‘Erotic Cinema’ Company Stirs Up Copyright Dispute

May 16, 2014

erotic cinema lawsuitIf there’s one thing I’ve learned writing this column, it’s that interesting intellectual property issues can come from just about anywhere.

For example, this week’s most interesting news item came from the, ahem, erotic cinema world.

In a way, I shouldn’t be surprised. Erotic cinema (and its less artistic cousin, pornography) are economic forces to be reckoned with, and historically, they’ve been at the forefront of many Internet-related issues.

Anyway….

The story starts with a Southern California couple who founded a company called X-art.com that creates what they call tasteful erotic films. It was a success, but in 2011, the couple noticed that paid subscriptions to their site has stopped growing. The culprit? Illegal downloading and file sharing.

The couple fought back by filing copyright-infringement lawsuits and, apparently, found it quite lucrative. As The New Yorker reports, since 2012 their company, Malibu Media LLC, has filed some 1,300 copyright-infringement lawsuits (more than anyone else) and average three new lawsuits a day. Almost all of them settle on confidential terms, usually for between $2,000 and $5,000. The settlements now account for about 5 percent of Malibu Media LLC’s income.

Now, at first, I thought it was encouraging to see a media company fighting back and, apparently, having some success. I don’t believe artists should be expected to have their work given away for free, and Internet “sharing” is a huge problem for producers of almost any kind of creative material.

However, it also sounds like these lawsuits are filed somewhat indiscriminately. One, for example, was against a 90-year-old woman who said she “didn’t know how to download anything.” (Malibu Media LLC sues defendants based on IP addresses, which many believe is an inaccurate way of identifying the real infringers.)

Maybe this woman was fibbing. Or maybe some Internet wizard in his mom’s basement somewhere used her internet connection as sort of a proxy. In any event, it sounds like the X-art.com couple is kind of using copyright as a blunderbuss – and profiting from it. That interpretation, of course, makes me feel differently about the whole matter.

In a perfect world, a company that exercises valid copyright privileges for its creative material wouldn’t be accused of abusing a system. In an even more perfect world, I’d have an answer for how to fix situations like these, but don’t hold your breath. As far as I know, no judge, lawyer, law professor or media company has found a happy medium. I hope that doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist.