This week, the Paper Version of Unfair Park features a longer look at a guy who's already turned up here a few times over the past few months: Denton lawyer and Internet porn pirate hunter Evan Stone.
The story details how Stone began his practice last summer, with a federal suit against 65 John Doe defendants -- listed anonymously because he didn't have names or physical addresses for the alleged pirates, just their IP addresses -- followed by settlement offers in the mail.
Pay $1,500 or $2,500, the letters offered, and the suit could go away without anyone knowing you'd been watching and sharing a triple-X Avatar parody. Refuse to play along, though, and you could end up served with a federal suit, named in federal court as a consumer of gay German porn.
Out of more than a dozen cases, with thousands of defendants, that only happened once -- to the guy whose cautionary tale begins this week's story -- and not one of these massive John Doe cases has even made it to trial. But as the story's comments thread suggests, those settlement letters keeping Stone in business look like nothing so much as blackmail.
In the story, Stone recalls first hearing about the anonymous mass-suit strategy in an ArsTechnica story early last summer -- but as commenters have pointed out, the English firm ACS:Law had already gotten into trouble across the Atlantic for running a similar operation. Of course, the leak of over 5,000 names and addresses tied to their peer-to-peer porn piracy cases probably didn't earn them any goodwill.
Here in the States, it's still an open question whether these suits will fly in federal court. Judges in West Virginia, and in Stone's cases here in Dallas, have said lawyers can't just throw thousands of defendants together in a single suit for BitTorrent sharing. A judge in Washington, though, recently disagreed. (Detractors will point out that the judge, Beryl Howell, was a lobbyist for the recording industry before she made it to the bench.)
For more detail on just how those IP addresses are tracked for a case, it's worth reading this court filing in Stone's first case, from Eric Green of Irving-based Remove Your Content -- one of a handful of freelance enforcement agents working with film producers and lawyers to make these cases happen.
Only recently, Stone's decided to focus on mainstream films -- independent, non-adult ones -- but it's still an interesting time for the industry, with porn producers banding together more than ever to come up with an answer to piracy. Two great recent stories cover the hit the industry's taken from piracy -- one in Portfolio, about the advent of YouPorn, and Susannah Breslin's self-published look at what's left of the industry, "They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They?"