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In New Jersey, file-sharing litigation is on the rise

It's been called a faceless, victimless crime. Illegal downloading of music, movies or other intellectual property has been on the rise for several years, a seemingly harmless infraction. But at least in New Jersey, the other shoe is dropping. The state has been experiencing an increase in commercial litigation aimed at stopping those who share and download files they haven't paid for.

Although major motion picture studios and record labels have largely abandoned efforts to prosecute violators, New Jersey courtrooms are seeing more and more illegal-file-sharing lawsuits filed by smaller companies. In the past 18 months, 44 lawsuits have been filed in federal courthouses in the state against more than 15,000 "John Doe" defendants.

One Hackensack-based lawyer has filed 17 lawsuits that allege copyright infringement by more than 14,000 file sharers. These defendants are accused of using peer-to-peer networks to distribute copyrighted music and movies. The New Jersey lawyer, whose clients include a London-based record label and a German film company, says the defendants in each of the lawsuits participated in what's called a "swarm" -- a massive collection of file-sharers who illegally uploaded or downloaded copyrighted works using the BitTorrent protocol. BitTorrent allows its users to download large files in small chunks from multiple sources.

But to prosecute the defendants, a prosecuting attorney must identify them first. And to do that, he or she needs court permission to subpoena Internet service providers for the names and home addresses of their accused customers. Once the defendants are identified, they usually have the choice of either settling their case for a few thousand dollars or hiring an attorney to fight the charges.

Many judges and legal advocates have criticized suing companies and their attorneys, saying that they're more interested in shaking down users for settlement money than fighting copyright infringement. Another problem is that with the rise of wireless routers comes the risk of wrongly accusing an ISP subscriber. The person who illegally downloaded material could instead be a friend, family member, guest or interloper, rather than the person listed as the service subscriber. And when faced with the possibility of an expensive lawsuit, many of those accused may feel compelled to settle even if they haven't done anything illegal.

Whether you've been accused of unlawfully downloading materials or your intellectual property is being stolen, you may be able to find recourse through an attorney who handles copyright infringement issues.

Source: NorthJersey.com, "Thousands in N.J. are targeted by file-sharing lawsuits," Peter J. Sampson, Aug. 5, 2012

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