Could one click get you in trouble? There are so many links online and thousands of sites offering free adult material on the Internet. But some of the hot stuff can burn you. One Maryland man, who asked us not to reveal his identity, got the bad news by mail. A California-based adult film company wanted to name him in a lawsuit demanding $2 million.
"I freaked out. They're gonna take everything," he told the News4 I-Team. The company subpoenaed his Internet provider for his name and address, alleging he illegally downloaded and shared pornographic videos from its site. "I felt like a criminal. They made me feel like I was breaking the law."
He’s an active member of his church, married with kids and a factory worker. He said he’s innocent but feared if he didn’t settle the case with Malibu Media, which offers monthly and annual subscriptions for its videos, his name would be attached to a federal lawsuit involving porn. "They're extortionists is what they are," he said.
When the I-Team asked him if anybody in his house had actually looked at these videos, he said “no.” But the court filing against him lists the names of movies he's accused of downloading including "Morning Desires," "Hot Chocolate" and "Mad Passion."
How to Protect Yourself Online
He hired attorney Anne McKenna to challenge Malibu Media’s subpoena. "Unfortunately, anyone is at risk for this, if you have a household where you have an IP address, you have an Internet Wi-Fi router," said McKenna. She had a computer forensic expert search her client's computer. He reported finding no pornography at all. She said that raises the possibility someone in a neighboring townhouse tapped into his wireless. “So, folks in apartments, folks in townhouses, they tend to have a lot of security issues with Wi-Fi routers."
A News4 I-Team review of federal court records found Malibu Media has filed more than 200 suits against people in Maryland in just the past two years for allegedly downloading the company's porn and infringing on its copyright. That includes cases in Montgomery, Frederick and Howard counties. There are about 70 more cases in D.C. and at least eight more in Virginia.
University of Maryland computer expert Jennifer Golbeck said it's quite easy for companies like Malibu Media to find you. You can be tracked through your computer's IP address. “Because your IP address says something about your location or who you're working for," said Golbeck.
Many of those adult videos found online are shared through a program called BitTorrent, one computer sharing a video with another. Golbeck said , "It can be configured to automatically take any files that you've downloaded and make them available to other people." That means, by clicking, you may actually, unknowingly, be sharing with others. And it's the sharing that Malibu Media says violates copyrights.
Malibu Media did not return the News4 I-Team’s request for an interview, and its Maryland attorney declined comment. In court filings by Malibu Media, the company said it spends millions each year producing content for its subscribers but finds it hard to grow.
Court records read, “For the first 3 years (when our site was not as popular) we didn’t have as many issues with piracy. Now, that our videos are highly desirable, more people steal our videos than pay for a subscription.” The company also said, “Each month, approximately 80,000 U.S. residents use BitTorrent to steal our movies.” Malibu Media said it's not using the courts to profit from the infringement and would redact any named defendants from public documents.
But McKenna said she's had clients, including women, who decided to just cough up money to the company, to avoid any embarrassment even though they said they were innocent. “The question is, do you pay them $10,000 to go away. Or are you going to have to pay a lawyer a lot of money to defend you,” said McKenna. McKenna has filed to squash the subpoena that would name her current client and is waiting on a ruling from the judge.