RIAA/MPAA giant waking up and luring defendants into settlements?

I have been fighting with myself trying to determine whether to write this article for a problem with Warner Brothers’ $20 settlement demand letters that they are sending out to accused downloaders of their content. Yet I suspect that this is just the beginning of something larger — I fear that the MPAA might be jumping on board the “DMCA settlement letter” scheme or even worse, starting to sue defendants again en masse for copyright infringement.

Under a company named “Rightscorp, Inc.,” (Website: https://www.DigitalRightsCorp.com) Christopher Sabec is sending out “DMCA Letters” almost copying CEG-TEK’s letters accusing the internet user of copyright infringement and offering to settle the claims for a mere $20.

[UPDATE: Updated information on Rightscorp, including my current opinions about their DMCA settlement demand letters can be found in the “All I Know About Rightscorp in One Page” article, which I will be keeping current.]

RightsCorp is representing, however, mega corporations such as Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc. (“Warner Bros.”) on their ABC Family teen shows such as “Pretty Little Liars” (file: “Pretty.Little.Liars.S03E05.HDTV.x264-LOL.mp4”) among other TV shows geared at teenagers who are quite savvy on the internet. The expectation is that not all of the episodes are available on their http://abcfamily.go.com website, and so naturally kids will migrate to the internet and Bittorrent to download the earlier episodes taken down from their websites.

What is bothering me, however, is that the release on their https://secure.digitalrightscorp.com/settle website (pasted below) releases the accused defendant from their claim of copyright infringement for a mere $20, but it has the defendant ADMITTING GUILT to the infringement. Thus, in legal terms, an accused internet user who pays the $20 may be released from liability for THAT instance of infringement, but the next time they catch that user downloading, they can not only sue for the full $150,000 (or ask for TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS as a settlement), but in court, they would use the prior settlement as EVIDENCE OF GUILT that the accused defendant habitually downloads copyrighted videos and TV shows.

To be clear: EVERY settlement agreement for copyright infringement should have language stating that the accused defendant is not admitting guilt, or else the act of settling a copyright infringement claim can be construed as an “admission” of guilt in a court. Specifically, the language (e.g., taken from CEG-TEK’s settlements) would say something like “this Liability Release represents a compromise and that nothing herein is to be construed as an admission of liability on the part of RELEASEE.” This language appears to be purposefully ABSENT from the RightsCorp Settlement Agreements.

For this reason, it is difficult for me to suggest hiring a third party / attorney and paying one of us to anonymously settle a $20 matter, BUT it is my opinion that the RightsCorp settlements are simply dangerous to your legal rights.  Yet the flip side is that Warner Bros. is a MPAA member, and they have unlimited pockets to sue a defendant (they have in the past, and they could again in the future), and that not settling could later result in a second claim against you for a lot more money (it is not unlike them to ask for $20,000 as a settlement for one title).

My ThoughtsI am not sure I would want the MPAA (or any of its members) to have my client’s contact information with what is essentially an “I did it, I’m sorry, I won’t do it again, here’s $20” settlement agreement.  And, if I settled a claim, I would probably do so anonymously and respectfully.  

I would not want to instigate a “David vs. Goliath” fight with Warner Brothers or the MPAA on behalf of my client (who would likely end up being the HARD-WORKING PARENTS of the kid who did the download).  In a court battle, we would have the uneven legal situation [yet again] where the plaintiff copyright troll has unlimited financial and legal resources and the defendant has limited means to even hire an attorney to represent them.

The MPAA has been lying dormant these past three years while the adult film companies and their copyright trolls fight out the issues in the various federal courts across the U.S. My suspicion is that they are getting ready to dip their toes back into the water and start suing internet users again. I am suspicious that perhaps this $20 scheme is just their way to start getting names and contact information to gear up to sue “repeat offenders” who have already settled one of their claims. And for $20, it appears to me that this will be an easy way to lure defendants into giving over their contact information to be solicited later for something else.

Here is a sample copy of their release (noting that the “no admission of guilt” language is missing):

WB Sample Settlement Agreement
Liability Release & Settlement Receipt

IMPORTANT: Please retain this document for your records. It releases you from liability for the below mentioned infringement and serves as official notice of settlement.

Reference # TC-4ab****************************

Title Pr*******************

Filename Pr********************

Timestamp 2013-06***********

Infringement Source Torrent

Infringers IP Address 61*************

Infringers Port 4****

In consideration of the settlement payment made and the representations and agreements made in this Release & Settlement, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (“WB”) for itself, for its past, present and future directors, shareholders, members, managers, officers, employees, agents, attorneys, representatives, partners, trustees, beneficiaries, family members, heirs, subsidiaries and affiliates, and for its and their predecessors, successors and assigns (collectively the “Releasor”);

Hereby finally, unconditionally, irrevocably and absolutely releases, acquits, remises and forever discharges robert steele, 3100 donald douglas loop n santa monica CA, 90405 and such person’s family members and heirs (collectively the “Releasee”);

From any and all manner of actions, suits, debts, sums of money, interest owed, charges, damages, judgments, executions, obligations, costs, expenses, fees (including attorneys’ fees and court costs), claims, demands, causes of action and liabilities, that arise under the United States Copyright Act, in each case whether known or unknown, absolute or contingent, matured or unmatured, presently existing or hereafter discovered, at law, in equity or otherwise, that the Releasor may now have or that might subsequently accrue against the Releasee arising out of or connected with the specific Infringement of copyrighted material(s) referenced above;

Provided however, that this release shall not, and shall not be deemed to, constitute a release with respect to any other past, present or future infringements by Releasee other than the specific Infringement of copyrighted material(s) referenced above.

Robert Steele agrees not to infringe any of WB’s filmed entertainment (including but not limited to films, videos, video games, animation and television programs), whether now in existence or later created, that is owned or controlled by WB. In furtherance of this agreement, Robert Steele agrees to immediately and permanently cease the unauthorized copying and/or distribution (including, but not limited to, downloading, uploading, filesharing, file “swapping,” or other similar activities) of WB filmed entertainment, including, but not limited to, those items listed in this correspondence.

Settlement Date 2013-06**********

Transaction Id 102**************

Settlement Amount ***

If you have any questions about this release, please contact rsteele@digitalrightscorp.com

6/21 UPDATE: I have been seeing lawsuits filed by Warner Bros Home Entertainment Inc. v. “named defendant” et al. I have provided a screenshot below from the https://www.rfcexpress.com website. After a quick investigation, these lawsuits are NOT RELATED to what I am referring to in this article.  Yet, it is still concerning that Warner Bros. is taking such an enthusiastic interest in the federal court system for copyright infringement lawsuits.
062113 Warner Bros Lawsuits

CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

    NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

    shalta boook now cta

    20 thoughts on “RIAA/MPAA giant waking up and luring defendants into settlements?”

    1. Personally, I think the long term goal is a mandatory settlement system. Make the cable companies bill the IP address holders and if they don’t like it, let them sue in court. This is way of testing the water for resistance with reasonable fines.

    2. Could this just be helping prop up the idea of a “small claims” system for copyright infringement?
      See we caught all of these people and were able to settle without having to waste time and effort in the courts.

      And anyone named Steele connected to anything copyright should invest in a name change.

    3. Wow…. they need to pay more for a web designer.

      “My Internet service has been shut off, how do I get it restored?

      Once you pay your settlement fee on this website or over the phone, we will notify the ISP that you have settled the matter with the copyright owner.”

      So lets pretend you somehow have the right to have my internet shutoff on mere accusation. For these awesome legal minds I would expect they would avoid misleading potential “victims”. This statement is false. While an ISP can have their own rules to disconnect someone based on groundless allegations, I highly doubt they are required to follow instructions from a 3rd party abusing the DMCA notice system.

      “I have never downloaded any music or movies from the Internet, why did I get this notice?

      We have communicated with a computer using the IP Address listed in the notice. In order to maintain their “Safe Harbor” from copyright infringement liability, your ISP is required to demonstrate that they have a policy for terminating repeat infringers. As a part of that process, the ISP forwards our notices to you.

      You may have a family member who installed peer-to-peer software on a computer that uses your internet service without your knowledge. In rare cases, you may have had a neighbor use your wireless internet connection if there is no password on your wireless router. Most internet service provider contracts state that the contract holder is responsible for actions taken on their internet service. ”

      Oooh I guess they aren’t very good lawyers, as it is settled in the Federal Courts that your not responsible for the actions of others. But then informing targets of this might make the innocent tell these idiots where to go and how to get there. While ISPs might have that wording, corporate contracts still aren’t Federal Law…

      Oh and the spiffy sample settlement letter on their website where they failed to actually redact someones details. They left enough that someone could figure out who it was addressed to.

      Nothing says class act like not being able to generate a settlement letter without embarrassing a past victim.

      So she is in Utah and lives in a nice house.
      I bet she has enough money to sue them for putting private information on the internet that shows her in a less than flattering light.

      I thought settlements were paid to avoid these sorts of antics.
      Someone should reach out to Linda and let her know… it took me 5 minutes and I’m not that gifted.

    4. ISPs terminate service to repeat infringers that we identify on a regular basis. Read your contract with your ISP. It states that your service can be terminated for copyright infringement. This is because of the law 17 USC 512 (i) which specifically states that ISPs only have a shield from the laws their subscribers are breaking if they have a policy for terminating repeat infringers. The subscriber’s name and address is redacted in the sample notice.

      • Robert,

        Thank you for commenting. It is always nice to see people monitoring the blogs for activities they are taking part in. I hope you don’t mind the following questions:

        A number of us (myself included) have wondered what are your client’s motivations behind these $20 notices? Is this enforcement mechanism isolated to Warner Bros., or is this a larger MPAA issue as I suspect it might be?

        Also, what are your client’s motivations behind the enforcement campaign in general? As you can see from the article and the comments, possible outcomes could be 1) follow-up lawsuits or demands for higher settlement amounts for repeat offenders, 2) compulsory licensing (or an eventual mandatory fee for being implicated as a copyright infringer), or 3) some sort of small-claims court system for the policing of copyrights? Or is this just a “we want to stop piracy and we are not proceeding past the $20 notices” issue? I and many of my readers are no doubt interested in seeing where this is planned to go.

        Lastly, might you be willing to add in “no admission of guilt” language into your settlement terms on your website? No doubt many people who receive your letters will find this website (and the other websites which discuss your client’s activities), and they will be suspicious that there is no “no admission of guilt” language in your agreements.

        Again, I appreciate the time you have taken to read and respond to the article. Perhaps you can shed some clarity on the issue, since your client has not been involved in the “copyright troll” lawsuits we have taken part in these past few years, and I would be surprised to see them getting involved in such lawsuits now at this late hour.

        Warm regards,

      • Robert,

        Thank you for your comments and I hope you will answer Mr. Cashman.

        I think it is more accurate to say that an ISP “can” terminate the service of a subscriber who’s account is associated with the alleged activity. Most will work with the subscriber to correct the matter; but if they get multiple notices it could happen. As most people do not have a clue how to respond/dispute a take-down notice, you likely have nobody opposing you – that or a very very small number.

      • No her name isn’t and I am sure that the Utah Bar would be interested to know that she has moral turpitude in her history.
        5 minutes to get that, because you left enough detail.

        Does she know your using her settlement agreement on your website?
        What sort of penalty is in your contract for your failure to not disclose information?
        I’m sure another lawyer will forgive you wrecking her name on your craptastic website.
        Shall I send the screencaps to her office? I mean you gave me the address so its real easy for me to take care of for you.

        So if my account is terminated because of your claims, what is the recourse? I mean you should be facing perjury charges for claiming the account holder is the responsible party as you have nothing beyond your super tech to make the allegation.
        While you might be able to strongarm an ISP into letting you have rights far beyond what the law allows, what sort of case should someone targeted file against you… oh and against the ISP as well as the equipment is often supplied by the ISP without any instruction on keeping the connection secure.

        I suggested before that you should change your last name, don’t bother. Your in the same league, govern yourself accordingly.

        The others will be nicer to you, but I really don’t care any more.
        Your special bait and switch pricing scheme makes you a long list of names I won’t bother to type out because I respect Mr. Cashman.

        It is firms like yours that keep the imaginary losses storyline alive, and keep idiots like WB from understanding the market changed 20 years ago and they failed to adapt. That the amount of content out there no longer supports the large plastic chunk pricing model. That the profits are down because they keep paying snakeoil salesmen who promise their system will end “piracy”, rather than just tell them that “piracy” is a real good indicator that your failing to meet consumer demand.

        Now just chalk me up as another stupid “pirate”, you won’t be the first to make that mistake or the last. Ask Evan Stone how it worked out for him, or you could ask Prenda if they stop pleading the 5th.

        Your using the reverse copyright troll model, instead of sending out 1000 letters and expecting a 20% return of a couple thousand your sending out thousands and hoping for more people willing to try and avoid being sued, which would be fun to see you try, for the cost of a Starbucks coffee.
        Your a volume copyright troll, but still a troll.

    5. Mr. Steele,

      You talk about infringement and piracy, but what is your level of confidence in this? In particular, I was on a reputable web site, and this guy comes along and talks about this great book which is probably germane to the abstruse interests on the site, and posts a link.

      I download the book, and have a quick look at it, like I might do if I was in a bookstore. Turns out, I could buy this book in the bookstore, too…its published and copyright by John Wiley and Sons.
      Now, I went to the site and asked the guy if he wrote it, and flagged my post for moderation, so the site admins took down the link.

      Would either I or the volunteer moderator be liable for infringement, particularly if we did not keep our copies of the download, but simply deleted them? What about the site logs that probably kept a copy of the link? What if the moderator did this a few times a day as part of his duties?

      And while I am at it, how exactly is sharing pieces of a file I am downloading with others also downloading in order to increase my download speed, distribution in any meaningful sense? The others who are also downloading will get their copies whether I share or not!

    6. It seems to me that every instance of tracking by corporations and law firms is a form of entrapment.

      Aren’t they simply taking the copy-writed material and voluntarily offering it as a torrent, then turning around and accusing others of stealing the material

      I’m guessing that in order to track the content, the torrent was assembled by someone connected to the rights holder. They put it out there themselves, don’t they?

