US judge dismisses ‘bullying’ studio pirate claims

A federal judge has dismissed a movie producer’s Internet piracy complaint against 34 Oregon citizens, saying the company was unfairly using the court’s subpoena power in a “reverse class-action suit” to save on legal expenses and possibly to intimidate defendants into paying thousands of dollars for viewing a movie that can be bought or rented for less than $10.

The suit involves the 2012 movie “Maximum Conviction” starring Steven Seagal and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, the Medford Mail Tribune reported.

Voltage Pictures LLC, of Los Angeles, sought up to $180,000 in damages from each of the defendants accused of downloading the 2012 movie using peer-to-peer technology such as BitTorrent.

Voltage said the defendants lived in Medford, Talent, Central Point, Shady Cove, Klamath Falls and Brookings. Statewide, nearly 600 people had participated in copyright infringement, the company alleged.

US District Judge Ann Aiken said the company had unfairly lumped the plaintiffs together to save more than $200,000 in court costs, and to possibly intimidate them into paying $7,500. A Blu-ray/DVD combo of the movie, she noted, can be obtained for $9 at Amazon.com, and a digital rental is just $3.99.

Aiken said technologies such as BitTorrent are “anonymous and stealthy tools” that allow large-scale copyright infringement. But she said the defendants weren’t equally culpable: Some had unsecured IP addresses, others allowed only downloading and prohibited uploading, while others were associated with institutional accounts such as businesses or schools with numerous users.

The judge said cases such as Voltage’s allow plaintiffs to “use the courts’ subpoena powers to troll for quick and easy settlements.” She cited a letter sent to defendants that asks $7,500, saying that amount would increase up to $150,000 without prompt payment.

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