By Eric Pettifor
Q: How difficult would it be for the copyright holder of a film to get the IP addresses of people sharing that film over bittorrent?
A: Easy as pie. Here’s a portion of a screen capture from my bittorrent client, ktorrent, showing the ip addresses of people sharing a popular file on my computer right now.
I’ve blurred the ip addresses in the image in order to protect the innocent until proven guilty.
The relationship between the IP address on your computer and packets of information sent on the internet is similar to the address of your residence and letters sent by post — both letters and packets must know where they’re going if they’re ever to get there. If you want to access or share data on the internet, you can’t be without one, which is why it is difficult to be absolutely anonymous. Really, the best you can do is use someone else’s IP address — either by connecting through a proxy which, while it sees your IP address, displays its own to everyone else, or by connecting via someone else’s IP address, such as that of the wireless service provided by a local cafe or neighbour who has left their wireless unprotected by a password.
So why then haven’t studios gone after people using bittorrent? Surely the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which represents the big studios, would have an interest. Perhaps they don’t want the negative image that the RIAA and its member labels (Sony, Universal, EMI, Warner, etc.) have acquired by going after the people who are often their own customers. Or perhaps, since they’re experiencing record profits, they don’t really feel a need.
But a smaller studio, Voltage, has filed a copyright complaint against the currently unknown holders of 5,000 IP addresses who used bittorrent to snag a copy of their movie The Hurt Locker. Lawsuits for 10 other small films have been filed by a company called the U.S. Copyright Group.
The message they want to send is probably that you shouldn’t take free copies of movies via bittorrent. But in practical terms the message may be more specific, namely avoid the movies of litigious studios like Voltage and those represented by the US Copyright Group, including Cinepro Pictures International (The Steam Experiment), Far Cry Productions (Far Cry), G2 Productions (Uncross the Stars), Animationwerks (Gray Man) and Braeburn Entertainment (Call of the Wild in 3D). It shouldn’t be too hard, since none of these movies is exactly rated highly.
I just hope this doesn’t represent a new business model — create a crappy movie, then recoup your losses by suing file sharers en masse. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will ISP’s cooperate in associating names with IP addresses? Will those targetted simply settle, rather than go to court? If they don’t settle, will the courts react negatively to being used as part of a business model intended to generate revenue through litigation? Or will they award the sort of over-the-top damages that they have in music sharing cases? Stay tuned.