      • Entrapment in the non-legal sense, yes. Extortion-like? Also, yes. Illegal? Probably not. Immoral? Unethical? YES. Are there defenses to what they are doing? Yes.

        I hope this helps.

        • If push comes to shove, I’m in no position to pay high fines, nor to pay for legal defense. But in terms of I have little concern that RightsCorp or whomever is going to win a judgment against me.

          I do not plan to ever acknowledge their messages, nor contact my ISP, who are obviously quite willing to play ball with MPAA and these scummy players.

          That said, the chilling effect is what they’re after. The chilling effect is what they’re achieving quite well. If it ends there, I don’t have much problem with that.

          I notice I get nothing whatsoever referencing torrented FLAC files.

    7. I got one of these notices and all they have as proof of infringements is the fact someone downloaded a torrent address and no real proof of copyright infringement. Their attempts to address the issue amount to cyber-stalking, harassment, bullying, defamation. Rightscorp are criminals guilty of attempted extortion and mail fraud. I suggest anyone who gets one of their notices file a complaint with the California Attorney General. Never admit anything and do not pay them a dime.

      • The Rightscorp letters in my opinion have been a joke for two reasons: 1) they have not sued anyone, nor do I see any indication that they will sue anyone. 2) I have heard that they are losing money, so their operation is a sinking ship. If you want one more bonus reason, 3) I have seen articles (e.g., on Torrentfreak) that they have attempted to shut down the accounts of those who have settled the claims against them (remember, Rightscorp settlements have you admit guilt which is why I will not recommend settling them).

    8. So I’m still confused about all of this but here is what my situation is, my mother received the letter from our ISP and talked to me about it and it all freaked us both out, so I went ahead and paid the $20 not knowing that they would later come at me with another 19 infringements. So now they have all of my information, I don’t admit blame for downloading this content, but does my fear induced reaction of paying the first $20 admit quilt? I also received this email, along with the numerous other threats they send me -”
      Dear **************,

      I am notifying you concerning the copyright infringement violations that occurred under your IP address. Your case has now been escalated.

      The amount of time to settle the copyright infringements is now limited and at the mercy of the Copyright owner.

      Once the settlement is removed by the copyright owner, we can no longer help you reach settlement at $20 per copyright infringement.

      It is urgent that you contact me at my direct line below or any agent at (310) 751-7510 to settle the copyright infringements and show the copyright owner that you are cooperating.

      Thank you,


      I didn’t think they sued since it says so on their website, but will Warner Bros. come after me?

      Any help and/or information would be most appreciated.

    9. The concern re Warner Brothers especially seems very valid. You can do a search on rfcexpress like this one, showing hundreds of individuals and businesses sued at once by Warner http://www.rfcexpress.com/search.asp?page=3&partyName=Warner%20Bros&caseTypes=%27P%27,%20%27C%27,%20%27T%27

      It makes no sense to admit guilt on one violation to such a large company if it is going to provide strong evidence for them to press potentially many more cases.

      Are there regulations requiring all the known copyright violation accusations to be forwarded at once? Or can a company assemble 30 of them, send just one, get the admission of guilt, and then file 29 lawsuits each for tens of thousands? This is a huge issue in the US where the penalties are up to $150,000.

      In Canada there are some limits like $5000/studio but there are few regulations to prevent such sandbagging of claims, and seemingly none of how attorneys sending these settlement letters can distort the law.http://www.thestar.com/business/tech_news/2015/01/09/canadians_face_barrage_of_misleading_copyright_demands.html

      The more comprehensive settlement offers have other problems, such as coming from known “honeypotters” like Ira M. Siegel / Copyright Enforcement Group that use Flash on their settlement site which will give them a great deal of information about the user including new IP numbers they can use to generate more demands. They are notorious for sending many notices re the same file, one per IP they detect.

      Even the Canadian law lets them send an infinite number. Each one they will “settle” for $200 of course. And they can demand up to 25 of these per studio, or $5000 total. And how long will it be before every film has its own “studio”?

    10. digitalrightscorp.com is fake, not the real DigitalRights company. The settlement letters are entirely scams to get money. We’ve been getting many of these at work (datacenter).

      If you ever get an email from them, notice that the link they give you stays on their site where you’re supposed to pay but all the links on the pages go to the real site, and going to the main site digitalrightscorp.com will redirect to the real site. They’re trying to look legit by redirecting everything to real site, except for the page where you pay.

      Another one is ip-echelon.report, somebody impersonating the real ip-echelon.com. They’re pulling the same scam, trying to get users to pay to settle DMCA. The real ip-echelon reports never mention ‘settlements’ and they provide PGP signatures at the end of the emails.

      tl;dr if they’re demanding money they’re FAKE


    Leave a Comment