement, and would subject the internet user to statutory damages of $150,000 or more if there are multiple instances of infringement). Thus, an attorney can stop the copyright holder’s attorney from contacting you directly by putting them “on notice” (a legal term) that the attorney is representing you and, thus, all communications must go through the attorney.

Additionally, the attorney that you hire (knowledgeable in both copyright law and in software licensing) would be able to negotiate a settlement to allow you to purchase a license at a steep discount from the “gouging” amount that the copyright holder’s attorney was initially asking for in the settlement demand letter. Moreover, your attorney could obtain a release of liability, releasing you from all liability surrounding the unlicensed use and the unlicensed copying of the pirated software – something you would not be in a position to negotiate if you were handling the matter.

Similarly, [or in the alternative,] your attorney might negotiate a software license to allow you to pay for your “experimental” use of their software.

If you are a student, then it may be a good strategy to have your attorney negotiate in the settlement agreement to allow you to purchase that product at a student discount at your local college as your “settlement payment.”

 The above are all options that an experienced copyright/software development attorney (me, or anyone else) would be able and knowledgeable to negotiate on your behalf.  Your attorney would be able to oversee the payment of the licensing fee or the purchase of the actual software [for your own future legitimate use] and to obtain for you a written release of liability from the software copyright holder’s attorney, which means that following the conclusion of the settlement or the signing of the software license, you would never be sued for copyright infringement or any sort of piracy in a Federal court.

These are the benefits of hiring an attorney for your settlement demand letter issue rather than simply going out and paying whatever fine is requested of you.  Remember: Following the copyright holders instructions to pay them a fee or to purchase a piece of software after-the-fact (after the unlicensed activity or infringement occurred) will not provide you any protection.  Paying a settlement fee alone will not provide you with a settlement agreement or a release of liability.  Without a release of liability, you could still be sued in a federal court for copyright infringement, piracy, or any other relevant law relating to the unlicensed use, piracy, and possibly the cracking of software.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

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Copyright Enforcement Group (a.k.a. CEG-TEK) and RightsCorp at first glance look alike, but they are different animals. While they both use the DMCA laws (or with CEG-TEK, their foreign-country’s equivalent) to send letters to internet users accusing them of copyright infringement, and while they both attempt to force account holders to pay a “settlement fee” to settle all claims claimed against them, the mechanisms of how they operate are quite different.

True, both CEG-TEK and RightsCorp send DMCA notices to ISP subscribers (internet users). CEG-TEK (currently) asks for a settlement of $300 per title (C$225 for account holders in Canada), and RightsCorp asks for $20 per title.

The big difference between CEG-TEK and RightsCorp is that CEG-TEK releases the accused downloader from liability when the settlement is paid; in CEG-TEK’s contract, there is NO ADMISSION OF GUILT (UPDATE: CEG-TEK recently updated their settlement agreements and now they have an inflammatory “admission of guilt” provision, speak to your attorney about this), whereas RightsCorp contracts explicitly have the settling party admit guilt in an “I did it, I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again” fashion. This ‘admission of guilt’ issue was the initial reason I wouldn’t work with RightsCorp.

There are obviously other issues with CEG-TEK settlements that we’ve discussed before, just as there are obvious issues with RightsCorp settlements (namely, with RightsCorp, many have reported that after paying one $20 settlement, they received 10-40 additional infringement notices, whether or not the downloads actually happened).

Lastly, there are customer service differences between CEG-TEK and RightsCorp. CEG-TEK retains multiple individuals who respond to inquiries and convince those who call in [with inquiries, objections, and website troubles in processing payment] to pay the requested settlement amount or face a lawsuit. They have been known to claim that they record the conversations (watch out for this, as an admission of guilt here can be used against you, as can a lie later be used against you later in a perjury claim).

The important thing to note about CEG-TEK is that CEG-TEK DOES NOT SUE PEOPLE. Rather, they are a SERVICE PROVIDER providing COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT SERVICES TO THEIR CLIENTS (namely, the copyright holders). CEG-TEK has also been known to scrape the list of callers to ascertain their identities (although this used to happen before we learned that they are now able to obtain [from select ISPs] the geolocation data identifying where the download took place). Thus, if a settlement is not reached, they forward the file over to the copyright holders to allow them to follow-up with the accused downloader using their own attorneys.  At this point, CEG-TEK is out of the picture.

