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Received a letter from ISP or troll? Take a deep breath and read

This post was written by TAC. You probably know him and his well-articulated, colorful and precise comments if you read tech blogs such as TechDirt or TorrentFreak. Enjoy.


Hello campers, you can call me TAC. My troll friends know me by a couple names and this post should confirm for them that I am behind both names. This post is a little out of date, but it covers the basics that someone getting a letter from one of these firms should understand before making any decision. I am not a lawyer, and I do not play one on TV. This is not legal advice for that you need to hire your own lawyer. (Never trust a troll, they lie.) Most of my experience with the trolls is from the world of *gasp* gay porn. Few of these cases get bright lights shined upon them, so I’ve been working extra hard to keep people educated.

Welcome to the fear. Please stop and take a deep breath. Now take another. I’m TAC and I am your tour guide through hell… There is a lot of information, so please stay with the tour and hold your question till the end… Come with me, and we’re walking we’re walking…

Welcome to the mid 2009 in England. The place is the offices of ACS:Law UK, Andrew Crossley has just jumped in feet first into a business model abandoned by another lawfirm. The game is “speculative invoicing”, a company collects IP addresses and turns them over to the lawfirm for a fee. The lawfirm then sends out invoices demanding money from people they claim airtight cases against.

And we are walking again, and welcome to 2010… Anonymous was here at this smoking crater that is the former offices of ACS:Law UK. They blasted the ACS:Law UK webserver, and in a move of sheer “genius” the entire contents of their servers were made publicly available. It proved that ACS:Law was using public records to make sure people they bothered to harass had the means to pay them. It proved even lawyers inside the firm were terrified of the public learning the 1 case they held up as proof of a win, would fold as it was shown to be a case where it was a default judgment against someone who might not actually exist as she was never served to be in court.

And we take a small hop across the Atlantic… And these are the offices of United States Copyright Group, it is a company a lawfirm founded to take the heat as they started filing “speculative invoicing” cases in the United States. Representing just movie super stars as Uwe Bolle (winner of the “worst director in the world” title), and a handful of other movies no one had ever heard of. Getting attention they then were able to land the film The Hurt Locker and later The Expendables. The Expendables hope to turn a dog from the box office into a blockbuster. They stand to extort more than the movie earned in release.

And another small hop brings us to Texas… Not to be outdone, the porn industry has been taking notes about this new money tree. Sadly they picked Evan Stone in TX and his Copyright Protection Agency. The first cases targeting remembers here are brought on behalf of Lucas Entertainment. Some nobody named TAC turns up, and proceeds to detonate the fear and mythology surrounding these cases. The crazy idea that an IP Address =! (if you’re not that kinda person that means does not equal) a person. The fact that during the RIAA lawsuits it was shown they had targeted and demanded a laser printer stop sharing the movie The Matrix. He might have also exposed Stones operation in a mailbox strip mall, and some other fun facts about our favorite moron. Stone lied on copyright applications, and is currently facing charges from a court for lying to obtain people’s information from ISPs.

The newest version of this game is us vs Liberty Media Holdings, represented by Marc Randazza. Marc Randazza has made some stupid public statements, and damaged the Corbin Fisher brand by creating the new terms of service that allowed them without much proof to demand you pay them $25,000. When they were publicly rebuked they changed the terms and tried to pretend it never happened. Randazza has said there is no chance anyone targeted in his scheme will be hurt by being forced out of the closet and had instructed them to lie about what they downloaded. Randazza has refined the approach and now seeks the court to find the people who pay the bill for the internet connection responsible for the download, if they themselves did it or not. He hopes to establish this so he can keep terrorizing people into paying his extortion, and if his other previous offers are a guideline he always leaves a way to pursue them again in the future for the rest of $25,000 based on nothing more than a hunch.

His IP data is being provided by a German company, this company has used contracts in the past that give them the right to create a “honeypot” where the information could be downloaded from. A Honeypot is where they upload something people might want and then record all of the activity as others download that file.

No court is aware of these tactics, and one would hope they would find it hard to accept the claims of Randazza when he allowed the creation of the problem merely to profit from it.

There are other cases, and other fun facts but nothing that exciting.

The shakedown works like this… They get a pile of IP addresses, they go to court and say we need to know who these people are we want to sue them for breaking the law. The court says okey dokey. They send subpoenas to the ISPs, the ISP alerts you your information is being sought.

You technically can try to fight the release of the information, but there are varying responses from various courts to these motions. The lawyer gets your details, then sends of a letter that sounds very scary. Then they send another, and another, and another. Randazza has added making phonecalls, and offers that are reportedly withdrawn after they get you to admit fault so they can leverage more money out of you.

To date, no case has been filed against a downloader targeted in these shakedowns. Update: USCG is pursuing a 70 yr old grandmother in MN… she doesn’t own a computer. They have gotten some uploaders, and are taking some parents to court to force them to finger their children. I am guessing these people did something to piss Randazza off to get such special attention.

To date no cases have been brought to court against those people who have been identified by their ISPs. These actions are meant to cause fear and extra money without ever having to prove in court their case, the court case could be devastating to the entire shakedown as question to how accurate and legitimate these claims are. If you have any doubt how relevant the information is a recent filing made by USCG included the IP Address of 8.8.8.8 as a downloader. The small problem is 8.8.8.8 is Google’s public DNS server, it can’t download. So the advice: read the letters, make sure you do not have to respond to the court.

