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Warner Bros. smacks pirates with $20 fines for every stolen movie

According to TorrentFreak, the entertainment company is actively pursuing illegal file-sharers who use Internet service providers not affiliated with the Copyright Alerts System. 


Aja Romano

Internet Culture

Posted on Jun 10, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 1:50 pm CDT

When mediacom giants AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon enacted the “Six Strikes” Copyright Alert System in February, not every Internet service provider (ISP) played along. Millions of Americans who use other services, like Cox or Charter, were thought to be exempted from what many felt was an invasive attempt at blocking Internet piracy.

TorrentFreak is reporting, however, that one media company is still targeting customers of non-participating ISP sites, essentially turning each alleged copyright violation into a $20 fine.

The “Six Strikes” system is designed to gradually tighten the figurative handcuffs around the wrists of downloaders of copyrighted material. While the initial warnings result only in an email notification and an educational tutorial, by the fifth or sixth warning, violators could have their bandwidth throttled.  

By contrast, Warner Bros. is reportedly still targeting consumers who use non-“six strikes” ISPs. Using a copyright-violation-tracking service called RightsCorp, the notice essentially offers to make the user’s fine go away for a one-time $20 fee.

Presumably, the customer who pays the fee would expect Warner Bros. to leave them alone afterwards; but in practice, the opposite case seems to be happening. One redditor who paid the $20 fine found that once RightsFreak connected his or her name with the identifying download info, RightsFreak pressed the user for even more money to pay more alleged violation incidents.

Ironically, had the user done nothing, Warner Bros. would most likely not have been able to contact them directly. TorrentFreak notes the notices are attached to regular Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices, which have very little power unless the rights holder decides to pursue a court order against the individual—a time-consuming and expensive move, unlikely in most cases.

“The notices inform consumers that our content is readily available legitimately through multiple channels, including electronic sell through and video-on-demand services,” Warner Bros. told TorrentFreak in a statement on Friday.

The notices give consumers an opportunity to settle the identified infringement for a very nominal sum of $20 per title infringed–not as a measure of damage, but as a concrete reminder that our content has value and as a discouragement of future unauthorized activity.

Commenters at TorrentFreak were less rosy about Warner Bros.’ assessment of value. “[T]he $20 would be for an inferior version, infested with [Digital Rights Management] and other crap,” one widely upvoted comment opined.

Photo via Loren Javier/Flickr

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*First Published: Jun 10, 2013, 11:08 am CDT