Well, to be accurate, first CEG-TEK has their own attorney Marvin Cable send out settlement demand letters asking for $1,750 per title, and only after he is unable to obtain a settlement from the accused downloader, only then do they forward the file over to the copyright holder(s) for their own attorneys to do what they will with it. This is where in my opinion the “ignore” route can result in an accused downloader being contacted by an attorney requesting a settlement, this time asking for a significantly higher amount. Again, depending on the COPYRIGHT HOLDER [namely, whether they have sued in the past (you can look this up on http://www.rfcexpress.com), and whether they intend to sue again in the future], this is how to best determine whether to ignore or settle the claims listed on the CEG-TEK website.

In my opinion, this CEG-TEK policy of “we forward your file over to the copyright holders” is where the misuse of that information *can* originate. Not all copyright holders are upstanding citizens (note to self to write about how a particular action might be illegal or unethical, but we see lawyers doing it anyway, unpunished — “LEGAL, BUT NOT LAWFUL”), especially considering that most of Ira Siegel’s clients are adult entertainment companies (pornography), and their lawyers do not think twice before reminding the accused downloaders that they could be involved in a lawsuit for the download of pornography.

RightsCorp has its own set of problems. First of all, aside from the settlements having accused downloaders admit guilt to one or more downloads, there is a difference in the validity of the claims between RightsCorp and CEG-TEK.  RightsCorp’s initial claim may be valid, but the many follow-up claims have been said to be fabricated.  Contrast this to CEG-TEK — CEG-TEK sends an infringement notice within days of a download taking place, but when the internet user logs in to CEG-TEK’s site, CEG-TEK’s computers have already searched and found any older downloads somehow linked to that internet user (based on the geolocation provided to CEG-TEK, presumably by the ISPs themselves, and also based on the list of IP addresses leased to the subscriber over how long the ISP keeps these lists of past IP addresses based on their “IP retention policy”).

NOTE: There is more to say here, but the jist is that CEG-TEK uses fuzzy science (same geolocation, same bittorrent software, same port number) to link cases together.  This causes problems when CEG-TEK’s system links together multiple tenants’ downloads in an apartment complex or dorm, or when an unlucky VPN subscriber receives an infringement notice containing all of the downloads from the hundreds of other users connecting through that same VPN IP address.

And, while CEG-TEK provides what they call “Customer Service” (a.k.a., “tell me about what a bad boy you were so that I can thank you for admitting guilt and force you to settle or face a lawsuit”), last I checked (and admittedly, it has been some time) there is ABSOLUTELY NO CUSTOMER SERVICE from RightsCorp. Yet, RightsCorp won’t hesitate calling you with their Robocalls all day and night.

Lastly, the biggest difference between CEG-TEK and RightsCorp is that whereas RightsCorp is financially a “sinking ship,” and last I checked, their stock price dropped to $0.06 per share on the stock exchanges, CEG-TEK has only been *expanding* their operations, growing in size, expanding into other counties (most recently, sending copyright infringement notices in Canada), openly speaking about hiring foreign attorneys to enforce their clients copyrights, and they even have been going into other areas of intellectual property (e.g., going after those who sell counterfeited goods over the internet).

In sum, Copyright Enforcement Group in my opinion is the “big bad wolf” of copyright infringement, yet they do everything they can to keep their “paws” clean. What has always bothered me about them (other than that former plaintiff attorney Ira Siegel‘s name appears on each of their settlement demand letters), is that with their growth comes the ability to push around attorneys and internet users with boilerplate settlement agreements, (recently) new terms on their settlement agreements which are less friendly than the former friendly terms, and the ability to continually raise the settlement amount (which was initially $200, then $250, then $300), and nobody can do anything about it.

“Settle or ignore,” it does not matter to CEG-TEK.

As for RightsCorp, I still hold by what I said almost 24 months ago. I see no reason to get involved with them, as they have always been a sinking ship. It is only a matter of time before they are bought out by someone else.

