Hollywood threatens to sue UK BitTorrent man for millions

Morning coffee and a lawsuit

Exclusive Alexander Hanff had no idea Hollywood was keeping such a close eye on him. Then, last Saturday morning, a movie studio functionary arrived at his door. Hanff, still in his dressing gown and not yet full of coffee, opened the door, only to be served with a lawsuit by Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal City Studios and Warner Bros.

You may have already guessed Hanff's supposed transgression. The movie studios suspect him of running a BitTorrent hub and helping people download copyrighted films via P2P technology. The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of American) has gone after numerous BitTorrent hubs on similar charges and managed to shut many of them down. The plot here is a familiar one.

There are, however, a couple of factors that make Hanff's story unique. For one, the US studios served Hanff papers at his home - in England. Secondly, Hanff, 31, owns the DVDR-Core domain name and pays for its server, but he has never actually administered the site. That's done by a group of online friends that Hanff has never met in person. Lastly, Hanff plans to fight the movie studios, making him a rarity among BitTorrent hub owners.

"I am certainly not going to settle for anything that will compromise my integrity or the integrity of our members," Hanff said. "They can bankrupt me. I don't own a house, so they can't take it. I own a few guitars that they can have and an old inkjet printer. It's a waste of their time and of my time."

Hanff argues that BitTorrent hubs should be covered by the same rulings that have made P2P services legal in the US. The hubs don't host actual movie files. They point people to computers where the movies are stored. It's the users and not the hub owners that are directly infringing on the movie studios' copyrights. And with personal files and open source software being moved via BitTorrent technology, there are plenty of substantial non-infringing uses for the hubs.

"Torrent files don't contain any data," Hanff said. "This is a search engine scenario. Why aren't Google, Yahoo or Microsoft getting sued?"

Hanff bought the DVDR-Core domain name close to 18 months ago and then last year purchased a server hosted in California. His online friends then set up a community site for DVD and movie enthusiasts. The site had all the basics such as chat rooms, discussion boards and special "members only" sections. It also happened to have a BitTorrent tracker for finding files - many of them copyrighted works of MPAA members.

In total, the site was actually only up and running for a few months. Hanff shut it down of his own volition in December, after reading about raids on Dutch P2P sites. (Hanff had moved from the California servers to Dutch servers in early December and shut down the site in mid-December).

"The servers were wiped clean by the administrators," Hanff said.

Hanff insists that he has never administered the DVDR-Core servers, unless you count paying for them as administration. Only his online associates - who he has never met and can't even be sure if he knows their real identity - have touched the boxes. Hanff declined to provide contact details for these administrators but said they have not been served with any papers by the movie studios.

The movie studios never sent word that they were concerned about the DVDR-Core site until the lawsuit threat arrived - a fact which really displeases Hanff.

"I never received a complaint, and I took the site down on my own," he said. "Now, three or four months later, I am getting served."

While he was only served last week, the studios filed their lawsuit back on 14 December in the District Court for Northern Illinois. They filed a "John Doe" lawsuit, but the studios were later able to identify Hanff with the help of the server's ISP.

"Though you may currently be located in the United Kingdom, you will be subject to the jurisdiction of the United State federal court by virtue of your engaging in BitTorrent activities through a US Internet Service Provider, among other reasons," the studios said via their lawyers. The lawsuit filed by the movie studios claims DVDR-Core provided links to 1,000 torrents and films such as "Big Fish," "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Stepford Wives." The media mob threaten to seek anywhere from $750 to $150,000 per infringed work.

DVDR-Core never provided Hanff with any extra income. He didn't put ads on the site and used a scant amount of donations to pay for the server. At its peak, the site had about 30,000 registered members.

Hanff has no idea how to respond to the studios from a legal standpoint. The studios have tapped Jenner & Block LLP in Chicago to do their dirty work. The law firm, however, didn't say what it would accept as a settlement or what the movie studios wanted.

On Tuesday, Hanff, an IT trainer by day, plans to ask for legal and possibly even financial help on the DVDR-Core site. A similar strategy was employed recently by another BitTorrent hub - the dubious LokiTorrent.

"Loki kind of ruined it for people like me, but I am going to appeal for legal advice on the web site," he said.

This case proves that the MPAA, like its musical counterpart the RIAA, is intent on making an example out just about anyone. It's prepared to send operatives scurrying about the UK to serve papers on a man who had already shut down a possibly legal site months ago.

The media moguls likely won't get any lucrative pay out of Hanff. All he has are those guitars, a printer and three cats. As it turns out though, that's the type of arsenal our most feared criminals pack these days. ®

Related stories

Swedish ISP raid prompts backlash
Bloggers invade Austin music fest
BitTorrent gets major revamp
Arizona tags naughty file-trader
BPI nails 'music pirates'
P2P promises economic Valhalla - Grokster et al
Loki puts donations toward $1m MPAA payoff
Sue the reader of this File Sharing Book

Other stories you might like

  • DuckDuckGo tries to explain why its browsers won't block some Microsoft web trackers
    Meanwhile, Tails 5.0 users told to stop what they're doing over Firefox flaw

    DuckDuckGo promises privacy to users of its Android, iOS browsers, and macOS browsers – yet it allows certain data to flow from third-party websites to Microsoft-owned services.

    Security researcher Zach Edwards recently conducted an audit of DuckDuckGo's mobile browsers and found that, contrary to expectations, they do not block Meta's Workplace domain, for example, from sending information to Microsoft's Bing and LinkedIn domains.

    Specifically, DuckDuckGo's software didn't stop Microsoft's trackers on the Workplace page from blabbing information about the user to Bing and LinkedIn for tailored advertising purposes. Other trackers, such as Google's, are blocked.

    Continue reading
  • Despite 'key' partnership with AWS, Meta taps up Microsoft Azure for AI work
    Someone got Zuck'd

    Meta’s AI business unit set up shop in Microsoft Azure this week and announced a strategic partnership it says will advance PyTorch development on the public cloud.

    The deal [PDF] will see Mark Zuckerberg’s umbrella company deploy machine-learning workloads on thousands of Nvidia GPUs running in Azure. While a win for Microsoft, the partnership calls in to question just how strong Meta’s commitment to Amazon Web Services (AWS) really is.

    Back in those long-gone days of December, Meta named AWS as its “key long-term strategic cloud provider." As part of that, Meta promised that if it bought any companies that used AWS, it would continue to support their use of Amazon's cloud, rather than force them off into its own private datacenters. The pact also included a vow to expand Meta’s consumption of Amazon’s cloud-based compute, storage, database, and security services.

    Continue reading
  • Atos pushes out HPC cloud services based on Nimbix tech
    Moore's Law got you down? Throw everything at the problem! Quantum, AI, cloud...

    IT services biz Atos has introduced a suite of cloud-based high-performance computing (HPC) services, based around technology gained from its purchase of cloud provider Nimbix last year.

    The Nimbix Supercomputing Suite is described by Atos as a set of flexible and secure HPC solutions available as a service. It includes access to HPC, AI, and quantum computing resources, according to the services company.

    In addition to the existing Nimbix HPC products, the updated portfolio includes a new federated supercomputing-as-a-service platform and a dedicated bare-metal service based on Atos BullSequana supercomputer hardware.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022