Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

Full Bio →

Written by

UPDATED: Jan 21, 2015

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.

We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about legal topics and insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything legal and insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by experts.

The owners of the rights to the Oscar-winning movie Dallas Buyers Club have sued people across the US and around the world for copyright infringement.

  • At least 77 people in Michigan were sued in December for illegally downloading the movie via BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer online network often used to facilitate piracy.
  • Earlier last year, more than 100 people in Michigan were sued over movie piracy.
  • At least 31 BitTorrent users were sued for sharing the movie in the Southern District of Texas.

In 2014, Dallas Buyers Club LLC (AKA Voltage Pictures) reportedly sued 3,719 defendants in the US alone.

The movie was released in theaters on November 1, 2013. A screener version (used to show the movie to critics and awards voters) was leaked on January 3, 2014. The movie was nominated for six Oscars, including best picture, won three Oscars, and became one of the most pirated movies of the year.

Chasing Pirates

Digital PiracyThe owners of copyrighted content often go after uploaders and downloaders via their Internet protocol (IP) addresses. In order to find the name and street address of the actual person associated with an IP address, plaintiffs need to get a judge to issue a subpoena to an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

(As recently discussed, some content owners are also suing ISPs directly for failing to terminate the accounts of repeat piracy offenders.)

As reported by Mother Jones, when a copyright owner sues a downloader, the plaintiff may make disruptive demands, such as seeking to copy the defendant’s hard drive. Often, defendants are intimidated into settling for $2,000-$5,000 – far less than the cost of mounting a full legal defense — even when the defendant isn’t actually guilty of piracy.

One reason that innocent people may end up paying is that:

The name connected to an IP address usually identifies who is the paying the internet bill, not who is doing the downloading. Ten years ago, most people didn’t use wireless routers at home, but now, more than 60 percent of people do. And all the computers using a single wireless router have the same IP address. So if your tech-savvy neighbor is piggybacking off your wireless internet—and illegally downloading Mean Girls—you could take the heat.

For example, reports Mother Jones, in 2012, law enforcement officers went after a person making online threats by tracing an IP address. After a SWAT team broke down the door and threw in flash-bang grenades, they realized that the house had an open Wi-Fi router and the threats were actually coming from another address on the same street.

Mistakes like this have led judges to be more reluctant to grant subpoenas in cases where a defendant is identified only by an IP address.

“Porno Trolling”

In fact, in 2013, a federal judge in California imposed an $81,000 fine against some copyright holders that were allegedly engaged in “porno trolling” – suing people accused of illegal pornography downloads.

Porno trolling is especially lucrative, as many defendants would rather settle than avoid the public embarrassment of a lawsuit.

In the past, movie studios and other copyright owners have sued tens of thousands of BitTorrent users at the same time. Now, cases appear to be getting smaller, and to focus on those most actively engaged in piracy.

If you’ve been sued…

If you’ve been sued, or threatened with a lawsuit, for illegal uploads or downloads, you probably need to talk with a copyright lawyer.