NOTABLE RIGHTSCORP ARTICLES (from Slyck.com):
Rightscorp’s Red Bottom Line Gets Larger and so Does its List of Copyrights to Protect (8/19/2014)
Rightscorp Scores More Copyrights to Protect from The Royalty Network (7/11/2014)
Rightscorp, ‘We Aim to Protect Millions of Copyrights as we Continue to Lose Money’ (5/14/2014)
Rightscorp Sets its Sights on the Pay-Up or Else Program for UK Pirates (5/7/2014)
Rightscorp Scores Again, Gets 600 Copyrights from Rotten Records to Protect (4/16/2014)
Rightscorp Adds 13,000 More Copyrights From Blue Pie Records to Protect (3/31/2014)
Rightscorp Publishes its Full-Year & Fourth-Quarter 2013 Financial Report (3/26/2014)
Downloaders Beware; Rightscorp Now Monitoring Billboard Hot 100 Songs (2/28/2014)

COPYRIGHT ENFORCEMENT GROUP (CEG-TEK) ARTICLES (from this blog):
Canada begins receiving CEG-TEK DMCA settlement letters. (3/12/2015)
How time limits / purged records stop a copyright holder from learning a downloader’s identity. (12/18/2014)
CEG-TEK’s growing list of participating ISPs, and their NEW alliance with COX Communications. (11/12/2014)
The Giganews VPN Problem (11/12/2014)
CEG-TEK is now your friendly “photo” copyright troll. (6/13/2013)
CEG-TEK’s new “you didn’t settle” letters sent from Marvin Cable. (3/22/2013)
CEG-TEK’s DMCA Settlement Letters – What are my chances of being sued if I ignore? (2/22/2013)
Why CEG-TEK’s DMCA settlement system will FAIL. (2/22/2013)

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In July, 2010, this blog was started to address the at-the-time unknown problem of copyright trolling.  For years, myself and my staff wrote articles explaining the business model of copyright trolling, which at the time was an adaptation of patent trolling (where “patent trolls” would file [often frivolous] lawsuits against alleged infringers who refused to pay what appeared to be a “shakedown” of the patent holders [e.g., “pay us or else you will end up having to pay even more to defend the claims against you in a federal court”], even when the patent being asserted against the would-be infringer had absolutely nothing to do with the product the targeted company was producing).

There were common threads between patent trolls and copyright trolls, and as the cases developed, there were common themes of how a copyright troll must act to make his model of extorting the public (the bittorrent internet users) profitable.  At the time, that included questions of 1) where and how can a copyright enforcement company or lawyer sue a group of defendants (personal jurisdiction), 2) how to link non-related downloaders into a cohesive set of defendants into a cohesive set of “John Doe Defendants,” (joinder, and my controversial strategy to force a copyright troll to sue the entire bittorrent swarm when a defendant is named and served) and 3) how to avoid risking the potential settlements from hundreds or thousands of accused bittorrent users by moving forward and “naming and serving” one or more defendants.  There were also time limits they faced based on a) how long the ISPs retained the records of which IP address was leased to which account holder / subscriber, b) statute of limitations on how long a copyright holder has to file a lawsuit, and c) how long a copyright troll attorney may keep a case alive before a judge imposes the time limits described in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP Rule 4m, a.k.a. the “120 Day Rule”).

Then, over the years, there arose a confusion under the discussions of “net neutrality” asking questions such as whether an internet service provider (ISP) was governed under the cable act, and if so, under what title.  The reason for this was that there were allegations that various ISPs were outright sharing the contact information of its subscribers without valid court orders to do so, thus violating the privacy rights of its subscribers.

In sum, there were a lot of issues, and we tackled each one over the course of almost five years.  The goal was to educate the bittorrent user and the accused downloader about the issues so that they understand how to act, react, and in many cases, fight against a group of attorneys with questionable ethics.

The problem is that these articles — the ones that have been so helpful to tens of thousands of accused defendants — these articles have been buried by the search engines because they are simply now aging and many articles are now many years old.  An accused defendant can no longer search for a “copyright troll” on Google and find any of my older articles.  [And, enterprising attorneys (and good for them) have put up websites containing SEO-based content full of keywords in hackneyed sentences, but devoid of useful content (e.g., the “contact our law firm, we can help you with your copyright troll lawsuit issue” type of website), while what I consider to be the “useful” content (not only mine, but content written by other attorneys in their blogs, and proactive users [really, trailblazers such as “Sophisticated Jane Doe” of FightCopyrightTrolls and “DieTrollDie”] in their respective blogs) is no longer accessible by typing the name of the particular copyright troll, issue, or case that has been recently filed.

