As the battle against online piracy intensifies, more and more parties are becoming involved. Now, it seems, another group has entered the fight, and it is one that many hope to never hear from: debt collectors. The way in which one group plans to use debt collectors, however, has many wondering if it is even legal.
The Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG) describes itself as a team of legal and technical experts created to protect copyrighted material. Not only does the group promise to help clients in terms of finding instances of copyright violations, but they also promise to help with collecting monetary damages from offenders. The group's pledge to use debt collectors against copyright violators shows an aggressive stance, and they even vow to begin collection efforts before a judgment is rendered in court.
The CEG website details two ways in which it collects on infringements: either Peer-to-Peer Collect or Web Collect. The first covers sharing networks that offer free downloads of movies, music, and other content. The second covers websites that might display copyrighted logos, images, videos, and more. In both situations, CEG uses similar attack methods. They first use technology to find the supposed violation, and it then goes through a verification process.
If the violation is found to be legitimate, CEG then sends out collection notices via email or certified mail to the offenders. In the case of Peer-to-Peer infringement, individual offenders are directed to a website that details settlement offers. If violators ignore the notice or refuse to pay, CEG offers its clients the services of debt collectors before even going to court.
CEG's mention of debt collectors is something new. While the practice of taking illegal downloaders to court has increased in frequency, the majority of law firms involved in such cases have not resorted to using debt collectors. Many firms have been surprised by CEG's actions, as the legality of the methods have come under scrutiny.
Vincent Howard of the California-based law firm of Howard-Nassiri, stated that using debt collectors prior to a court judgment is premature. Since some of the accused may be found not guilty, paying a settlement for a violation that never occurred would cause many problems down the road. Howard's firm specializes in violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practice Act, which was created to protect consumers against abusive collections efforts.
In recent cases with respect to illegal downloads and file sharing, lawyers representing copyright owners have taken a more drawn-out approach. They usually collect IP addresses of offenders and file formal complaints in federal court, with the defendants going by the name of John Doe. Internet service providers are then subpoenaed for the actual names of the accused. Once obtained, the firms offer settlements to the offenders to avoid further action in court. If the offenders refuse to settle, usually for around $1,000 to $2,000, attorneys then file complaints against them in court once again, this time with their actual names.
Whether or not CEG's practices hold up remains to be seen. If they do work, it is likely that many others who defend copyright owners will resort to the same tactics to clamp down on illegal downloaders.
For more on this topic, visit http://news.cnet.com/8301-31001_3-20020495-261.html?tag=topStories1
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