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By: Kristen E. O’Neill

Although copyright infringement lawsuits in connection with the illegal download of movies, music, and other files through the internet have been around for many years, a program called BitTorrent, which provides a new way to share information through the internet, has been the basis of numerous recent copyright infringement lawsuits.

Thousands of individuals across the country, including hundreds in Illinois alone, have received letters from their internet service providers (“ISP”) notifying them that they have been identified in their ISPs’ records via their assigned Internet Protocol (“IP”) addresses in connection with lawsuits for illegally uploading or downloading copyrighted content through BitTorrent.  These letters indicate that the ISP provider has received a subpoena requesting that the ISP provider disclose the identity and contact information of the individual associated with the IP address.

BitTorrent is a file sharing protocol that is used to distribute large amount of data over the Internet.  Rather than downloading a file from a single source server, BitTorrent allows users to join a “swarm” of hosts to download and upload from each other simultaneously.  It is commonly used to transfer large files, such as movies, because it is faster and uses less internet bandwidth than traditional, single source techniques.

Copyright holders monitor BitTorrent activity and can identify the IP addresses of potential infringers of their copyrighted materials. Because a Copyright holder can only identify potential defendants by their IP addresses, the Copyright holder will file lawsuits against numerous John Does and request expedited discovery from the court to compel the ISPs to disclose the identity of the individuals assigned to the IP addresses.

While Copyright holders claim they are filing these lawsuits to stop and deter illegal copyright infringement, critics contend that the Copyright holders are filing these lawsuits to obtain quick settlements from defendants who do not want to be identified by name in a federal lawsuit for illegal downloading. These cases have been described as “trolling lawsuits” for the way they encourage plaintiffs to find thousands of potential defendants and sue them as John Does, often in the same lawsuit. The first BitTorrent lawsuits involved the download of pornographic movies (which have a greater likelihood of forcing quick settlements), but recent cases have involved major motion pictures such as “The Hurt Locker”, “The Company You Keep”, and “Dallas Buyers Club”.

If you receive a letter from your ISP provider indicating that you have been named as a defendant in a lawsuit in connection with your IP address, do not ignore the letter. There are steps that can be taken to avoid your identify from being disclosed to the Copyright holder and respond to the lawsuit. If you have any questions regarding BitTorrent litigation, or have received a letter from your ISP provider and would like to discuss your options, please contact LEVIN GINSBURG at (312) 368-0100 or