Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Movie downloads could cost Racine man up to $600,000
Retiree faces suit over grandson's home computer file sharing
By BOB PURVIS
Posted: Nov. 1, 2005
A Racine man who says he doesn't even like watching movies, let alone copying them off the Internet, is being sued by the film industry for copyright infringement after his 13-year-old grandson downloaded four movies on their home computer.
The Motion Picture Association of America, on behalf of three major Hollywood studios, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Fred Lawrence, a 67-year-old retiree. The suit seeks as much as $600,000 in damages for downloading four movies over iMesh, an Internet file-sharing service.
The lawsuit comes after Lawrence, a former employee of Snap-on Inc. and seasonal worker for the City of Racine, refused a March offer to settle the matter by paying $4,000.
"First of all, like I say, I guess I'd have to plead being naïve about the whole thing," said Lawrence. He said his grandson, then 12, downloaded "The Incredibles," "I, Robot," "The Grudge," and "The Forgotten" in December, not knowing it was illegal.
Lawrence said his grandson downloaded the movies out of curiosity. The family already owned three of the four titles on DVD, and his grandson deleted the computer files immediately, he said.
"I personally didn't do it, and I wouldn't do it. But I don't think it was anything but an innocent mistake my grandson made," Lawrence said.
He hasn't settled because he doesn't have the money, and a lawyer said the settlement was likely a scare tactic that wouldn't result in a lawsuit. Now he doesn't know what he's going to do.
"I can see where they wouldn't want this to happen, but when you get up around $4,000 . . . I don't have that kind of money," Lawrence said. "I never was and never will be a wealthy person."
The movie industry readily concedes it won't gain public sympathy suing someone like Lawrence, but a spokesperson said that's not the point.
"We're not asking for anyone's sympathy. We are asking for people to understand the consequences of Internet piracy," said Kori Bernards, vice president of corporate communications for MPAA.
Bernards said the problem is the movies Lawrence's grandson downloaded were then available to thousands of other users on the iMesh network.
"Basically what you are doing when you use peer-to-peer software is you are offering someone else's product that they own to thousands of other people for free, and it's not fair," Bernards said. "People need to understand that when they are swapping movies online they are not anonymous, and that they will face consequences like this lawsuit."
Bernards said that illegal downloading costs the movie industry an estimated $5.4 billion a year.
The industry has filed hundreds of lawsuits against users of peer-to-peer file sharing networks, joining the music recording industry in the crackdown on such networks, said Fred von Lohmann, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties on the Internet.
Most cases have been settled out of court, he said, and the ones that aren't are moving slowly through the system, where judges have been baffled with how to treat many of the lawsuits.
"Frankly, most of the reaction I have seen from the federal courts has been bewilderment. They aren't used to having hundreds of people who can't afford attorneys coming in not knowing why they are there in the first place," von Lohmann said. Lawrence's case fits the norm in many of the file-sharing suits, where companies go after the parent or grandparent paying for Internet service, although it is often a child doing the downloading.
In some instances, parents have argued they didn't do the downloading and won, only to have the industry sue the child.
"That is not a very pleasant outcome, but if you truly can't afford it, it's probably easier for your child to file for bankruptcy than for you to file for bankruptcy," von Lohmann said.
While the recording industry focuses on people who have downloaded hundreds of songs, it's not uncommon for movie studios to target people with just a few movie downloads, von Lohmann said.
"I think the attitude most of the time is, 'the odds are this wasn't your first one,' and that means sometimes they do hit someone who has downloaded very few movies," von Lohmann said.
Von Lohmann and Bernards said it is unlikely that the studios would seek the maximum penalties of up to $150,000 per movie, but that is of small consolation, said Lawrence, who hasn't even seen the movies cited in the lawsuit.
"To be honest with you, I don't even watch movies very often."
Ok, so stupid kid downloads movies from internet. Fine. But I think the problem was that he allowed them to be uploaded from his computer. That’s the crime, as I understand it. And if I’m wrong, let me know. So the out of touch with reality MPAA decides that suing an old man for $600,000 is the right answer. WRONG! MPAA, please demonstrate the damages you incurred as a result of this kid downloading these four movies, three of which he already owned. So you lost out on $20 because the kid didn’t buy the DVD from Best Buy. Fine, then sue him for $20. Or, maybe the movie industry should learn how to embrace technology and get people on their side instead of making national headlines by suing senior citizens for ungodly amounts of money.
Thanks for letting us post comments, - very cool of you.
I work online with my own home based business website.
I have a website. It pretty much covers video downloads related stuff.
Cheers for now:)