Comcast, Verizon Ordered To ID Subscribers to Pornographers

A federal judge in Greenbelt has ordered the two Internet service providers to identify customers—known only by their numeric "Internet Protocol" addresses—who have been sued for allegedly unlawfully downloading pornographic movies.

Two California pornography companies are attempting to sue 140 Maryland residents for unlawfully downloading and distributing their adult films.

Patrick Collins Inc. and Third Degree Films have one problem—the California companies don't know the names of the people they want to sue for copyright infringement.

But two of Maryland’s largest Internet service providers—Comcast and Verizon—have been ordered by a federal judge in Greenbelt to turn over the personal identities of 22 subscribers known to Patrick Collins Inc. only by numeric Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.

The anonymous subscribers in that case are located throughout the state: Towson, Annapolis, Sykesville, Westminster, Rockville, Columbia, Bowie, Reisterstown, Parkville, Frederick, La Plata, Germantown and Potomac.

Maryland is the latest state to be the target of such litigation. The companies and others have filed copyright infringement lawsuits in several states armed only with IP addresses of people they allege have unlawfully been file-sharing their movies using BitTorrent technology.

It’s a legal strategy involving copyright protection pioneered when the Recording Industry Association of America pursued the identities behind IP addresses of customers who were illegally file sharing music off of Napster, said Julie Samuels, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has helped fight against recent lawsuits from pornography companies in other states.

Patrick Collins Inc. filed its case in June against 22 "John Does" it alleges illegally downloaded a film called "Cuties 2." Third Degree Films filed its case last week against 118 "John Does" who it claims downloaded "Illegal Ass 2." It is also asking a federal judge to order Comcast, Verizon and other Internet service providers to identify the accused customers.

U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr.'s order states that Patrick Collins Inc. "allegedly owns exclusive distribution rights to a pornographic movie that is being illegally distributed over the Internet by peer-to-peer file-sharing technology, BitTorrent. Plaintiff claims to know the Internet Protocol address ('IP address') of each infringing defendant, but not their real names, addresses, or other identifying information."

Williams' July order requires Comcast and Verizon to provide that information so that Patrick Collins can then take legal action against each subscriber.

“The most important thing for us is that we treat our customers’ privacy with the utmost seriousness,” said Charlie Douglas, Comcast spokesman. “We don’t just hand stuff over without due process and reaching out to let the customer know that we’re being ordered by a judge.”

He said Comcast has alerted customers identified in the lawsuit about the legal action.

Critics of such legal action call the studios in these lawsuits “copyright trolls.” Critics contend the tactic is nothing more than a way to extract quick cash settlements by threatening to associate people with public exposure in a pornography lawsuit.

Legal documents filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, however, indicate a possible shift in strategy by the studios, Samuels said. The studios have been taking legal action against thousands of people at once in other states. But doing so has resulted in some cases being thrown out either because some subscribers don't live in the states where the lawsuits have been filed or because the studios have not shown that such a large class of defendants have been conspiring together.

The cases in Maryland are far more narrow, targeting just 22 people in one case and 118 in the second, Samuels said.

So far in the Patrick Collins case, the company agreed to voluntarily dismiss its allegations against one of the two subscribers who have hired lawyers to fight the lawsuit. Patrick Collins Inc.'s lawyer, Jon A. Hoppe of Largo, could not be reached for comment. 

Attorney Eric J. Menhart with CyberLaw firm in Washington D.C. represented the John Doe whose case was voluntarily dismissed by the company.

Menhart said Patrick Collins Inc. agreed to dismiss his client's case because allowing Judge Williams to rule on the dismissal motion could threaten the company's case against all the other subscribers named as co-defendants in the case.

"They cut their losses by dismissing one case," he said. "These cases are happening all over the place. ... We're seeing anywhere from 20 to 200 [defendants]. So far in Maryland I haven't seen big, big numbers. But that can always change."

