Last week, the first BitTorrent copyright infringement case over pornographic videos in the country went to trial, and a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled in favor of the producers, finding damages of $112,500 related to one defendant.
Two of the three defendants -- only a trio remained after the original 52 were winnowed down -- sued by Malibu Media settled about a month before the bellwether trial, admitting liability and maintaining their anonymity with confidentiality agreements regarding their agreed-upon damages. The remaining defendant, who had perjured himself and concealed evidence, admitted liability on the eve of trial, but his damages were left to be determined by the court.
Producer Bryan White was handed a $112,500 verdict, plus attorney fees, for five infringements. That's $22,500 per infringement, which U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania arrived at by trebling the minimum statutory award of $750, standard practice among federal judges, and increasing it tenfold.
The attorney fees could easily double that figure -- Keith Lipscomb estimated that the hours from last month alone would total $100,000. Lipscomb, of Lipscomb, Eisenberg & Baker in Miami, represented Malibu Media.
"A judge must act strongly," Judge Baylson said before issuing the verdict, explaining, "There does have to be a penalty aspect to this."
BitTorrent software is a digital file-sharing service, swapping movies or music that have been uploaded among swarms of users, each of whom have their computers simultaneously downloading and uploading different parts of the large files.
Because of the way the file-sharing system works -- no one computer or person shares any one file -- legal experts had speculated that a BitTorrent piracy case could never succeed in court. Complicating this case was the issue of whether pornography is copyrightable (the judge found that it was), and whether it's possible to tie a particular person to an IP address or an Internet account.
Mr. Lipscomb summed up the case, saying of the bellwether trial, "The whole point is to sound the bell to other defendants."