Warner Bros Denies “Abuse” in Piracy Settlement Scheme
Sending $20 piracy fines to alleged copyright infringers has landed Warner Bros. in federal court. The Hollywood studio is accused of harassment and abuse of legal process, but denies any wrongdoing.
Two years ago Warner Bros. teamed up with Rightscorp to send small fines to U.S. Internet subscribers whose accounts were used to share copyrighted material.
At the time the Hollywood studio informed us that it was meant as a “discouragement of future unauthorized activity,” but the speculative invoicing strategy was met with great criticism.
Hoping to stop the practices, several Internet subscribers joined a class action lawsuit against Rightscorp and its clients. The complaint includes a long list of violations regarding Rightscorp’s debt collection practices, violating both the FDCPA and the Rosenthal Act.
“Among other wrongful conduct: Rightscorp has engaged in telephone harassment and abuse; made various false and misleading representations; engaged in unfair collections practices; failed to provide validation and required notices relating to the debts..,” the complaint reads.
In addition, the complaint raises the issue of Rightscorp’s controversial DMCA subpoenas which demand that smaller ISPs should hand over personal details of their subscribers. Thus far most ISPs have complied, but according to the complaint these requests are a “sham and abuse” of the legal process.
In a recent filing at a California District Court, Warner Bros. has now responded to the allegations for the first time. The movie studio submitted a motion asking the court to strike or dismiss the abuse of process claims (pdf).
According to Warner Bros and Rightscorp the settlement demand letters are protected under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. As a result, the claimed abuse would violate the company’s free speech and petitioning rights.
The DMCA subpoena was also obtained correctly, the defendants claim. Despite previous rulings to the contrary, Rightscorp and Warner believe that their ‘novel’ interpretation of the law may prove to be successful.
“…the subpoena complained of was used to identify a copyright infringer — which is the express purpose of DMCA subpoenas as interpreted by the courts of this Circuit — and therefore does not constitute an ‘abuse’ of process,” the motion reads.
Finally, Warner and Rightscorp argue that the alleged abuse of process should be protected under the litigation privilege, which immunizes them from liability.
” …even assuming, contrary to the law, that misuse of a subpoena could constitute an abuse of process, Plaintiff’s claim here is barred by the litigation privilege. California’s broad litigation privilege immunizes lawyers and parties from any liability arising from litigation-related communications,” the defendants write.
While the lawsuit is still in its early stages, it will be crucial for the future of the piracy settlement scheme in the United States. But even if this legal battle is won, there will be more trouble ahead.
A few weeks ago the company and its clients were also sued for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by placing intimidating robocalls and text messages.
Warner Bros. and Rightscorp’s current motion to strike and dismiss the abuse claims will be heard by the court early next month.