9 On Your Side Investigation
Pornographers to Tucson mom: pay up or we'll sue
Tammy Vo investigates Video by kgun9.comvideo
Phan received this letter saying that her internet provider had been subpoenaed by the attorneys seeking the settlement money.
The wording in some of the letters sent out to people accused of downloading porn has caused fear.
Jenny Phan of Tucson says that she did not download the material and is fighting back.
Copyright Attorney Mitch Stoltz calls this practice "extortion", saying that Copyright Trolls have made a business out of this.
Jenny Phan is one of thousands caught up in the internet dragnet.
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Imagine this. Someone contacts you asking that you pay $3,500 or they'll publicly accuse you of pirating pornography. Does that sound legal? Legal or not, it just happened to someone in Tucson and it's happening to thousands of internet users across the country.
Jenny Phan is a mother of two and owns a nail salon on Broadway. A few weeks ago she got an envelope in the mail, and opened it to find a legal-looking letter informing her that her cable company had received a subpoena for her internet records.
"They said something about a court thing. It kind of freaked me out and I wondered what's happening here?" She says that she called a number on the letter and spoke with an attorney who accused her of illegally downloading pornography. Specifically, one movie whose title KGUN 9 can't repeat.
"Did you ever watch that?" asked KGUN 9 Reporter Tammy Vo.
"I didn't do it" she answered. The laywer told her that if she wanted to make the issue go away and avoid a court case accusing her of pirating pornography, Phan needed to pony up $3,500.
A friend of hers call 9 On Your Side. We investigated and found out that Phan is not alone. Copyright Attorney Mitch Stoltz said that what happened to her has happened to a quarter million other people too. "We think it's inevitable that a lot of innocent people are getting caught up in this. When you go fishing for tuna with a big net, you're going to catch a lot of dolphins too" said Stoltz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation which fights this kind of predatory practice. Stoltz says that adult film producers hired a technology company to figure out who's pirating their movies online. They came up with a list of IP addresses connected to those illegal downloads. IP Addresses are basically electronic fingerprints.
Then, the porn producers sent that list to lawyers known in the industry as "Copyright Trolls". Those attorneys had the courts issue subpoenas to the internet service providers, forcing them to give up user names. In this case, it's a process led to Jenny Phan's doorstep.
Phan's IP address does not match the address on the letter, but that's no surprise because those addresses can change by the day. Then KGUN 9 checked out her internet connection and found it to be secure and protected by password.
Phan then called the attorney listed on the letter, and handed the phone over to KGUN 9 who asked, what proof do they have that she downloaded and shared the movie? Phoenix area attorney Wayne Carroll told KGUN 9 that he represents Patrick Collins of Elegant Angel Productions. Carroll admitted that Phan may not have had anything to do with the dirty movie. He also said that even if someone else hacked into Phan's wireless signal without her knowledge, she is still responsible because it's her account.
What does Eleagant Angel want from Phan? Still, they're looking for $3,500. If she pays it, the pornographers will forget that it ever happened. Otherwise, Carroll says that she could be sued and end up paying as much as $150,000. Phan, feels powerless.
Stoltz added, "It's very scary. You get scary letters saying you could be sued for up to $150,000. We're going to question your friends and family and publicly shame you by insinuating you're watching pornography." Stoltz says Copyright trolls have made a business out of extorting money from people who will never have their day in court. Even if defendants like Phan decide to face the embarrassment of fighting porn piracy charges, it will cost more to get an attorney than it would to fork over $3,500 to make the case go away.
"I just feel mad that we work hard for our money. Every minute, every hour. It's a lot of money. It's gonna take us a couple months or a year to save that money."
Wayne Carroll and Elegant Angel Productions turned down KGUN 9's request for an interview.
Is this kind of predatory practice legal? If so... should it be? KGUN 9 will have more on that in the days ahead.
Meanwhile, if you get one of these letters, what should you do? Attorneys say that you should first try and hire an attorney. It can be challenging because it can get expensive, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation has listed on its website, an explanation of how to handle this situation along with a a state-by-state list of attorneys who handle copyright cases at reasonable costs. To get that information click here.
Also, technical experts suggest securing your wireless internet signal with a complicated password so that other users cannot "borrow" your signal and illegally download content.