A lot of attention is paid to patent trolls—those unsavory characters gobbling up preemptory patents faster than humanly possible. But how often do they actually follow through? If you're the porn site X-Art.com, a lot.
This week's issue of The New Yorker takes a look at X-Art, a company that, even in the face of a declining number of subscribers, managed to raise its annual production budget to a cool $2 million. How's that possible? As it turns out, going after porn pirates pays big:
In 2013, the Fields purchased a sixteen-million-dollar coastal mansion in Malibu. Having found a niche in the crowded world of online pornography, X-art.com still had tens of thousands of fans shelling out money for its movies. Quietly, the Fields were also making some extra money in another way: by becoming the biggest filer of copyright-infringement lawsuits in the nation. In the past year, their company Malibu Media LLC has filed more than thirteen hundred copyright-infringement lawsuits—more of these cases than anyone else, accounting for a third of all U.S. copyright litigation during that time, according to the federal-litigation database Pacer—against people that they accuse of stealing their films on the Internet.
Because when you're illegally downloading dirty (though admittedly artful!) movies, you're going to be extra willing to settle out of court should you get caught. The weird thing is, all these lawsuits represent a relatively small portion of the company's total income. So it's up for debate whether they're doing it to make a statement or strictly for the cash. At least according to Ben Deporter, a professor at the University of California's Hastings College of Law, there's a good amount of evidence backing the latter. As Depoorter told The New Yorker, "If you're filing three lawsuits per day, that very much looks like an abusive model."
Another contentious issue lies in the fact that the only way the company can identify thieves is through an IP address—meaning there's no real guarantee they've nailed the right person. As The New Yorker explains:
[One defendant] represented himself, though he is not a lawyer, filing briefs that pointed out problems with identifying thieves by their I.P. addresses: imposters can mimic other people's I.P. addresses. Neighbors can "camp" on a wireless network, or decrypt a password and hack in. Roommates share wireless networks. Soon, other defendants started circulating his briefs on blogs such as fightcopyrighttrolls.com. But fighting Malibu was "nine months or so of hell."
So even if you're play by the rules as you play with yourself, there's no guarantee you'll get your happy ending. [The New Yorker]