Uploading just over a handful of movies to a BitTorrent site has turned into a financial disaster for a man from Upper Marlboro, Maryland. A federal judge entered a default judgment in favor of adult company Flava Works this week, awarding the company $1.5 million in damages. Anwar Ogiste, who failed to defend himself, shared a total of seven “clips” putting the damages at more than $214,000 per infringed movie.
BitTorrent piracy is widespread and some copyright holders in the United States have begun to aggressively enforce their rights via legal action.
In most instances the resulting lawsuits end in a settlement of a few thousand dollars. However, over the past few weeks several judges have awarded monstrous damages claims to a maker of adult movies.
Earlier this month Kywan Fisher from Virginia and Cormelian Brown of Delaware were ordered to pay $1.5 million each for sharing 10 movies, the maximum statutory damages possible under copyright law.
Yesterday there was another default judgment due to another defendant failing to defend himself. However, in this case the infringer, Anwar Ogiste from Maryland, must pay $1.5 million for sharing “just” 7 movies.
The order handed down by Illinois District Court Judge George Lindberg is by far the largest file-sharing related damage award in U.S. history.
As with the other two cases, this is not one of the classic mass-BitTorrent lawsuits. All defendants had paid accounts at the website of Flava Works where they could legally download movies. However, they were explicitly forbidden to share the movies with others, and this is where things went wrong for them.
Ogiste was accused of sharing seven movie “clips” on a popular gay torrent site, and Flava had more than just an IP-address as evidence. The company was able to trace the illicit copies directly back to his paid account through a unique code embedded in the videos.
“In this case, every time the Defendant downloaded a copy of a copyrighted video from Plaintiff’s website, it inserts an encrypted code that is only assigned to Defendant. The encrypted code for Defendant is: ‘oxfglyrf’,” Flava explained to the court.
Since Ogiste failed to respond to the accusations the copyright holder asked for a “very reasonable” default judgment of no less than $1.5 million, or $214,000 per infringed movie.
“Plaintiff seeks total statutory damages of $1,500,0000 for the infringements of its copyrights. Plaintiff, Flava Works, Inc.’s request for an award of $1,500,000 is very reasonable given that Plaintiff’s copyrighted videos were downloaded — or infringed on – thousands of time by third parties on gay-torrents.net,” Flava informed the court.
According to Flava the amount is fair because the movies in question were downloaded a total of 6,632 times. Although it’s debatable whether statutory damages can be demanded for every infringement, the movie studio believed that they could potentially have asked for nearly a billion dollars.
“$150,000 times 6,632 infringements is well over $1,500,000. Thus, Plaintiff, Flava Works, Inc.’s request for an award of $1,500,000 is very reasonable,” they write.
And Judge George Lindberg agreed.
The verdict will be welcomed by Flava and the many other copyright holders involved in BitTorrent lawsuits in the United States. It’s the ultimate pressure method to convince defendants to settle, and as we witnessed last week these verdicts are already used as such.
For Anwar Ogiste the ruling most likely means paying off a debt for many years.