Never talk to them on the phone. Never lie, but don’t offer to make their case for them. Saying on the phone “Yeah I did it but you’re an asshole fuck right off!” might feel good up until he files a lawsuit against you and uses your admission in court against you. You’re a college student, on a fixed income, etc etc… the term you’re looking for is Uncollectable. If you have nothing, the court cannot award them 50% of nothing. It costs them $350 to file against you, and the time to be in court. If they win $20.00 that seems to be running at a loss. They MIGHT pursue a few people this way, but they will mostly be for show.

There was a recent case filed against a BitTorrenter by Corbin Fisher, it settled for $250,000. The important facts in this case — He was a CF subscriber who was caught and caved when confronted. The $250,000 award was a settlement reached outside of court. The full amount of $250,000 never has to be repaid, as long as the guy makes his payments and is a good boy the amount gets knocked down. But the only headline anyone saw was CF WINS $250,000 IN BITTORRENT CASE.

I’m still not a lawyer, I am still not giving you legal advice. I invite you to use the resources on the EFF help page, some are better than others. Robert Cashman in TX has a blog where you can see his reporting on the happenings in several of these cases. Never assume a group offering a flat fee to get you a better settlement has your best interests at heart, $20 off the demanded amount is a “better” settlement.

We’ve reached the end of the tour, and now if you still have questions we can try to answer. This isn’t the end of the world, you’re not the only one being targeted in fact there are often innocent people swept up in this miscarriage of justice. Take a deep breath… and another… Educating yourself about these cases will help you to stop be so scared of the Boogeyman. I add my voice alongside Sophisticated Jane Doe’s offering you the one thing the trolls do not want you to have… knowledge.

I am and remain…
TAC.

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Discussion

8 responses to ‘Received a letter from ISP or troll? Take a deep breath and read

  1. Thanks for the great post TAC. I received my letter from my ISP about three weeks ago regarding two porn movies I did not download through BitTorrent. The deadline passed on 9/4/11. I did not pay and I did not respond. I fully expect my info to be subpoenaed and start receiving the extortion letters. I plan to also ignore those until I receive something from a court of law. I’m not a rich man by any means, however, I’m inclined to go as far as I can in letting a jury decide.

    I own a business and my clients often use my WiFi on their laptops but we’re always working together and there’s no way they are downloading porn during our meetings. Still, I have decided to lock down my router in case someone in the neighborhood actually did it (which I’m not convinced of). Everyone may not be aware but your IP address is recorded everywhere you go. Come to one of my sites and I can see your IP.

    I’m not a being a badass and I can’t say I won’t settle at some point if the cost gets to be ridiculous but I’m inclined to make these mofos put up or shut up.

    • Well the ISP notice should not be looking for any payment.
      That is just step 1.
      It tells you one of the trolls wants your info.
      Trying to fight them off at this stage rarely has much success, and quite often ends up revealing your details anyways.
      After the deadline passes then your info gets into the trolls hands, and then you will get a phone call/email/letter in the following weeks.
      Open wifi is still not a crime, and while some lawyers want to make a case that your responsible because you pay the bill that has yet to pass the test in an actual court case.

      Something to be careful of is there are cases of people getting scammer letters using the copyright troll model. Like full on scammers. They tend to target businesses, but like most faked emails there are problems, if your not getting real letters in the mail be cautious.

    • If you have/had an “open” router during the time period, document everything about it while it is fresh in your mind. If possible, take screen-shots of the routers configuration, and any logs. Good information such as the various computers (the MAC address and what internal IP address they had). If this ever goes anywhere, it shows some evidence that you are telling the truth and not just “Lying” as the Trolls will claim (Pot calling the Kettle Black, if you ask me!). Do not tell the troll about this, as he will just think up (some pretty stupid) counterclaims to dispute your facts. And don’t even let the Troll get started on if you were running an open WiFi, that you violated your ISP agreement (unless you were running it as a business). Then if it was a business, you have an easier chance of claiming the “Safe Harbor provision” of the Copyright law, as you were providing a service (i.e. an ISP, such as COMCAST). Take care.
      DieTrollDie.

  2. Something to remember is to always read the letters, they might contain a court date.
    There was a default judgement issued in one of the USCG cases, because the targeted person never responded to the letter the lawyers sent. (There is also a case of of NJ (iirc) where the Doe was able to get the court to listen to arguments why the default judgement against her should be set aside, because there was nothing about the letter to make it look like anything but postal fraud.)

    Looking at how the person in the USCG case was served, and a quick public records search the address the court notice was sent to does not match the public records for that name at that address. The sending of these documents do not demand certified mail or proof of delivery, just a document saying they put it in the mail. If you never get it, it is not the lawfirms problem. It is your problem trying to get a court to see that you were not thumbing your nose at them.

    I am worried about this particular judgement moving forward, so always read the letter fully. Ignore the unsubstantiated claims, but always make sure there is not a court date hidden within.

    I am and remain…
    TAC

  3. Just received a letter in the mail yesterday 11/18 with my name and address from Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver saying they have my IP address, provided from charter with the alleged time which is 1.5yrs ago. saying I downloaded Hurt Locker through a Bit-torrent site/program. I know i didn’t download it but i am the person on the charter bill so I’m responsible… they are requesting i pay $2,900 by Dec.9th otherwise its $3,900 after the 23rd also i may be formally listed as a defendant to be named to a lawsuit.

    I never received any release of information from Charter my ISP, and being in school having a 3 year old son and working full-time i can barely afford my bills as it is. let alone pay some ridiculous fee for some crappy movie I never even heard of until I google’d it.

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