Just when you thought the last round of RIAA and MPAA file sharing lawsuits were finally over, we have started to see a resurgence of such lawsuits. Sometimes people ask me "what should I do if I get sued by the RIAA or MPAA," or even worse, "Help! I'm being sued by the RIAA or MPAA-- what should I do?" Well, here is a brief discussion involving such topics.
Q: What's the process? How did these people find me?
A: First, the copyright holder (i.e. RIAA, MPAA, etc.) generally hires a third party "investigator" to obtain the IP addresses of individuals that are purportedly infringing on materials. Media Sentry is a name of one such 3rd party that comes to mind. The methods such organizations use to obtain the IP addresses vary, but they are usually fairly primitive, and can be as simple as having an individual employee sign on the P2P program and take a screen shot of the IP addresses to which the investigator is able to connect.
After obtaining the IP address of the purported infringer, usually the RIAA, MPAA, or other copyright holder will usually initiate a lawsuit against "John Doe", subpoena the relevant ISP to obtain information regarding the owner of such IP address, and amend the lawsuit to include the alleged infringer's real identity.
Sometimes the ISP will notify the customer of the subpoena and give the customer a chance to fight the subpoena. Unfortunately, there have been some recent troubling accounts detailing ISPs simply handing over requested information to copyright holders without due process of the court. Pretermitting the legality of such action and whether such action will expose any such ISP to their own liability, one thing is certain: it will simply expedite any lawsuit against you.
Q: I'm being sued and I shared the files. What should I do?
A: Unfortunately, you may have to bite the bullet and settle the case. Nonetheless, it may be prudent to have a consultation with an attorney, because depending on the surrounding circumstances, you may still have some viable defenses. For instance, if you were using a bittorent client that allows pure leeching (e.g., BitLord) and you did not upload any data, then you may have a viable argument that no infringement took place since your conduct did not result in any dissemination or distribution of such material. Similarly, if you merely downloaded content that you already own to have a duplicate copy on your computer (and you didn't upload any such content), you may also have an argument that your conduct is protected as "fair use".
Q: I'm being sued but I didn't share any files. What should I do?
A: In such a scenario, you might want to roll up your sleeves and get ready for a fight. Taking action early is ideal, as an attorney may even be able to persuade the copyright holder to drop the lawsuit and cease pursuing you. Regardless of whether you were actually served with a lawsuit or notified by your ISP of a subpoena to turn over your information, you need to act quickly. If you were actually served with a lawsuit, then you generally only have 30 days to respond to a lawsuit. Don't think an attorney will be able to initiate a strong defense if you speak with one on day 29.
Q: I received a settlement letter in the mail. It tells me to visit a certain website or call a certain number. Should I?
A: Unless you committed copyright infringement and you are set on settling, I would be hesitant to simply visit such a website or call any number provided. I heard of one sneaky company that had an ISP forward settlement letters to purported infringers that provided a website such individuals could visit to settle the case. Once at the website, the site requested that these individuals enter the confirmation code on the letter, as well as some personal information (e.g., the individual's name and address) before being provided with a settlement figure. Guess what? This company now is able to skip the intermediary steps as it has the name and address of any individual it needs to sue in the event that such an individual does not want to settle the case.
Q: Can I fight this on my own?
A: A recent article I read detailed that someone tried to fight a John Doe subpeona and filed an opposing motion while using his real name. This probably is not the best idea. It's probably not the best idea to try to fight these organizations on your own, either. Personal views aside, the RIAA/MPAA have some competent attorneys on their side, and fighting these organizations without the assistance of competent counsel can produce disastorous results.
Q: Should I just ignore the lawsuit?
A: Posing this question here, the answer is simple and seems obvious: never just ignore a lawsuit. Still, you would be surprised how often people ignore the lawsuits until it is too late to do anything about it. Sometimes I speak with individuals who, after recieving a default judgment in their case, decide it's time to seek the assistance of counsel or fight the lawsuit. Unfortunately, at that stage in the process, there is usually very little you can do about it. In general, the quicker you take action, the more options you and your attorney will have available to dispute liability and fight the lawsuit.