Even with some notable victories early on this year, it has to be said that there’s still plenty of piracy to go around. Unfortunately there are fewer names to blame, with a lot of illegal downloads linked only to IP address, a connection location with limited ability to identify its user. Anonymous pirates are a problem synonymous with the digital age, and solutions have been hard to come by.
But that hasn’t stopped the creative streak of Hollywood going to work to stop those who steal their work. Despite a seemingly dead end, legally-speaking, the studios responsible for some of Hollywood’s biggest 2014 titles have found an interesting solution: sue “John Doe.”
In the most recent case linked above, thousands of John Does in Oregon are being sued for copyright infringement of Dumb and Dumber To, and the resulting harm inflicted upon the rights holder by piracy. The movie, starring Jim Carrey, was one of last year’s more anticipated titles having built on the cult status of the 1994 original.
Back then it was fighting physical bootlegs and the more quantifiable criminal element who sold them that made up the anti-piracy fight. In some ways that era can now be looked back on fondly, given the complexity of pursuing pirates in the digital age.
The complicated web of connections, different users across different types of devices, and managing the barrier between our right to privacy and identifying online activity that breaks the law mean that the game has changed entirely for rights holders. Protecting intellectual property now is a completely different proposition than it was back then and the law has struggled to keep pace with the rapid advances in technology.
But back to fighting piracy in 2015, and action against anonymous pirates is not without precedent.
Before this instance we saw action taken against some unknown pirates of Expendables 3, which was one of last year’s most high-profile victims of pre-release piracy. Rights holders in this case pursued similar litigation against anonymous defendants, essentially targeting the accused parties by IP address rather than personal identification. When the movie hasn’t even come out yet such action becomes even more urgent, as the illegal viewing options are temporarily the only way to see the title. For this reason, filmmakers are eager to explore any ideas that could curb this kind of activity.
Although action against the anonymous rarely results in significant financial compensation in and of itself, the statement that it makes is almost more important than the lost revenue.
Much like the record industry taking a stand against a few individuals who pirated on a massive scale during the last decade, movie makers are drawing a line in the sand to make it clear that they see and act against all forms of copyright infringement. Even if certain cases don’t manage to uncover those anonymously accused of piracy, the potential for a court to side in favor of the creator and require their ISP to identify the offender is enough of a threat to convince some viewers to choose a legal video-on demand channel.
After all, with so many legal and convenient ways to watch, why would anyone take the risk?