The U.S. Copyright Group and the law firm of Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver, who recently demanded sanctions against a lawyer who offered cheap assistance to people accused of copyright infringement, are now facing a class-action lawsuit filed by those very same people.
Earlier this year the United States Copyright Group issued threats of lawsuits to "tens of thousands" of people it claimed had illegally downloaded movies including The Hurt Locker, Call of the Wild and Far Cry. When an attorney began offering cheap "self-help" documents to people who couldn't afford to hire lawyers fight the action in the courts, the USCG's law firm Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver demanded sanctions against him, to the tune of $5000.
But now the tables appear to have been turned, as the USCG and its lawyers have themselves been sued by the alleged Far Cry downloaders, who charge that the defendants are engaging in extortion, fraudulent omission, mail fraud, wire fraud, racketeering, abuse of process, copyright misuse and a laundry list of other unpleasantness. The gist of the accusation is this: Dunlapp, Grubb and Weaver promotes itself to prospective film industry clients as being able to "obtain settlement," not win judgments, and makes millions by threatening thousands of lawsuits that it has no intention of actually prosecuting and, with only 13 lawyers on staff, couldn't even if it wanted to.
"USCG tells prospective clients that civil prosecution of copyright claims has not been 'practical,' in light of the financial stats of individual infringers," the lawsuit claims. "Settlement fraud has proven far more practical for Defendants. Defendants use the demand letters and other means to coerce settlements, routinely demanding $1500 from each recipient, increasing to $2500 if not sent promptly, under deceptive threats of impending (and even more expensive) litigation."
The lawsuit claims that the "DGW revenue model" doesn't require that its individual cases have any merit, or that the people accused of infringing on its clients' copyrights actually be guilty at all. "DGW is well aware of the extremity of the damages awards it claims in its demand letters, and that its 'settlement offer' is less expensive than attorneys would charge merely to begin a litigation defense," the suit says. "Nonetheless, DGW capitalizes on fear and aims to intimidate, such that even non-infringers will be likely to pay up rather than risk higher fees and damages."
Like all good lawsuits, this one demands a host of various damages and injunctions, but its real significance is way beyond that. If successful, the action might not just end the USCG rampage but change the very nature of copyright infringement legal actions. If law firms are required to operate within their means, so to speak, and must be ready and able to litigate every case they threaten, it could make the prospect of engaging in these carpet-bombing campaigns prohibitively expensive even for the most deep-pocketed plaintiffs, or, more likely, bring the practice to an end altogether.
A full copy of the class-action lawsuit being filed against the U.S. Copyright Group, Dunlap, Grubb and Weaver and other defendants can be found at TorrentFreak.