"I got a subpoena letter. I don't know what it means."
This is one of the most common things I hear from callers regarding BitTorrent subpoena cases. I'm Attorney Erin Russell. I defend people from across the country who receive subpoenas regarding their alleged downloading of movies. I can tell you what it means when you get a subpoena letter from your Internet Service Provider, and what you can and should do about it. The following is the simple anatomy of a BitTorrent subpoena case:
1. THE OWNER OF A MOVIE CATCHES PEOPLE SHARING IT ONLINE. The plaintiff (the company that started the lawsuit) has an expert. The expert goes on the internet and looks for people sending out pieces of the plaintiff's movie. When a person's computer sends a piece of the plaintiff's movie to the plaintiff's expert, they believe they have caught the person committing copyright infringement. Very often these people don't know they are sending anything out, or they think they are just watching "free movies" on the internet or on an app such as Popcorn Time or MovieTube. If you got a letter from your Internet Service Provider about a subpoena, that means the owner of a movie believes they caught you or someone in your home sending out a piece of their movie from your IP address.
2. THE OWNER OF THE MOVIE FILES A LAWSUIT. The plaintiff files a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court. They tell the judge that they have caught a group of people, the John Doe defendants, sending out pieces of their movie using a BitTorrent client (such as Popcorn Time, Movie Tube, uTorrent, BitTorrent, and others), and accuse the defendants of committing copyright infringement. They want to receive either a monetary settlement or a monetary award of damages from the court.
At this point in the process, they only have an IP address. They need to find out the name of a person to pursue. So they ask the court for permission to issue a subpoena to the Internet Service Provider for each IP address to get the subscriber's name. If you got a letter from your Internet Service Provider with a copy of a subpoena, that means a plaintiff in a copyright infringement case is asking the court for your name and address because they are accusing you of copyright infringement.
3. THE ISP SENDS YOU A LETTER. Your Internet Service Provider is required by federal law to warn you that someone is seeking your information. That's why your Internet Service Provider sent you a letter telling you about the subpoena and giving you time to object if you feel you have valid legal grounds to do so. Unfortunately, in most federal courts, the judges have found that at this stage you do not have grounds to object. However, you can still keep the plaintiff from discovering your name if you act before the deadline provided by your Internet Service Provider.
4. TIME TO CALL AN ATTORNEY. Once you receive the letter from your Internet Service Provider it is time to call an attorney. DO NOT IGNORE THE LETTER. This is critical. If you have received advice from any attorney or law firm suggesting that you will benefit from ignoring the letter and waiting until you are named and served, I urge you to contact me for a free consultation at 312-994-2424 immediately. Waiting until you get served is a terrible idea. It means that the attorney for the plaintiff has received your name and has put it in the public record. This is something most people want to avoid, and it is absolutely avoidable if you act to protect your rights as soon as you receive the letter from your Internet Service Provider. The attorney will have done a great deal more work on your case and it can be much more expensive to resolve if you ignore it until that time. Eventually, the plaintiff will amend their lawsuit to include you by name. That places your name on the court's docket and in the public record. It will show up on background and credit checks. If you ignore the situation for too long, the plaintiff will ask the court to enter a default judgment against you. Default judgments also show up on background checks and affect your credit. A default judgment is absolutely avoidable, and is a terrible resolution to a BitTorrent download case.
THE BOTTOM LINE IS THIS: YOU NEED AN ATTORNEY'S ADVICE.
You need legal advice from an attorney who has both settled BitTorrent subpoena cases and litigated them. I have that experience. I have represented more than a thousand people in BitTorrent subpoena cases. Some settled. Some proved they were not responsible and were dismissed. Some litigated their claims and won, or the plaintiff eventually stopped the lawsuit. My experience working with BitTorrent copyright infringement defendants, in both settlement and litigation, means I can help you figure out whether to settle your case or to litigate, with a plan that is sensitive to your financial and privacy concerns.
I always charge a reasonable flat fee to settle BitTorrent copyright infringement cases. Reduced fees for senior citizens, students, veterans and active duty members of the military are available.
Now that you know why you received a subpoena notification letter, you may want to check out the area of my site where I track and write about BitTorrent cases that are important to my clients. You can read about BitTorrent downloader subpoena cases on my site here. Or simply call me for a free consultation, seven days per week, at 312-994-2424.