Refusing a request for an extension by prosecutors, Judge Beryl Howell has effectively put an abrupt end to one of the largest anti-piracy lawsuits in history. Interestingly this decision comes from a Judge who is a former RIAA lobbyist.
The now infamous "reverse class-action" lawsuit by Voltage Pictures targeted 24,583 individuals who were alleged to have illegally downloaded Hurt Locker, an Oscar-worthy flick that barely broke even at the box office with less than $13 million in revenue. Those accused were being sued for an average amount of $2500-$3000 each. That means the studio stood to collect as much as $70 million or so in damages -- enough dough to make any movie a box office hit.
When nearly 20,000 of those people accused were added earlier this year, it became the largest anti-piracy lawsuit in history, edging out a former record set by The Expendables. The Expendables case targeting over 23,000 downloaders was eventually dropped by the United States Copyright Group.
Because of the film studio's "shoot first, ask questions later" approach, the case has been slowly unraveling as prosecutors scurry to link IP addresses to the identities of suspected culprits. Just a few months ago, an unsatisfied court forced the hand of Voltage Pictures, reducing the 24,583 defendants to a mere 2,300. Because ISPs have been very slow to comply with IP lookup requests, the studio has required more than the 120 days allotted to serve suspected pirates subpoenas. As a result, the studio appealed for an extension but was ultimately denied.
Despite the studio's legal set-back, Voltage Pictures is still expected to personally contact defendants in an attempt to retrieve claimed damages by way of private settlements. Defendants may still be tempted to pay up in order to avoid future, potential lawsuits targeting downloaders on an individual basis.
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