Largest ever BitTorrent lawsuit targets 23,000 file sharers

The-ExpendablesIf you downloaded a copy of Sylvester Stallone action flick the Expendables through BitTorrent, you may soon find yourself in the hot seat of the biggest illegal-downloading case in US history, reports Wired.

A federal judge has agreed to a request from the US Copyright Group, which is representing the producers of the Expendables, to subpoena Internet service providers to cough up the identities of everyone who downloaded the 2010 Hollywood blockbuster. The number of IP addresses included in the subpoenas, said to be delivered this week, currently amounts to 23,322. But that number is destined to rise as new downloader identities are revealed.

The US Copyright Group (USCG), a business started by Washington DC-based law firm Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver in early 2010, has launched a massive amount of similar lawsuits against peer-to-peer (P2P) users for downloading other movies, like The Hurt Locker and Familiar Strangers. By September 2010, USCG had filed suits against 16,200 people, which were disputed by a variety of groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and Time Warner, an ISP.

Because of its anti-P2P business model, USCG found itself in the crosshairs of hacker group Anonymous, which launched a distributed denial of service attack against the website of Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver in July 2010, as part of Operation Payback.  Around the same time as OpPayback, torrent-supporters discovered that, ironically, the USCG had “stolen” its entire website, code and all, from a competitor’s website — an infraction the USCG quickly tried to fix.

The USCG’s business is a lucrative one. There are currently more than 140,000 BitTorrent downloaders being targeted by lawsuits in the US. Rather than take the lawsuit all the way through a court proceeding, downloaders often cough up around $3,000 per infringement — which can add up to a bundle of cash quite quickly, especially when 23,000 people are on the shakedown list.

According to the US Copyright Act, prosecutors can seek up to $150,000 in damages, per infringement.