What To Do If You Receive a Copyright Infringement Letter From Your Internet Service Provider (ISP)
If you’ve recently received a copyright infringement letter from your Internet service provider, you’re not alone. Recently, there’s been a rise in the number of copyright infringement lawsuits filed across the country involving alleged copyright infringement or “piracy of content” via peer-to-peer (P2P) and file sharing services such as BitTorrent and The Pirate Bay. A recent report has identified over 220,000 individuals as having been sued since mid-2010 in mass BitTorrent lawsuits, many of them based upon alleged downloading of copyrighted works.
Typically, plaintiffs involved in these cases file suit against a series of “John Does” alleging the illegal downloading of images, blockbuster movies and oftentimes, adult-themed videos. In their complaints, plaintiffs will often include a list of Internet protocol (IP) addresses that were used to engage in the illegal transfer of copyrighted materials.
How will a plaintiff get my name and contact information?
Through the use of court-ordered subpoenas, plaintiffs will request the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) (i.e., Comcast, Verizon, Cox, Time Warner) to turn over the individual names and contact information of the Internet account holders associated with the IP addresses that were identified in their complaint. Oftentimes, the ISPs will file motions to quash the subpoenas (motions asking the court to relieve them from having to turn over the requested information). If an ISP does not file a motion to quash, or the court rules in favor of the plaintiff, the ISP is then ordered to produce the requested information. Before it turns this information over to the plaintiff, the ISP will send a letter to the account holder that unless such individual takes legal action, the ISP will provide the plaintiff with their name and contact information.
What should you do if you receive a letter from your ISP?
1) Don’t panic, but don’t ignore the letter either. More likely than not, you have a few weeks to make a decision. Use this time to learn more about your options and your situation. Learning more about the facts of the case will shed more light on the types of options that you have. Ignoring the letter won’t make it go away and could limit your chances of success.
2) Don’t reach out to the plaintiff or its attorney. You should not contact the plaintiff or plaintiff’s counsel without assistance of a copyright attorney to help you. Plaintiffs’ counsel often will harass and threaten Internet subscribers who reach out and identify themselves in an attempt to plead their case as to why they were wrongly targeted. I compare this situation to the well-known carnival game: Whac-A-Mole. Plaintiffs’’ counsel is likely to make an example out of you in order to coerce the others if you come forward and identify yourself.
3) Educate yourself. More likely than not, the letter you received from your ISP came from their legal department. The letter is likely to provide some basic facts about the case, including the title of the litigation, the name of the plaintiff and the location of the federal court that the case is being in. Sometimes, the letter isn’t entirely accurate as to your specific situation – these are typically form letters and may incorrectly identify you as a defendant when you aren’t an actual party to the lawsuit. This is an important fact to find out because it will determine what judicial rights and options you have to prevent your information from being disclosed.
4) Prepare a list of valid reasons why you’re not at fault. By educating yourself about the specific facts of the case, importantly, the facts concerning what the copyrighted material was, when it was downloaded and by what means, you are likely to be in a better position to provide evidence to your attorney as to why you may have been mistakenly targeted. Reasons such as using an unprotected wireless network, having multiple tenants in an apartment building share a single IP address, or being out of town on the day and time of the alleged infringement have been determined to be valid reasons in various jurisdictions for not being liable.
5) Speak to an experienced attorney. In addition to the shock of receiving a letter from the ISP, you may be faced with the fear or worry of being publicly harassed or exposed due to the sensitive or adult-themed nature of the illegally downloaded material. These factors can significantly interfere with your ability to objectively assess your options and plan the most effective course of action. You should consider working with a copyright infringement attorney that has experience counseling clients in similar situations. An experienced attorney can help you decide what your best options are and develop a game plan that will increase the odds of a favorable result.