Accusing someone in a federal lawsuit of illegally downloading pornography is by itself so potentially embarrassing that it puts undue pressure on an accused person to settle, a watchdog group has told judges in Texas and West Virginia.
Several porn studios have alleged in copyright complaints in those states that thousands of people illegally shared adult films via peer-to-peer networks and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the best known advocates for tech companies and Internet users, has filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the defendants.
EFF has asked the courts hearing the cases to "block requests [by the porn studios] to unmask accused file sharers."
Lawyers representing the adult filmmakers were not immediately available for comment.
In the escalating war between file sharers and copyright owners for control of the Web, the stakes are likely highest in the area of porn films. Adult filmmakers say that piracy is costing them big money and suing individuals is the best way to recoup losses and to discourage illegal file sharing. But for those accused of porn piracy, the potential of having their name mentioned in a federal complaint, along with the kinds of films they allegedly viewed, is scary, according to watchdog groups.
"There is a real potential for embarrassment or worse" said Paul Levy, an attorney with Public Citizen Litigation Group in a statement. What happens if a pornographer mistakenly identifies someone? A person could be mistakenly connected to a controversial sex practice or fetish. What happens then?
EFF says that whether the claims by the adult-film companies are true or not, someone accused may feel forced to settle to avoid any questions about their sexual preferences. In addition, EFF also argued that the porn studios are wrong to include thousands of people into a single suit and to sue them in courts far from their homes. This is the same complaint that the group has with the litigation campaign started this year by independent film studios, including Voltage Pictures, makers of the Oscar-winning film, "The Hurt Locker."
The pornographers are following in the indie studios footsteps but are not as far along in the legal process. Unlike Voltage and the other indie filmmakers, the adult-film companies have to obtain the names of the people they accuse of file sharing.
Ken Ford, the lawyer who represents some of the pornographers, told CNET recently that to obtain the names of each of the defendants, he will soon ask the federal district court in West Virginia to issue subpoenas to each of the defendants' Internet service providers.