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FAQ for Bittorrent Cases: Or, “I got a letter from my ISP and…”

Last updated, by Graham W. Syfert, Esq., on 07/14/2012

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Having received hundreds of phone calls from individuals targeted for illegal downloading via bittorrent or websites, I have narrowed down a number of specific issues and illustrations that I thought might be helpful to those out there suffering from attorneys engaged in speculative invoicing and extortion.

This FAQ covers about 75% of the answers to the questions posed in the hundreds of phone calls and e-mails I have made in the past year and a half.   I have spent roughly 190 hours on the phone with hundreds of John Does since 2010, not to mention the clients who have come to my office to meet with me.

These illustrations are informative in Bittorrent cases, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act cases, or any case where an identity is being sought by the copyright holder except when someone is pursued individually. It applies to books, movies, and music torrent downloads. It is intended as nothing more than my own statements regarding these cases, and it explains the fundamental questions and gives and overview of the practices and procedures.

An estimated 30% of all people accused of downloads turn out to not be the infringer.

1.  I received a letter from my ISP (Comcast, Brighthouse, etc.) saying that my identity will be revealed unless I file an objection within XX amount of days, what does this mean?

This is where most people start out.  If the word John Doe is used in the title of the case, or “Does 1-13” or “Swarm of Bittorrent Users” or some other name implying multiple defendants, this applies to you. Unless it is some other form of rare case, it means you have been accused of downloading copyrighted material (i.e. indie movies, pornography) either using bittorrent through a bittorrent client or illegally accessing it through a website.

The XX day deadline presented in the letter from your ISP, is the deadline by which you or your ISP has to file an objection, or else your identity would be revealed.  All records held by your ISP relating to your identity (mail, e-mail address, phone number) are subject to being turned over to the Plaintiff’s lawyer.  The Plaintiff’s lawyer is the fellow who will coordinate with the copyright holder, the name set above the “v. John Does” in the title, to determine what kind of settlement to try and get from you.

2.    How do I know who the Plaintiff’s lawyer is?

This part can be a little tricky, because some Plaintiff’s lawyers trying to get your information purposefully obfuscate and hide their identity.   Other times this is the fault of the ISP for not including the right and full documentation available to them.  

At the top of the page, one of the documents should include the word “Subpoena” and likely the name of your ISP.  If you read the document, you will see that it asks for the information to be delivered somewhere.  It usually includes the name of the law firm and/or an address where the information is to be sent.     If you found this page, you’re probably familiar with the internet enough to use this to begin searching for who is targeting you.  You can find information on the Plaintiffs lawyers and their tactics all over the internet.

If you ever receive papers that already contain your name somewhere in the subpoena, the summons, complaint, or the order, contact an attorney local to you immediately. In Florida, these papers would be required to be served on you by hand.

Some attorneys collecting this information have included waivers of service. Do not sign anything without an attorney

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