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Lawyers: We'll pillory porn pirates who don't pay up
Priests, police will be among first named
A law firm from the southern German town of Regensburg has threatened to reveal the names of internet users whom it claims illegally distributed pornography over file-sharing networks – unless, that is, the accused pony up some cash.
As reported by the English-language German newspaper The Local, the firm of Urmann and Colleagues (U+C) claims to have a list of some 150,000 names of people accused of "the unauthorized downloading of copyright-protected works combined with the simultaneous offering of that work by opening one's hard drive to other internet users."
"Works," in this case, means porn. U+C is one of Germany's biggest copyright law firms, and among its clients are a number of producers of such seminal works as "So Swings Germany," "Amili Learns to Swallow," and "Alone Among Brutal Fuckers."
In an earlier interview with the German online magazine Wochenblatt, U+C's Thomas Urmann said that his firm had contacted all 150,000 of the alleged smut smugglers about settling their accounts with the porn companies, often twice or even three times.
In December 2011, the German newspaper Heise described what it was like to be contacted by U+C. The first time the lawyers reached out, it said, they asked for a tidy sum of €650 to drop the case and offer the accused a confidentiality agreement. The second time, the fee went up to €1286.80.
Three strikes and you're out, says U+C, which now says it plans to publish the names of some of the alleged offenders on its website.
In an added twist, the firm says it will start with those names whose IP addresses might suggest they are "touchy cases." Porn downloads to internet connections located in church rectories and police stations might be the first to be identified, the lawyers have hinted, along with downloads to embassies of Arab countries.
U+C says it is within its legal rights to publish the names, even though the accused have not stood trial, thanks to a 2007 ruling of the German Constitutional Court that found it was permissible for law firms to publish the names of potential "opponents" for advertising purposes.
Critics of U+C's plan say the court ruling was intended to allow attorneys to publish the names of companies, not private individuals – whose names would hardly carry any legitimate advertising value – and that publishing the list would be a massive invasion of privacy.
Other detractors say the porn piracy cases could potentially be huge business for U+C, even if none of the cases go to trial. The actual figure being bandied about is €90m, although the attorneys say they are only acting as "an agent of the receivables," and that all proceeds will be distributed to their porn-producer clients.
Representatives for U+C have not said how many names it plans to release, but only that it will likely begin publishing its list on September 1. ®