Virgin Media “hackers” said they were also responsible for pirating other people’s movies * TorrentFreak

Last September, we announced that Voltage Holdings LLC, a company well-known for tracking hackers around the world, had obtained a High Court order requiring Virgin Media to hand over subscriber data.

This resulted in a then unknown number of Virgin Media customers receiving letters accusing them of unsuccessful pirating of the movie “Ava” and warning of legal action for copyright infringement. , if they chose not to settle the matter.

In accordance with previous directives from the High Court, the letter did not specify the amount of the settlement. However, those who responded to the initial letters are now receiving additional clarification, including a specific claim for damages and compelling justifications for that amount.

Why Voltage lost money on Ava

As reviews on various sites reveal, Ava is not a particularly popular movie. Out of 50,000 votes on the iMDb portal, the site received an average rating of just 5.4 / 10. On Rotten Tomatoes, the audience score is 29%, a figure that plummets to 16% on the site’s Tomatometer.

Perceptions of quality, however, aren’t something that Voltage Pictures says led to the film’s commercial problems. Instead, a combination of COVID-19 and hacking is cited.

“Regarding the loss of our client, our client’s film was originally scheduled to hit theaters in the first quarter of 2020. This was later delayed due to Covid-19,” the letters read.

“In August 2020, our client started receiving emails from distributors explaining that the movie was available through BitTorrent. Our client explains that since the film has become so easily accessible, distributors in unsold territories have been wary of purchasing the film. Their reasoning was that they were unlikely to recoup the cost of advertising the film and renting theaters when the film was available for free online and, therefore, would lose money.

Distributors in the UK subsequently decided to forgo a theatrical release altogether, as well as those in Australia, Canada, China and Turkey, according to Voltage.

“As a result, our client estimates that he will suffer a loss of no less than £ 3million in the UK, which is the difference between his now anticipated income and the income he would have received between 2020 and 2023 ( the term of the license with the UK distributor) but for the infringement.

Recovery of losses: cost of the film

From the copies of letters we’ve seen so far, Voltage now appears to be ready to settle cases against Virgin subscribers for just over £ 800. The film company achieves this figure by listing several items in its claim, starting with the profit lost due to each illegal download.

“If you had downloaded a copy of the film from an authorized distributor, they would have had to pay the purchase price. The profit for this is therefore payable.

Element 1: Film cost @ £ 11.19

Contribution to counterfeiting by third parties

The letters further reveal that Voltage is targeting 314 Virgin Media subscribers who were allegedly detected as part of a BitTorrent swarm with 14,565 hosts (or peers). This is where the math starts to get interesting.

Recovering £ 11.19 from each of the 14,565 alleged infringers is a reasonable and straightforward start, but Voltage’s claim quickly becomes more complex. Since Voltage was only able to identify 314 Virgin Media subscribers, he seems to want these people to also take note for the people they couldn’t find, claiming that any member of the swarm is contributing to the violation by third parties.

“Our client identified approx. 314 potential defendants in the swarm of 14,565, of which you are a part. Assuming our client is able to recover from all of the other 313 potential defendants (which is unlikely), then your liability is at least £ 162,982.23 / 313 or £ 520.71 ”, reads- one in the letters that we saw.

Taking this to the extreme to illustrate a point, if Voltage had only managed to track down one Virgin subscriber, by his own reasoning he would demand almost £ 163,000 from that one person. To put that amount into perspective, Ava performed in 222 North American theaters in August 2020, grossing $ 170,000 (£ 127,694). And there are other topics of interest as well.

Most BitTorrent clients have a default limit on the number of peers they will connect to. Granted, none are configured to connect to 314, and certainly not 14 565. It is much more likely that a single client will connect to fewer than 50 other sharers when in a swarm, which means that claims beyond that are highly speculative at best.

Indeed, Voltage cannot prove that a single Virgin Media subscriber actually connected to a torrent client other than his own. It might be reasonable to conclude that a user logged in in order to get the movie, but if the client was limited to two peers, that would be the extent of the infringement.

Another angle to this is the way Voltage seeks to award damage equally to all peers, despite the actual level of infringement which, incidentally, cannot prove beyond a single copy of the film per user. . This means that someone who has downloaded 20, 30 or 100 full copies of the film to third parties is held liable for the same level of infringement as someone who has downloaded and shared the equivalent of just a few minutes.

