Using IP Addresses to Troll for Copyright Infringement
Today we’re going to discuss something a bit more saucy. How about sex and pirates and trolls? Sound exciting. Then let’s get started. You may have heard of patent trolls, who make a living suing others for infringing patents. Now there are porn trolls. The pornography business has never been short of money, but now its finding a new source of revenue. It turns out the nation’s largest filer of copyright lawsuits is X-art.com, an online porn company. Last year, they accounted for one-third of all copyright lawsuits in the country.
The X-Art Copyright Trolling Method
They make adult videos that are open to subscribers. Upon learning that about six times more people were pirating their films than paying for them, they went on the offensive. First, they identify the IP addresses of those who obtain the videos via BitTorrents. Then they file a case requesting the maximum penalties (about $150,000 per movie). Using the discovery process, they get a name and address for the IP address from the service provider. Unlike other companies using IP addresses to crack down on copyright infringement, X-art sues each downloader individually.
Is an IP Address Sufficient?
The use of IP addresses is generally a problem, since there are potentially many users of one address. A network may have multiple users, squatters, hackers, or others just passing through the connection. As such, identifying the defendant is a serious issue. Some courts are starting to learn more about the nature of IP addresses, and are pushing back on using them as defendants (California, also in Washington state). Not that it matters. In the case of X-art, almost all defendants settle the case for a few thousands dollars rather than face the embarrassment of a trial over pirated porn.
It reminds me of the movie Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. In that movie, a character comes up with a scheme for making money: Advertise sex toys, and allow people to send in money to a legitimate sounding business. Then notify the customer that the toy is out of stock, and refund their money using a check holding a very dirty sounding company name. Then see who actually cashes the checks.
That’s certainly illegal, but is X-art engaging in the same thing? Is it different because they may actually have infringement? Who knows if everyone is too embarrassed to fight back.