What I will be doing to remedy this as far as this blog is concerned — and I apologize up front to the thousands of you who get updated on each and every article that I or a staff member of mine writes — is that I need to rehash some of the “older” content on the educational topics that I have already covered in the blog ad nauseam.  The reason for this is that the older content explaining the legal concepts in terms of the bittorrent lawsuits (and now in terms of the DMCA letters being sent to subscribers through the ISPs) is just as relevant today as it was five years ago.  There has been little-to-no judicial or legal oversight of the copyright trolls from the attorney generals of each state and from the lawmakers (both federal and in each state), and the problem and issues surrounding “copyright trolling” is just as relevant today as it was almost five years ago.

For these reasons, I need to violate my own preference not to repeat information or content that has already been described or hashed-out in previous articles (my opinion is that one article describing a topic is enough, and writing multiple articles containing the same topic “waters down” or “cheapens” the content of a website).  The reason I now feel the need to rehash some of the older topics is to re-teach those who have not yet been victimized by the copyright trolls, as my older articles are no longer found, even by those looking for that particular topic.

ALSO.  Copyright trolls are now enjoying a seed of legitimacy by the courts, where once upon a time us defense attorneys were “winning” the cases by arguing concepts such as “an IP address does not equal a person,” or “my client had an open wireless router, it could have been anyone who downloaded this video,” the arguments themselves have also aged and are now increasingly being ignored by the courts, even though the arguments remain “an elephant in the room,” meaning, just as valid today as they were yesterday.  On the flip-side, faulty and failed arguments (e.g., “are you negligent if you let someone else use your internet connection to commit copyright infringement” [Answer: NO!]) are being reasserted by the copyright trolls, and to my utter disbelief, they are not immediately being dismissed by the judges as being a faulty argument.

Copyright trolling has not changed in the past five years, and the successful arguments defending a case do not deserve to be ignored just because they have been used successfully by defendants in older lawsuits which too are aging.  Ignoring good case law is contrary to law, as successful arguments in one jurisdiction are binding on all other judges in that federal district, and are persuasive on cases in the federal districts in other cases.  Yet, I see more and more lawlessness in judges who ignore the case law from not only other jurisdictions, but from their own jurisdiction as well (creating a “split” in the court), and they are denying a John Doe defendant’s ability to assert what was a successful argument in another court (even one binding upon them in their own jurisdiction).

In sum, judges are allowing plaintiff copyright holders to sue larger number of defendants each week, even though nothing has changed making this new trend permissible (in my opinion, whether 200 defendants were sued by a plaintiff attorney in one lawsuit or in ten cases [having 20 defendants in each case] filed in the same week still means that 200 defendants were sued; it does not matter that the plaintiff made the cases “appear” to be smaller, especially if they are implicating the same bittorrent swarm in each of the ten cases).

Remember, the underlying copyright troll business model of “shakedown, extort thousands of dollars from each defendant, but avoid moving forward against anyone [but pretend that you are prepared to move to trial]” is still the same as it was five years ago.  It should not matter whether the content of the lawsuit is a Hollywood movie or an adult film.

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3/16 UPDATE: I have heard that CEG-TEK has retained an attorney who is filing the Dallas Buyers Club / Voltage Pictures bittorrent lawsuits in Canada to sue on behalf of their clients (it appears it may be James Zibarras).  Apparently they are doing it as a proof-of-concept to teach that Canada’s limited statutory damages ($5,000 CAN maximum) is per studio. CEG-TEK also claims that there were six months of warning letters (no settlement requested) before they started sending the settlement request letters.  Can anyone in Canada confirm or deny this?

“There is an untapped market of internet users in Canada who could be accused of copyright infringement and forced to pay thousands of dollars in settlement fees… or is there not?” -Copyright Trolls.

Canada until recently was a country which took steps to curb copyright trolling. They limited damages for copyright infringement to a maximum of $5,000 CAN (as opposed to $150,000 here in the U.S.). They set provisions where [with exceptions,] the plaintiff attorney in a lawsuit would need to pay their own attorney fees (as opposed to U.S. Copyright Law which allows a “prevailing party” to collect attorney fees from the non-prevailing party), and things were pretty good for the downloaders and pretty bad for the copyright holders. Who would ever sue in Canada?

Then it was explained to me that certain ISPs were sending what sounded like our “DMCA copyright infringement settlement letters” that we have seen from companies such as CEG-TEK. This evening, Techdirt wrote an article on the topic entitled, “More Copyright Trolls Rushing In To Take Advantage Of Canadian Copyright Notice System Loopholes.”

So apparently what was done to protect the Canadian internet users from copyright trolls has for the moment been undone. “Carte blanche, carpe diem, go get em tiger!” one might think. But I suspect this is only a temporary loophole. In an honest world, those who protected the internet users will continue to protect them, and attorneys will continue to defend against those who are accused of copyright infringement in Canada.

When I heard about what was going on this afternoon, I sighed, “O Canada!” Originally spelling it “Oh Canada,” I quickly found on Wikipedia under the “O Canada!” entry that there is actually an interesting distinction between the English version of the national anthem and the French version. The English version seemed passive (as I understand many mistake Canadians to be).  In my opinion based on my own family in Canada, the real character of Canada could be better found in the French version of Ô Canada! Where the English says, “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee,” the French version says “[We] will protect our homes and our rights. The French version also says, “As is thy arm ready to wield the sword, so also is it ready to carry the cross.”

In short, Canadians won’t stand for the copyright trolls, and I suspect this will be only a temporary problem which will be remedied by the legislature as quickly as a copyright troll might pop his head out from under the Pont de Québec and say “boo!”

A Translation of this article into French from a valued Contributor (just for fun): 

Le Canada jusqu’à récemment, était un pays qui a pris des mesures pour freiner les “copyright trolls” ou “pêcheurs à la traîne de droits d’auteurs”. Le Canada a limité les dommages pour violation de copyright à un maximum de 5000 $ CAN (par opposition à $ 150 000, ici aux USA). Au Canada, un demandeur victorieux doit le plus souvent payer ses propres frais d’avocat dans un procès (par opposition aux États-Unis ou la législaion permet à une “partie gagnante” de collecter ses frais d’avocat auprès de la partie perdante), et les choses étaient assez favorables aux téléchargeurs et assez mauvaises pour les détenteurs de droits d’auteur. Qui aurait jamais pensé poursuivre au Canada?

Ensuite, on m’a expliqué que certains FAI envoyaient ce qui ressemblait à nos “DMCA Copyright Violation Letter” comme celles que nous avons vues de la part de sociétés telles que CEG-TEK. Ce soir, Techdirt a écrit un article sur le sujet intitulé More Copyright Trolls Rushing In To Take Advantage Of Canadian Copyright Notice System Loopholes.”

Donc apparemment ce qui avait été fait pour protéger les internautes canadiens de copyright trolls est devenu chose du passé. “Carte blanche, carpe diem, go get ‘em tiger!”  On pourrait le penser. Mais je soupçonne que tout ceci est seulement temporaire. Dans un monde honnête, ceux qui protégeait les utilisateurs d’Internet vont continuer à les protéger, et les avocats continueront de défendre ceux qui sont accusés de violations de droits d’auteurs au Canada.

Cet après-midi, quand j’ai entendu parler de ce qui se passait, j’ai soupiré, «Ô Canada!» Originellement épelé “Oh Canada” j’ai rapidement trouvé sur Wikipedia l’article correspondant sous le titre “O Canada!” Article Wikipedia qui montre qu’il y a effectivement une distinction intéressante entre la version anglaise et la version française de l’hymne. La version anglaise semblait passive (les Canadiens sont parfois perçus comme passifs, à tort). À mon avis et basé sur ma propre famille au Canada, le vrai caractère du Canada pourrait être mieux trouvé dans la version française du Ô Canada! Là où les Anglophones disent: «O Canada, nous nous tenons sur nos gardes pour toi,” la version française indique ” Et ta valeur, de foi trempée, Protègera nos foyers et nos droits”. La version française dit aussi: “Car ton bras sait porter l’épée, Il sait porter la croix”.

Bref, les Canadiens ne toléreront pas les copyright trolls, et je soupçonne que ceci est seulement un problème temporaire qui sera corrigée par le législateur aussi rapidement qu’un copyright troll pourrait montrer sa tête sous le Pont de Québec et de faire ” boo! “

 

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It occurred to me that there is some confusion as to the effect the amount of time ISPs keep IP address logs (linking a particular IP address to a particular subscriber) have on whether those records will be available to the copyright holder if a lawsuit is filed after that time period has elapsed.

The question that sparked this post is as follows:

If CEG-TEK hasn’t subpoenaed someones identity, but the ISP only retains IP information for one year, then after a year it would essentially be impossible for CEG-TEK to obtain the identity correct?

