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Old Billy Was Right

June 10, 2010

Let’s Kill All the Lawyers, Kill ’em Tonight

This song’s on my mind because I just saw The Eagles play a few nights ago, and only last night realized that this was a Shakespeare reference (thanks to a silly lawyer drama that I watch). But the sentiment of the line I quoted has also been on my mind a lot with regard to the law firm of Dunlap, Grubb, & Weaver and their campaign of suing thousands of alleged file-sharers (or threatening to sue, at least).

Justice might be blind, but these lawyers know exactly what they're after (money)

But it’s legal

Yeah, what these lawyers are doing isn’t illegal. The actual laws they are enforcing are good: protect copyrights, get money for indie filmmakers (including the makers of The Hurt Locker and Far Cry). They even go as far as to say that their intent is to “SAVE CINEMA.” The unfortunate part is how they go about doing it and the maximum fine that exists for illegally purchasing a movie.  Here’s a hint, the maximum fine for illegally downloading a movie is a LOT more than the max for shoplifting in Washington, D.C. where the law firm is located. $150,000 for downloading, $300 for shoplifting.

I think one of the worst parts of this campaign is that they advertise as a company that wants to save cinema. Suing individual downloaders is not going to do that. Being creative and coming up with a way to get people to see these indie movies (hey, did you know that lots of people downloading a movie means your movie gets buzz, and so people might go see it?) will be worth a lot more in the long run than grabbing cash from the alleged file-sharers.

Why alleged?

I keep saying alleged because all the law firm gets as evidence is the IP address of the supposed criminals. If we lived in a world where it was completely impossible for two people to use the same computer, the same wireless at the neighbourhood coffee shop, to spoof another person’s IP, etc. etc. then this would be pretty solid evidence. Your IP would be like your computer’s DNA or fingerprint.

But unfortunately your computer’s IP is more like your favourite perfume. It can rub off on other people, they can buy the same kind as you, or just steal a spritz here and there when you’re not looking. Does that sound like shoddy evidence to you? It sounds like shoddy evidence to me.

Other solutions

A commenter on Ars Technica’s Tech Law and Policy blog suggested the following:

Downloading one file for personal use: $5 for an MP3, $40-50 for a movie, $100 for a video game.
Sharing one file: $25-50 for an MP3, $150-300 for a movie, $500-1000 for a video game.

This seems much more reasonable. Unfortunately, at this price, the US Copyright Group probably wouldn’t find it very profitable to sue all these alleged file-sharers. Fortunately, there are groups and judges more sympathetic to the victims of Group’s extortion-like suits, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Judge Rosemary Collyer.

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