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A Texas federal court has ordered a former employee of a local phone store to pay $6,250 in damages for hacking. The woman, who was fired, promoted the hacking app Popcorn Time to customers and also uploaded pirated content herself. The damages awarded are significantly lower than the $162,500 claimed by several movie studios.
Millions of people around the world use pirate apps on their mobile devices to stream TV shows and movies.
This is a problem for copyright owners, who have tried to tackle the problem in recent years, both in and out of court.
Hawaiian attorney Kerry Culpepper has been particularly active on the legal front. Representing various film companies, he attacked users, site operators and developers connected to Popcorn Time, Showbox and other applications.
These legal efforts have also extended to more indirect targets such as ISPs and VPN services. Even offline targets aren’t safe, it seems. Last December, a former employee of a VICTRA store was sued for promoting the hacking app Popcorn Time to customers.
Popcorn Time promoted by VICTRA employees
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the makers of the film “Hunter Killer”, which was later joined by four other film companies. The filmmakers accused Ms Boylan of downloading several films. More unusually, the rights holders also accused her of promoting Popcorn Time to customers of the VICTRA store.
“Defendant promoted movie piracy applications to its customers to induce them to purchase particular products and thereby increase its own compensation,” reads the amended complaint.
The claim was backed up by testimony from a VICTRA customer who said Ms Boylan recommended him and helped install Popcorn Time to watch free movies. This client was sued in a previous lawsuit and likely provided the information as part of a settlement.
After the client reported Ms Boylan, the filmmakers did further research which showed that the IP address connected to her Verizon subscription had been used repeatedly to download pirated movies.
The filmmakers are asking for $162,500
When VICTRA discovered the allegations, Ms Boylan was terminated as an employee. However, the movie studios weren’t done yet and were also seeking a large sum in damages for piracy.
After Ms. Boylan failed to respond in court, the filmmakers sought a default judgment seeking $150,000 in damages for copyright infringement and an additional $12,550 for DMCA violation.
In a recent order, US District Court Judge Frank Montalvo agrees that copyright owners are entitled to damages. However, the requirements are too high and the final verdict is significantly lower.
“Several factors suggest a somewhat lower award of statutory damages,” Judge Montalvo wrote, adding that “the facts do not establish defendant’s direct infringement extended beyond personal consumption.”
Ms Boylan’s downloads for personal use aren’t the biggest issue, the court said. What weighs more heavily is that the defendant promoted Popcorn Time in a sales pitch, for its own benefit.
$6,250 will suffice
Overall, however, the court does not believe the film companies were seriously harmed by any of these activities.
“Defendant’s contributory breach is somewhat more serious as it likely caused more loss of revenue than its direct breach and was committed for its own benefit. Even so, the total harm to plaintiffs is unlikely to be substantial,” the order reads.
Instead of the $162,500 in damages sought, the court finds that $6,250 is sufficient in this case. Additional compensation of $10,680 in attorneys’ fees and expenses brings the total owing to $16,930.
The greatly reduced damages award spares the defendant a potential lifelong liability. However, Judge Montalvo points out that the amount is likely high enough for her to learn a lesson.
A copy of the order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Frank Montalvo is available here (pdf)