Warner Bros. Ramps Up War on Piracy

Through agents, the studio tells accused pirates to pay $20 per infringed title or face up to $150,000 per infringement in civil penalties.
Warner Bros.

In recent years, Warner Bros. has become one of the most aggressive Hollywood studios on the piracy front. Now, the company is experimenting with a new test program.

The studio is targeting certain Internet service provider customers who have been identified as trading copyrighted works without authority and giving them each an opportunity to settle a potential copyright infringement claim for $20 per title infringed.

At the moment, the individuals being given these settlement offers have service with ISPs not participating in a "Copyright Alert System" that has been dubbed the "Six Strike Policy," thanks to its graduated system of alerts. Customers who use Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Cablevision and Time Warner get warnings and some even have their bandwidth throttled when identified as being a possible copyright pirate.

But now those who use Charter, CenturyLink, Cox and other alternative ISPs not participating in the Copyright Alert System are facing scrutiny.

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Warners' involvement in the $20 settlement offer was first detailed by TorrentFreak. A rep for the studio confirms to THR the accuracy of the report.

A Los Angeles-based firm called Digital Rights Corp. is responsible for finding the alleged pirates. According to a 2011 PaidContent story, Rights Corp. acts as an agent for copyright holders and monitors peer-to-peer file sharing sites like BitTorrent, collecting IP addresses and instructing ISPs to send settlement offers to subscribers.

According to a notice seen by TorrentFreak, an accused pirate will get this advisement:

“Your ISP has forwarded you this notice. This is not spam. Your ISP account has been used to download, upload or offer for upload copyrighted content in a manner that infringes on the rights of the copyright owner. Your ISP service could be suspended if this matter is not resolved. You could be liable for up to $150,000 per infringement in civil penalties.

Then, comes the carrot:

“If you click on the link below and login to the Rightscorp, Inc. automated settlement system, for $20 per infringement, you will receive a legal release from the copyright owner."

Rights Corp. is also reportedly working with other companies such as BMG Rights Management, which administers rights for artists such as David Bowie, Kings of Leon and Will.i.am.

The TorrentFreak article notes that because ISPs are handling the notice, Warner Bros. and Rights Corp. don't know the identity of the accused pirate, and as a result, might have trouble following up with a lawsuit for those who ignore settlement demands. Of course, it's important to note copyright holders can pursue identification via subpoenas, something that many independent film and adult film companies have attempted to exploit in recent years.

News of Warner Bros.' new test program happens as Joel Tenenbaum, a man who was ordered by a jury to pay $675,000 for infringing the copyright on 30 songs, just argued the constitutionality of such a large damage award at the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The new settle-or-else demand isn't Warners' only stab at becoming more aggressive over piracy. Within the past year, the studio has filed dozens upon dozens of lawsuits targeting those selling unauthorized copies of works on Amazon.com. Within the past week, Warners filed nine new lawsuits on this front.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner