In addition to being the leading source for BitTorrent news, the Dutch website TorrentFreak publishes articles such as "5 Ways to Download Torrents Anonymously." But even Ernesto Van Der Sar, the pseudonymous author behind the site, doesn't mince words when asked how many of the John Does are responsible for cyber-theft.

"On average, 95 percent or more of the cases are accurate," Van Der Sar says from his home in Amsterdam. "Someone in that household probably downloaded that file. But if you have four persons in a home, it's basically impossible to determine who downloaded what. And there's also the issue of open Wi-Fi and shared networks."

Of course, the lawyers leading the charge against the John Does argue that leaving a wireless network unprotected is like being an accessory to a crime. "It's like if you take a pistol, put ammunition in it, leave it in the front yard, and somebody uses it to shoot somebody," Steele says. "Yeah, you're going to be held responsible for that."

Chris Whetzel
Chris Whetzel

Unfortunately for Steele, the law doesn't quite work that way. At Harvard's Center for Internet and Society, Abrams points out that the accused John Doe is supposed to be the person who clicked the button that initiated a download. But it's cost-prohibitive for misidentified John Does to go to court and prove it was somebody else behind the keyboard.

"If people say, 'I didn't do it,' that's perfectly OK, but you have to get in front of a judge and jury," Abrams says. "That's a very expensive proposition. Unless somebody wants to prove a point, it's not going to make economic sense to take it to a jury."

While numerous John Does have fought to remain anonymous by asking a judge to "quash" the subpoenas filed against their IP addresses, thus far only one person has had the resources and inclination to wage a full-scale counterattack against his accusers. In February, a Massachusetts man named Dmitriy Shirokov filed a class-action lawsuit against Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver on behalf of himself and 4,576 other John Does accused of downloading a German-made film titled Far Cry. Shirokov is seeking $5 million in damages from the attorneys, arguing that they engaged in "fraud and extortion" by pressuring him for settlement payments and intentionally overstating the possible repercussions of not paying up.

"It's clear that this is an injustice, and our client wanted to see something done about it," says Shirokov's attorney, Dan Booth. "The statutory damages — what they are threatening people with and saying, 'If you don't settle, we may go after you in a court of law seeking these damages' — they reference cases that just don't apply. They have no relationship to what they could actually get in this case. They're not playing it straight. The law doesn't support their claims."

Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver are fighting back in court, and the outcome of the case against Shirokov and his co-defendants is still pending. On that front, Washington, D.C., Judge Rosemary Collyer allowed Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver to subpoena cable companies for information about the John Does but later remarked in court that she regrets the decision.

"It's clear to me that not all the named people are actually sitting at the computer downloading," Collyer told Dunlap and his colleague Nicholas Kurtz during a hearing last June. "I'm feeling a little bit like I was terribly naive, to be perfectly frank, when you filed this, and I just blithely signed the subpoena and headed you off into the wilderness. And I think I did that wrong. I think we need to rethink how you're going to go about this."

On July 7, the five largest Internet service providers and the heavyweights of the movie, music and TV industries announced that they have devised a novel strategy to combat piracy: Educate, don't sue.

An alphabet-soup coalition — which includes the RIAA, MPAA and IFTA — will monitor BitTorrent file transfers and report offending IP addresses to cable companies. Under a new "Copyright Alert System," the ISPs will then send a warning to the offending subscriber stating that their account "may have been misused for content theft" and that "consequences could result." The potential pirates will also receive information about "the abundant sources of lawful music, film and TV content." The ISPs will issue up to six such warnings before they resort to "mitigation measures," such as throttling back the bandwidth of the infringing IP address.

The underlying theory behind the alert system is that many parents or people with open wireless networks are likely oblivious to the rampant piracy being perpetuated on their dime, and "subscribers have a right to know when their Internet accounts are being used for content theft." According to the website for the new Center for Copyright Information, recent studies conducted in Norway, France and England found that up to 70 percent of users stopped downloading illegally once notified that their ISP was on to them.

However, attorneys on both sides of the John Doe battle are skeptical about the plan. "It's a step forward," says Stone, the north Texas pirate pursuer. "But it's also a bit of a fucking joke."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
St. Louis Concert Tickets