My answer:

In order to understand what is going on, it is important to know who-is-who, and who does what.

I: CEG-TEK (a.k.a. Copyright Enforcement Group):  CEG-TEK hasn’t sued anyone in two years, and thus there are never subpoenas sent to the ISPs.  CEG-TEK is hired by the copyright holders 1) to track the IP addresses of accused downloaders, 2) to maximize the settlement payment by establishing connections between current accused downloads and other “older” downloads that happened at that same location (using IP address geolocation data), 3) to elicit payment in the form of “settlements” from the accused users via their settlement website, and 4) to provide attorney enforcement for those who choose not to settle via the website.

How they do this: CEG-TEK establishes relationships with the ISPs (internet service providers, e.g., Charter, CenturyLink, Giganews, etc.) and they arrange for the ISPs to forward the DMCA settlement demand letters to their subscribers.  CEG-TEK has a website they use to elicit payments from accused downloaders.  Lastly, they have attorneys (e.g., Marvin Cable) who follow-up with accused downloaders (sometimes asking for increasingly larger amounts of money).  Contrary to what is said by the attorneys, neither CEG-TEK nor their lawyers [at the moment] sue people.

II: COPYRIGHT HOLDERS (generally, the production companies): After failing to receive a settlement via the CEG-TEK settlement process, the copyright holders themselves hire out attorneys who enforce their copyrights against those subscribers who “ignored” CEG-TEK’s offers to settle.  Sometimes the attorneys are no-name attorneys, and other times, they are prolific copyright trolls such as from the law firm of Lipscomb and Eisenberg (best known as the attorneys for the Malibu Media lawsuits).

III: ISPs (internet service providers, including Universities and select VPN service providers): ISPs generally hold IP address data (and to which subscriber it was assigned to, and on what date) for one year — check your ISP’s “IP retention policy.” Congress and the RIAA/MPAA are pushing to increase this amount of time to 18 months.  For comparison purposes, in 2010, IP address data was kept for only 6 months. 

NOTE: After the ISP’s “IP retention policy” time limit elapses, if there are no copyright infringement claims, legal claims or requests on a particular IP address assignment record, they will purge that record from their database, meaning that lawsuits, subpoenas, or requests filed AFTER DESTRUCTION will not reveal the subscriber’s identity because that data is no longer available.

HOWEVER, most ISPs have a SECOND DATABASE — this second database holds IP address assignment records which have had claims of copyright infringement asserted against the subscriber, and these records are often kept indefinitely. Thus, if a lawsuit happens YEARS later (even after the IP retention policy date has expired), the data indicating which subscriber was assigned what IP address on what date and time IS RETAINED and will be available to the copyright holders and their attorneys when suing subscribers.

Lastly, (and I did not include this in my initial response,) it is my experience that ISPs generally forward DMCA settlement demand requests LITERALLY WITHIN DAYS of the accused download actually happening.  For example, Charter literally pumps out letters to their subscribers FOUR DAYS after the downloads happen.  Now obviously there are hiccups where a subscriber will receive a pile of infringements at one time, or an infringement notice is withheld until after the CEG-TEK due date has passed, but in my understanding, when this happens, it is either a business-related issue between CEG-TEK and the ISP, or a staffing issue in the subpoena / abuse department at the ISP.

Thus, where CEG-TEK is concerned, I have never heard of a situation where CEG-TEK demands that the ISP forward a letter to a subscriber and the ISP denies that request based on the ISP’s IP retention policy making the subscriber’s information unavailable.

As far as copyright lawsuits in general, yes, the IP retention policy does factor in to when a lawsuit is filed.  I have personally seen a handful of copyright infringement lawsuits filed against John Doe Defendants fail because the ISPs were unable to identify the identities of the accused subscribers because the plaintiff took too long to file the lawsuit (or a judge took too long to approve the subpoena to the ISP demanding the identities of the accused subscribers), and by the time the request or subpoena was received by the ISP, the IP address assignment records were already purged.

Thus, even though a plaintiff copyright holder does have three years from the alleged date of infringement to file a lawsuit against an accused subscriber, they are still bound by the ISP’s IP retention policy if they wish to ever identify the accused subscriber.  That being said, it is the “SECOND DATABASE” which trips up most individuals, as many individuals accused of copyright infringement are not aware that ISPs keep certain IP address assignment records indefinitely (or for a prolonged period of time), and these IP address assignment records are those which have been flagged by a copyright holder, attorney, or other law enforcement agency prior to the expiration of the ISP’s IP retention policy.

