With the recent explosion of SOPA and PIPA in the news media this week, the term “digital content piracy” has received a ton of exposure and left many people wondering if they themselves are guilty of this very crime.
An online pirate is anyone who reproduces the work of another without authorization to do so. Ever downloaded a song from Napster, Limewire or BitTorrent? How about when you burned that DVD so you could have your own copy? These works are protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Most people who download these types of content without permission from the copyright owner think that they could never get caught. Or, they believe the site they downloaded the material from is the guilty party. This is so far from true. Not only can you get caught, but you can personally be faced with a massive lawsuit.
Did you know that every time you download or upload content your computer’s IP address can be traced directly back to you?
In a famous recent case, Voltage Pictures went after 24,000 people who downloaded a copy of the film Hurt Locker from a bit torrent website. The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were required to give up the names of the users who downloaded the content and lawyers began knocking on doors. The Copyright Group demanded payment from the content pirates each between $3,000 and $5,000 to avoid being sued for $150,000. Voltage ended up taking 5,000 of the accused pirates to court.
These “content pirates” were everyday people just like me and you. They were not executives at YouTube or the CEO of Napster. They were our neighbors, cousins, babysitters and friends.
So, can you be sued for downloading copyrighted material from the web? The answer is yes. You can be caught and held liable. And since “content piracy” is not listed as a covered peril on a personal liability insurance policy- I wouldn’t depend on your liability coverage to help you with the legal costs.
So next time you sit down to download a movie or music for “free” from the Internet, you might want to think about the price tag that could actually come along with it. I’ve never seen the Hurt Locker- but I think it’s safe to assume it’s not worth a $5,000 fine- better yet a $150,000 lawsuit.