Buzz Beeler October 24, 2011 at 11:01 PM
As they say if you want to play you gotta pay. The interesting part about this issue is the role the corporate world plays in this issue. Some interesting facts: http://www.blazinggrace.org/cms/bg/pornstats
Bart October 24, 2011 at 11:09 PM
Why should downloading Porn illegally be any different than downloading any other movie illegally? oh, yeah, we all get to type dirty words. teehee
Buzz Beeler October 24, 2011 at 11:33 PM
Bart, you are correct. All of you major five start hotels have access to adult entertainment. WBAL Radio once reported that 90% of computer use is related to adult entrainment.
Bart October 25, 2011 at 12:03 AM
I once read of an attempt to do a study of the effect of porn on couples and relationships, but they couldn't find a control group. i.e. they couldn't find enough people who hadn't watched porn.
Sean Tully October 25, 2011 at 02:13 AM
Good for the porn companies. Now the music companies need to go after those who upload illegal songs to Youtube. I am all in favor of the artists uploading their songs to Youtube and we get to watch and listen for free with some commercials, as long as the artists are getting a cut of the ad money. If people keep ripping this stuff and distributing it for free, there will be no incentive for artists to make music or movies. That may be a good thing when it comes to porn, but if porn goes down the tubes, where will it stop?
Sean Tully October 25, 2011 at 02:15 AM
p.s. Dear Porn Companies, If you see code number X1ZZ24462, it is not me. Someone has been hacking my computer. (Yikes!)
Buzz Beeler October 25, 2011 at 02:23 AM
Sean, I'm gonna slap your face. Shame on you! See any good movies lately? Wanna trade? How about the county's new release the PUD in the mud, and lets make a deal.
Tim October 25, 2011 at 03:47 PM
There is no freakin way 90% of all computer use is internet porn. Not arguing with you, just...no...no chance.
Buzz Beeler October 25, 2011 at 04:27 PM
Tim, you may be right. I'm going on memory from listening to WBAL Radio. I remembered the stat because the large percentiles stuck in my head. That might be related to the total number of people across the board who at some time viewed this material. The reason it stuck with me was I too was thinking the same thing.
Bart October 25, 2011 at 05:28 PM
It does sound awfully over the top, but I think I've heard that number, too!
John K October 25, 2011 at 05:48 PM
I think the big problem these lawsuits will face is that if someone has an unsecured WiFi connection, anyone can get onto their network and download anything and it would technically be under "their name." They have no way to delineate whether you did it from your home PC, or it was a neighbor who was stealing your connection. To boot, even if you have it secured with a password, that doesn't mean someone couldn't get onto your network if they wanted to. And on top of that, there is software that lets someone "spoof" another IP address - in other words, I can make it LOOK like I downloaded it from your IP address instead of mine. Not arguing it's not a bad thing, just that how do you prove beyond a doubt that someone did it when there are all these factors? Makes it tough to be definitive, especially with the consequences potentially costing into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars!
Robert Armstrong October 25, 2011 at 06:34 PM
My neighbor works in the IT department of a large local university. He told me over 40% of the outgoing traffic is all porn searches.
Tim October 25, 2011 at 06:55 PM
College? 40%? That sounds about right.
Dundalkwatchdog October 25, 2011 at 09:06 PM
Maybe the searches were done by anatomy majors.
Robert Armstrong October 25, 2011 at 09:27 PM
Pornography is a $100 Billion business. I certainly wouldn't want to get in a legal pissing contest with their lawyers. BTW does anybody know how they made out with the $5 Billion bailout request?
Bart October 25, 2011 at 10:42 PM
CJ November 29, 2011 at 07:12 AM
I just received one of these letters where I supposedly downloaded something 6 months ago. I really don't know what to do or what I'm being accused of. I have spent the past 12 hours straight researching these cases and I haven't really gotten any info on the aftermath. Do they really pay the settlement?
Buzz Beeler November 29, 2011 at 05:08 PM
CJ, is the letter accusing you of some illegal activity as it applies to downloading something? I'm not quite sure on your issue. When you say settlement are they demanding payment? Generally speaking they try the fear tactic hoping you will respond, but in reality it would cost them far more to sue.
Buzz Beeler November 29, 2011 at 07:27 PM
CJ, at this point I would not worry about it. It sounds as if they are trying to rattle a few cages in order to set an example or an outside chance of collecting some fees over this issue. As in most of these cases the bottom line is money and suing you would cost them more then it's worth, especially after you show them your evidence.
CJ November 29, 2011 at 08:22 PM
Thank you for the advice. I'm active duty military and was in the field training during the time I was accused. I live by myself and my wifi is password protected. Just goes to show you how inaccurate these accusations really are.
Sean Tully November 30, 2011 at 12:23 AM
Robert Armstrong 5:27pm on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 "Pornography is a $100 Billion business. I certainly wouldn't want to get in a legal pissing contest with their lawyers." People pay good money to watch that stuff.
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Baltimore Matt September 22, 2012 at 12:04 PM
This is why, if you can, use a smaller local ISP. Because they are such small targets, they are less likely to find themselves being forced in court to take these types of actions. By going after Comcast and Verizon they will be able to have access to the IP addresses of 50% of US internet subscribers, therefore it is worth their time. But if you subscribe to a smaller ISP, through DSL or fixed wireless broadband, etc. it would not be worth their time in court to gain access to their 25,000 subscribers.
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