'Hurt Locker' lawsuit target pirates

1:18 PM PST 05/11/2010 by Eriq Gardner, AP

THR EXCLUSIVE

The war against movie piracy is getting downright explosive. The producers of the Oscar-winning "The Hurt Locker" are preparing a massive lawsuit against thousands of individuals who pirated the film online. The case could be filed as soon as Wednesday.

Voltage Pictures, the banner behind the best picture winner, has signed up with the U.S. Copyright Group, the Washington D.C.-based venture that, as first reported in March, has begun a litigation campaign targeting tens of thousands of BitTorrent users.

According to Thomas Dunlap, a lawyer at the firm, the multi-million dollar copyright infringement lawsuit should be filed this week. He declines to say exactly how many individuals will be targeted, but expect the number to be in the tens of thousands, if not more. "Locker" first leaked onto the web more than five months before its U.S. release and was a hot item in P2P circles after it won six Oscars in March. Despite the accolades, the film grossed only about $16 million in the U.S.

The U.S. Copyright Group has already filed lawsuits over about 10 other films, including Uwe Boll's "Far Cry," "Call of the Wild 3D" and "Uncross the Stars." Reports of those suits raised alarms in some circles, whereas others joked that the movie industry was merely suing those with poor taste.

"You can guess that relative to the films we've pursued already, the order of magnitude is much higher" with "Hurt Locker," says Dunlap, adding that the lawsuit will also cover other Voltage pictures such as "Personal Effects," starring Ashton Kutcher.

If the addition of "Locker" to this litigation campaign could shake things up, so too could news about cooperation by ISPs in this escalating fight.

After filing the lawsuits, the plaintiffs must subpoena ISP records in an effort to match IP addresses with illicit behavior on BitTorrent.

According to lawyers at Dunlap's firm, 75% of ISPs have cooperated fully. Those that have resisted are mostly doing so, they say, because of the amount of work involved in handing over thousands of names. But the clock may be ticking. For example, in the lawsuit over "Far Cry," Comcast has until next Wednesday to file motions to quash subpoenas. By the end of next week, thousands of Comcast subscribers could be turned over.

Of the some 50,000 individuals who have been sued thus far, only three have tried to quash the subpoena. In one instance, a Georgia man tried to invoke the state's shield law protecting journalists from having to disclose their sources. The judge denied the motion. In another instance, a woman successfully got a court to throw out the subpoena because her IP address wasn't listed in the original complaint. Unfortunately for her, the complaint was then amended.

After unmasking individuals who have illegally downloaded films, the U.S. Copyright Group then sends a settlement offer.

Lawyers at the firm are seeing some returns on the first two lawsuits filed back in January. About 40% have settled, according to the U.S. Copyright Group. Those who haven't settled will be sent another round of settlement offers, and the group promises to eventually serve lawsuits on these individuals.

Since news first brokeabout the litigation campaign, Dunlap says he's been besieged by e-mails from 20 to 30 independent film groups that have expressed frustration about rampant piracy and interest in joining up. The firm plans to send people to this month's Festival de Cannes, where they've already arranged meetings with a number of other film producers to discuss further lawsuits.
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