By Eriq Gardner
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The war against movie piracy is getting downright explosive.
The producers of "The Hurt Locker" are preparing a massive lawsuit against tens of thousands of people who pirated the Oscar-winning drama online. The case could be filed as soon as Wednesday.
Voltage Pictures, the film's financier, has signed up with the U.S. Copyright Group, a Washington D.C.-based venture that has begun a litigation campaign targeting users of the BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) service.
"The Hurt Locker" first leaked onto the web more than five months before its U.S. release last June, and was a hot item in P2P circles after it won six Oscars in March, including best picture and director. Despite the accolades, the film grossed only about $16 million in the U.S.
The U.S. Copyright Group has already filed lawsuits over about 10 other films, including German filmmaker Uwe Boll's "Far Cry," "Call of the Wild 3D" and "Uncross the Stars." Reports of those suits raised alarms in some circles, whereas others joked that the movie industry was merely suing those with poor taste.
"You can guess that relative to the films we've pursued already, the order of magnitude is much higher" with "Hurt Locker," said Thomas Dunlap, a lawyer at the firm.
If the addition of "Locker" to this litigation campaign could shake things up, so too could news about cooperation by Internet Service Providers (ISP) in this escalating fight. After filing the lawsuits, the plaintiffs must subpoena ISP records in an effort to match IP addresses with illicit behavior on BitTorrent.
According to lawyers at Dunlap's firm, 75% of ISPs have cooperated fully. Those that have resisted are mostly doing so, they say, because of the amount of work involved in handing over thousands of names. But the clock may be ticking. For example, in the lawsuit over "Far Cry," Comcast has until next Wednesday to file motions to quash subpoenas. By the end of next week, thousands of Comcast subscribers could be turned over.
Of the some 50,000 individuals who have been sued thus far, only three have tried to quash the subpoena. In one instance, a Georgia man tried to invoke the state's shield law protecting journalists from having to disclose their sources. The judge denied the motion. In another instance, a woman successfully got a court to throw out the subpoena because her IP address wasn't listed in the original complaint. Unfortunately for her, the complaint was then amended.
After unmasking individuals who have illegally downloaded films, the U.S. Copyright Group then sends a modest settlement offer. Lawyers at the firm are seeing some returns on the first two lawsuits filed back in January. About 40% have settled, according to the U.S. Copyright Group. Those who haven't settled will be sent another round of settlement offers, and the group promises to eventually serve lawsuits on these individuals.
Since news first broke about the litigation campaign, Dunlap says he's been besieged by e-mails from 20 to 30 independent film groups that have expressed frustration about rampant piracy and interest in joining up. The firm plans to send people to the Cannes Film Festival, where they've already arranged meetings with a number of other film producers to discuss further lawsuits.