By Sanne Specht
A motion picture company has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Medford, seeking up to $180,000 each in damages from 34 people accused of pirating movies off the Internet.
Voltage Pictures LLC, which states its pictures have won at least six Academy Awards, is asking for a jury trial, alleging the unnamed defendants used their computers to illegally copy and distribute the 2012 movie "Maximum Conviction," which was directed by Keoni Waxman and stars Steven Seagal and Steve Austin.
Voltage is seeking $30,000 from each defendant for copyright infringement and an additional $150,000 from each in statutory damages should there be a finding of willful conduct.
Voltage says the defendants reside in Medford, Talent, Central Point, Shady Cove, Klamath Falls and Brookings.
But the defendants have not yet been identified by name because Voltage has only their IP -- or Internet protocol -- addresses.
Voltage is asking that the defendants' Internet service providers, which include Charter Communications, Clearwire Corp., CenturyLink, Embarq Corp. and Frontier Corp., be ordered to release the defendants' names.
The suit states it is a "common misunderstanding that people involved in motion pictures are already wealthy." And that "the end product, such as a DVD, only costs very little to make."
"When this reality disconnect meets with the readily available pirated copies of motion pictures and the ease at which they can be illegally copied and downloaded at an almost anonymous level, many people feel justified in their pirating or theft of motion pictures," the lawsuit states.
In fact, there are "countless expenses and labors," including writers, staff, construction workers and others involved in making the final product, it says.
Voltage attorneys refused comment beyond the text of their lawsuit. Calls to Internet service providers were not returned last week.
Charlie McHenry, a co-founder of a Jacksonville video-game company Trilobyte Games Co., has experience with having his product pirated. But he said the issues of intellectual property rights and public domain need to be handled sensitively and realistically.
"The larger tension is between the copyright holders and the folks who believe in universal access," McHenry said.
McHenry stressed that while it is illegal to download protected properties such as movies, music and video games, he is concerned with the size of the monetary penalties, especially given the demographics of the typical defendants.
"For the most part, we are talking about underage folks who don't necessarily understand what they are doing is illegal," McHenry said. "They may be experimenting with the Internet and unintentionally be breaking the law. But they and their parents are slapped with a $30,000 to $60,000 fine."
One of the most popular games from McHenry's company has been frequently pirated. When it is found on a public site, his company sends a notice to desist, asking that the game be removed, he said.
"But that's as far as we go," McHenry said.
Voltage's suit states the industry has tried to capitalize on Internet technology and reduce costs to consumers through legitimate and legal venues such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. But people continue to "steal motion pictures and undermine the efforts of creators through their illegal copying and distribution of motion pictures" through peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent, which uses collectively interconnected computers through its system. Each time a person downloads the BitTorrent application, they become both a user and a distributor, the suit alleges.
Hollywood and the music industry are supporting lawsuits such as the one Voltage Pictures has filed, he said.
"They are clinging to models," McHenry said. "We need to work out a 21st-century model. But we are probably several years away from settling this."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.