In a class action lawsuit, you often see a group of people that could not take on a big corporation on their own come together to fight a wrong that has happened to all of them. Sometimes you get ripped off for $100 and there’s nothing you can do about it. But if 10,000 people get ripped off then a class action lawsuit can allow you to join together and seek justice. The little guy can’t take on a big corporation on their own, but together they can’t be bullied.
The opposite situation occurs when record companies or movie studios sue people who they allege have illegally downloaded music or as is more common recently, movies. About once a week I hear from someone who has received a letter from a law firm accusing them of downloading something illegally and offering them the opportunity to settle for a few thousand dollars.
Now some of these callers knowingly broke the law and that’s certainly the risk you take when you do that. But often I get called from people that swear that they don’t even know how to download something or have no idea what the attorneys are talking about. The lawsuits are almost always the same. They sue John Doe who is identified by an internet service provider number, then go after the service provider to find a subscriber name. Once they have the name, they seek a settlement and threaten a six figure judgment if there is no settlement.
Strangely enough, many of these cases are being brought by porn companies. They make more money off of the lawsuits than they do by actually selling the film. And those companies are in a great position because many people don’t want it to be known publicly that they are viewing porn so they settle to make it go away.
The problem to me with these cases is that while the companies may be able to prove the person that pays the internet service provider, they can’t prove who actually downloaded the movie. It could have been your neighbor who stole your internet. It could be a friend of your kid. It could be a co-worker. It could be that they have the number wrong.
I’m not ranting that people should be able to download movies. That’s bad for our economy. But these suits are purely meant to deter this bad behavior even at the expense of innocents who can’t afford to pay a few thousand dollars to make a lawsuit go away.
Now you could fight them, but lawyer fees would cost more than what they are asking for. A handful of people have tried to fight it on their own and ended up with judgments against them in the six figures and in one case that I’m aware of they got a seven figure verdict.
If you are hit with one of these letters, the law is really not on your side. Lobbyists have gotten the laws written in a way that usually works out in favor of the big guy. Until that changes you are better off just paying a settlement (make sure you get a written release of ALL claims) or filing bankruptcy. Just be glad that you don’t have the job as a lawyer to handle these cases all day. I can’t imagine another area of law that would be more boring.
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