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I am observing “shifting sands” when it comes to the number of internet users who are getting caught in the web of CEG-TEK DMCA-based settlement demand letters.

For almost two years, I have been telling people that there are three internet service providers who are working with Ira Siegel — Charter Communications, SuddenLink, and CenturyLink. This has been true, and continues to be true.

I have also told people that if your ISP is participating in the “Six Strikes” anti-piracy system — specifically, Comcast (Xfinity), Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision — then there is nothing to worry about (because these ISPs are no longer forwarding Ira Siegel’s DMCA settlement demand letters, meaning that there is nothing at the moment to settle).  This is NO LONGER TRUE.

In recent weeks, I have observed Comcast (Xfinity) infringement notices sent to subscribers in spite of the “Six Strikes” system being in place.  [The Comcast notices contain relevant infringement information, yet only reference the “CEG-TEK Case Number;” Comcast has, however, neglected to provide the password so that the accused downloader could visit CEG-TEK’s website to determine what claims they have against him.  The unintended consequence is that in order to see what claim(s) CEG-TEK has against the accused subscriber, the subscriber would be forced to contact CEG-TEK directly to obtain the password corresponding to the Case Number (thus exposing his identity, and potentially incriminating himself when answering questions). Direct communication with copyright trolls is a big no-no, as you know it is my opinion that communicating directly with them is a bad idea because their goal is to extract a large settlement from you on behalf of their clients.]

As for the 100+ small and mid-sized ISPs who did not join the “Six Strikes” system, with hindsight, we now know that CEG-TEK has spent the last two years on an aggressive campaign to enroll as many ISPs to work with them as they could… “to stop piracy,” of course.  While it was surprising to us is that CEG-TEK went after Giganews and a growing number of VPN providers (finding the downloaders where the downloaders allegedly reside), the breaking news is that CEG-TEK has signed on COX Communications to send Ira Siegel’s DMCA letters to their subscribers.

Again, just in case you missed it — COX COMMUNICATIONS is now working with CEG-TEK.

Cox Communications has literally millions of subscribers.  They were almost expected to be part of the “Six Strikes” system, but then they declined to join keeping them free of the “Six Strikes” rules.

On a personal note, Cox used to annoy me when various copyright trolls would sue their subscribers. Instead of housing a subpoena department internally, they used to outsource all of their business relating to their subscribers to a company named NEUSTAR, a company that was complicit and merciless in turning over the records of hundreds of accused defendants in the copyright trolling lawsuits over the years.

In sum, with this article I take back a number of things that I thought almost two years ago, namely that the Six Strikes system would kill CEG-TEK’s business.  As you can see from the list below, CEG-TEK has responded to the “Six Strikes” system by focusing their efforts on growing the number of ISPs who are working with them.  Now that they have Cox Communications on board, this will be a problem for many thousands of users in the months and years to come.

Below is a list of ISPs who have been known to forward Ira Siegel’s DMCA settlement demand letters.  This list is obviously incomplete (and I have no intention of updating this list), but what is important is that two years ago, these ISPs were not working with CEG-TEK.  Now they are, and accused internet users are receiving notices of infringement instructing that they visit CEG-TEK’s website and settle the claims against them.

LIST OF INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS KNOWN TO WORK WITH CEG-TEK:
AeroSurf
AirtranNet
Arvig
Ashland Home Net
Bloom Broadband
Blue Ridge Communications
CenturyLink
Charter Communications
CondoInternet
DigitalOcean
EPB Fiber Optics
First Communications
GigaNews
Google Fiber
Hotspot Broadband
Internet Services of Cincinnati (ISOC.net)
MetroCast
Midcontinent Communications
Mid-Rivers Communications
Morris Broadband
NeoNova Network Services
OlyPen Cable
PenTel Data (another name for Blue Ridge Communications)
ResTech
SuddenLink Communications
ViaSat / Exede Internet
StrongVPN
Whidbey Telecom
WildBlue (service through ViaSat)

UNIVERSITIES KNOWN TO FORWARD CEG-TEK SETTLEMENT DEMAND LETTERS:
Rice University
Columbia University
Cornell University
Stanford University
University of Michigan
Wisconsin University
University of Alaska

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