A federal court in Texas has ordered a former employee of a local phone store to pay $6,250 in piracy damages. The woman, who was fired, promoted the piracy app Popcorn Time to customers and also downloaded pirated content herself. The damages award is substantially lower than the $162,500 that was claimed by several movie studios.
Millions of people around the world use pirate apps on their mobile devices to stream TV-shows and movies.
This is a problem for copyright holders, which have tried to tackle the problem in recent years, both in and outside of court.
Hawaiian attorney Kerry Culpepper has been particularly active on the legal front. Representing a variety of movie companies, he has gone after users, site operators, and developers connected to Popcorn Time, Showbox, and other apps.
These legal efforts have also spilled over to more indirect targets such as Internet providers and VPN services. Even offline targets aren’t safe it seems. Last December, a former employee of a VICTRA store was sue for promoting the piracy app Popcorn Time to customers.
VICTRA Employee Promoted Popcorn Time
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the makers of the film ‘Hunter Killer’, which was later joined by four other movie companies. The filmmakers accused Ms. Boylan of downloading several films. More unusually, the rightsholders also accused her of promoting Popcorn Time to customers at the VICTRA store
“Defendant promoted the movie piracy applications to her customers to entice them to purchase particular products and thereby increase her own compensation,” the amended complaint read.
The claim was backed up by testimony from a VICTRA customer who stated that Ms. Boylan recommended and helped him to install Popcorn Time to watch free movies. This customer was sued in an earlier lawsuit and likely provided the information as part of a settlement.
After the customer pointed out Ms. Boylan the filmmakers did some further research which showed that the IP-address connected to her Verizon subscription had been repeatedly used to download pirated movies.
Filmmakers Demand $162,500
When VICTRA found out about the allegations, Ms. Boylan was terminated as an employee. However, the movie studios were not done yet and also demanded a large sum in piracy damages.
After Ms. Boylan failed to respond in court, the filmmakers requested a default judgment asking for $150,000 in copyright infringement damages and another $12,550 for violations of the DMCA.
In a recent order, U.S. District Court Judge Frank Montalvo agrees that the copyright holders are entitled to damages. However, the demands are too high and the final verdict is substantially lower.
“Several factors suggest a somewhat lower award of statutory damages,” Judge Montalvo writes, adding that “the facts do not establish Defendant’s direct infringement extended beyond personal consumption.”
Ms. Boylan’s downloads for personal use are not the biggest issue, according to the court. What weighs stronger is that the defendant promoted Popcorn Time in a sales pitch, for her own benefit.
$6,250 Will Suffice
All in all, however, the court doesn’t believe that the movie companies were substantially harmed by any of these activities.
“Defendant’s contributory infringement is somewhat more serious as it likely caused more lost revenue than her direct infringement and was done for her own profit. Even so, the total harm to Plaintiffs is unlikely to be substantial,” the order reads.
Instead of the requested $162,500 in damages, the court rules that $6,250 is sufficient in this matter. An additional award of $10,680 in attorney’s fees and costs brings the total due to $16,930.
The significantly reduced damages amount saves the defendant from potential lifelong debt. However, Judge Montalvo stresses that the amount is probably high enough for her to learn a lesson.
A copy of the order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Frank Montalvo is available here (pdf)
Many thanks to TorrentFreak for the breaking news.