That being said, in UK law there is something called “common design”, a term referenced in the letter Voltage. This suggests a conspiracy between two or more people who cooperate to commit a crime, in this case via a BitTorrent swarm.

As a result, Voltage says the recipients of the letter are “jointly and severally liable for any loss,” but this raises the question of whether the 314 Virgin Media subscribers are the co-conspirators or the entire swarm. A swarm size of 14,565 pairs would be global in scope, and it is extremely unlikely that all participants are from England and Wales, or share exactly the same time.

These would be interesting questions to explore in court, as would the veracity of the BitTorrent surveillance system and the structure of the grim GuardaLey trolling operation that allegedly provided it. However, this is not a US court and there is absolutely no guarantee that the Intellectual Property Business Court Small Claims Tracking (pdf) would be interested in all of this.

Element 2: Contribution to a third party infringement at £ 520.71

Flagrance and fees

The last two elements of Voltage’s claim, if such a claim is against an actual infringer, are simpler. The company claims that by intentionally downloading the BitTorrent software for the purpose of downloading and distributing counterfeit copies of its movie, the user has acted in a blatant manner.

“The court has the discretion to award additional damages for such flagrance of up to 100%, but for which our client is only asking 20%. That’s (£ 520.71 + £ 11.19) x 20% or £ 106.38, ”the letters read.

Aside from the arguments over the validity of the £ 520.71 amount, this offer seems reasonable. The element of legal costs raises questions, however.

“To get the court order attached to our letter of complaint the cost was £ 50,649.50. When divided between the potential defendants, that works out to a figure of £ 101.30, ”it reads.

£ 50,649.50 divided by 314 does not equal £ 101.30, rather it is £ 161.30. Of course, this is in favor of the recipients of the letter, but what it tends to suggest is that the original claim was for 500 IP addresses of which only 314 were in use or not yet linked to a Virgin customer. Either way, Voltage is charging £ 101.30 plus letter writing fees.

Flagrance and fees @ £ 106.38 + £ 200

Final request and warning

Asking £ 838.28 in total, Voltage concludes by admitting that his calculations are estimates, despite having been reviewed by an ‘independent Queen’s Counsel’ who considered them to be ‘reasonable’.

“If you do not agree with the above, we urge you to submit to a judgment on liability, with the court to assess the damages,” the letter adds.

“For the avoidance of doubt, however, if our client is forced to initiate and continue proceedings, he reserves the right to claim a higher sum as damages, on the basis of (i) loss of profit of our client resulting from the absence of a theatrical release and related loss of profit and (ii) your joint and several liability for the acts of counterfeiting of the entire swarm in which you participated.

Additional Voltage Requirements to Identify Violators

Finally, we are aware that billpayers who have denied knowledge of any violation committed on their connections are being pressed by Voltage’s lawyers to obtain additional information. This includes the names and ages of the people who live at the address in question.

The age element is interesting since the High Court order appears to bar Voltage from bringing charges against alleged retirement age offenders or those under 18.

In the event that strangers have visited the address and used the Internet connection, Voltage will also look up their names and ages. Whether the letter recipients should give up this information is a question for them and / or their lawyers, as mentioned in our previous article.

Conclusion

While the chances of being held liable in the UK are extremely low, downloading and sharing a pirated movie in the UK is illegal and punishable under civil law. The people targeted by Voltage who have committed this type of offense have a case to answer but the settlement offer on the table may be subject to interpretation.

That being said, those who want to know what a court would say on the matter will be making a sizable bet.

The letters and complaints we have seen so far are much more aware than those we have seen in the past and if a case goes to court, rest assured that the company and its many allies will pick the right targets. more likely to result in a win. Any victory will also be taken on the balance of probabilities, that is, if the court is 51% convinced that Voltage’s claims are correct.

These film companies have the cash to run a case through and will likely need to do so at some point to show their strength, especially if this Ava case is the first in a long series. This seems more than likely given the number of companies involved in this operation that are not currently active in court.

The last thing they want is a loss at this point, so if someone is leading a particularly determined and well-endowed fight in a case that isn’t already a lost cause, expect their claim is withdrawn and the matter forgotten.


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