Legal Ethics

Class Action Accuses Anti-Piracy Law Firm of ‘Settlement Fraud and Extortion’

A defendant accused of illegal downloading along with more than 4,500 other defendants claims in a class action lawsuit that the law firm pursing the cases is guilty of “settlement fraud and extortion.”

The suit targets the U.S. Copyright Group, the entity formed by the law firm Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver, according to stories by THR Esq., the Forbes blog Full Disclosure and Ars Technica’s Law & Disorder blog. The plaintiff, Dmitriy Shirokov, is among 4,577 accused by the firm of illegally downloading the action-adventure movie Far Cry, released in Canada in 2007 and the United States in 2008.

Shirokov’s suit, filed in Massachusetts federal court, alleges that Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver falsely claimed a first-publication date of November 2009 when obtaining the U.S. copyright in an attempt to be eligible for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per download. Shirokov seeks damages for racketeering, copyright misuse, unjust enrichment and fraud.

The U.S. Copyright Group threatens litigation unless the defendants pay settlements beginning at $1,500 and increasing to $2,500 if the payment isn’t prompt. But Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver “does not genuinely intend to pursue most, if any, of these thousands of claims to trial,” the suit says. “With only 13 attorneys on staff, DGW has issued a volume of demand letters that far surpasses its ability to litigate this volume of claims case by case.”

Prior coverage: “Dueling Sanctions Requests Filed Over Self-Help Docs for Illegal Downloaders” “Judge Orders Copyright Defendants in Mass Suit to Reveal Identities” “Law Firm Poised to Bank Millions on Peer-to-Peer Prosecution”

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