Downloading pirated movies and music is risky business. Even armoring up with antivirus software may not protect you from getting infected or hacked. But viruses could be the least of your problems if you fall prey to new movie studio traps designed to catch pirates in the act.
The movie industry’s efforts to sue illegal downloaders has met with spotty success. So now movie makers are deploying new tactics with a greater chance of yielding a payoff — and those victories could cost you plenty.
Were you one of the thousands of people who downloaded the Oscar-winning movie “The Dallas Buyer’s Club” via BitTorrent? If so, you could soon receive a nasty demand letter in the mail, courtesy of movie studio Voltage Pictures. Their hefty payment demand could make the legitimate movie look cheap by comparison. (For comparison, it’s currently offered for $12.95 at Amazon.com).
Already Voltage/Dallas Buyers Club LLC has served hundreds of these demand letters to suspected downloaders in several states, including Texas, Florida, Hawaii and Connecticut, with more likely on the way. These letters reportedly demand sums of between $3,000 and $7,000 to forgive all sins and avoid a nasty legal confrontation. Here’s an example excerpt from one of the letters:
Watch Out for the Honey Pot!
The latest movie studio tactic to stop pirating is brilliant, but downright underhanded: They’re laying out honeypot bait by creating BitTorrent download links for their own movies:
You heard right. Movie studios are luring would-be pirates the same way fruit growers lure fruit flies — with big, fat, juicy decoys. By placing links to their own content at popular download sites like ThePirateBay, studios can track the IP address of every ethically-challenged cheapskate who falls for their BitTorrent linkbait. Armed with smoking gun evidence, the studios then ask courts to let them subpoena Internet Service Providers, forcing them to identify the people associated with the captured IP addresses.
I’m Innocent! (What is BitTorrent anyway?)
BitTorrent is a file sharing client used to download and share legal or illegal content, such as books, music and movies, among other things. It’s fast and efficient because files are broken up into chunks and shared in a networked fashion. At the same time you’re downloading BitTorrent files, you’re also uploading and sharing the parts of files you’ve already captured. Alas, such activity often violates the rightful owner’s copyright.
Making Copyright Trolling Respectable?
Movie studios like Voltage have taken a lesson from porn producers who have been baiting downloaders for years with BitTorrent links, a practice referred to as “copyright trolling.” Adult movie moguls have a history of seeding the Internet with X-Rated BitTorrent links in the hopes that “horndogs” will lap them up.
Once these hot-to-trot pirates download explicit content, company lawyers pounce, forcing ISPs to reveal the identities of the John Does. Here the stakes are even higher, as these pirates face the embarrassment of receiving official mail from porn companies and the prospect of facing charges in court. Who wants their employer, friends and family to know they’ve stolen content at all — much less sucked down volumes of hard core porn with salacious triple “X” titles?
In reality, many of these attempts to later collect money for downloaded porn are thinly-veiled shakedown operations, and judges tend to frown on such things. But award-winning companies like Voltage Pictures getting into the act may be giving this tactic new-found legitimacy.
Courts in several states have complied with subpoena requests, and a new rash of websites has sprung up to defend downloading perpetrators. Examples include fightcopyrighttrolls.com and dietrolldie.com. There are also lawyers ready to represent the accused, like this Chicago-based attorney who handles clients across the country.
To Download or Not to Download?
Probably not. Visiting seedy sites to steal content is not only ethically wrong, it’s also risky from a security standpoint. In a matter of seconds your computer could be converted into a slavebot for some nefarious hacker gang and leave you open to infection or identity theft.
But the bigger risk these days might be entrapment by legitimate rights owners, a practice that is likely to expand if Voltage Pictures prevails in the latest courtroom challenges.
Before you click your next BitTorrent download link, answer the following questions:
1. Is what you are doing right? Can you face the consequences and still feel good about your decision to pirate the content?
2. Are you willing to face the music should you get a demand letter requesting an exorbitant settlement to avoid a court battle over your illegal download?
3. Even if you can get away with illegal downloading, is it really worth the potential trouble and cost? After all, most movies are available shortly after release for quite reasonable rental rates. 😉
Til next time,
Katherine & Liz
Join the privacy revolution by switching to StartPage.com the private search engine, and using StartMail.com encrypted email, both projects Katherine has helped develop. You can catch Katherine on radio daily at www.kmashow.com. And please read our book, Spychips, to learn more about privacy-invading technology and how to defeat it.
Photo credits: Ocus Focus/BigStock.com, Voltage Pictures/imdb.com, TorrentFreak.com, The Pirate Bay/wikimedia.org, PhotoEuphoria/BigStock.com