A California pornography company is suing thousands of people it claims use the computer download protocol BitTorrent to violate copyrights to its adult films.
One Maryland man, who did not want to reveal his identity, got the bad news by mail. The company wanted to name him in a lawsuit demanding $2 million.
"I freaked out. They're gonna take everything," he said. The company subpoenaed his Internet provider for his name and address, alleging he illegally downloaded and shared pornographic videos from its site. "I felt like a criminal. They made me feel like I was breaking the law."
He’s an active member of his church, married with kids and a factory worker. He said he’s innocent but feared if he didn’t settle the case with Malibu Media, which offers monthly and annual subscriptions for its videos, his name would be attached to a federal lawsuit involving porn.
"They're extortionists is what they are," he said.
Asked if anybody in his house had actually looked at these videos, he said “no.” But the court filing against him lists the names of movies he's accused of downloading including "Morning Desires," "Hot Chocolate" and "Mad Passion."
He hired attorney Anne McKenna to challenge Malibu Media’s subpoena.
"Unfortunately, anyone is at risk for this, if you have a household where you have an IP address, you have an Internet Wi-Fi router," McKenna said.
She had a computer forensic expert search her client's computer. He reported finding no pornography at all. She said that raises the possibility someone in a neighboring townhouse tapped into his wireless.
“So, folks in apartments, folks in townhouses, they tend to have a lot of security issues with Wi-Fi routers,” McKenna said.
Federal court records show Malibu Media has filed more than 2000 copyright infringement lawsuits across the nation, including more than 200 in Florida, in the last three years.
University of Maryland computer expert Jennifer Golbeck said it's quite easy for companies like Malibu Media to find you. You can be tracked through your computer's IP address.
“Because your IP address says something about your location or who you're working for," Golbeck said.
Many of those adult videos found online are shared through a program called BitTorrent, one computer sharing a video with another.
"It can be configured to automatically take any files that you've downloaded and make them available to other people," Golbeck said.
That means, by clicking, you may actually, unknowingly, be sharing with others. And it's the sharing that Malibu Media says violates copyrights.
In court filings by Malibu Media, the company said it spends millions each year producing content for its subscribers, but finds it hard to grow.
Court records read: “For the first three years (when our site was not as popular) we didn’t have as many issues with piracy. Now, that our videos are highly desirable, more people steal our videos than pay for a subscription.”
The company also said, “Each month, approximately 80,000 U.S. residents use BitTorrent to steal our movies.”
Malibu Media said it's not using the courts to profit from the infringement and would redact any named defendants from public documents, however Team 6 Investigators found a handful of cases where the names were included in the record.
McKenna said she's had clients, including women, who decided to just cough up money to the company, to avoid any embarrassment even though they said they were innocent.
“The question is, do you pay them $10,000 to go away. Or are you going to have to pay a lawyer a lot of money to defend you,” McKenna said.
McKenna has filed to quash the subpoena that would name her current client and is waiting on a ruling from the judge.