Over the past year, a group of independent movie companies have filed a series of lawsuits against VPN providers.
The makers of films like “I Feel Pretty” and “Dallas Buyers Club” accuse these services of condoning or actively promoting piracy.
Many of these lawsuits ended in settlements, with some VPN services agreeing to block notorious hacking websites or BitTorrent traffic on servers located in the United States. Needless to say, these issues can have serious repercussions for the companies involved.
Film Companies Su VeePN
In a new lawsuit filed in federal court in Virginia, several movie companies, including Voltage Holdings and Screen Media Ventures, have identified VPN provider VeePN as their next target. According to the filmmakers, VeePN actively promotes piracy, using it as a PR opportunity.
Although not all VPN services are bad apples, VeePN uses the fear of being caught by hackers as a marketing strategy.
“[S]Some unscrupulous VPN providers have taken advantage of this widely known risk by promoting their VPN services as essential tools for hackers. These VPN providers insist in advertisements that they delete end users’ access logs so that their identity is not revealed to copyright holders or law enforcement.
Emboldened by these promises that their identities will never be revealed, end users use VPN services to engage in massive movie piracy while openly boasting about hacking and outrageous criminal behavior such as illegal hacking and theft. ‘, add the filmmakers.
Besides the filmmakers, Hawaii 42 Ventures is also among the plaintiffs. This company is run by anti-piracy attorney Kerry Culpepper and owns the “Popcorn Time”, “YTS” and “RARBG” trademarks, which VeePN has also allegedly abused.
Popcorn Time VPN
The complaint sums up a long list of charges. It also reveals that the company was not targeted by chance, and appears to have been triggered by another lawsuit; Against VPN.ht which presented itself as Popcorn Time VPN.
Last year, VPN.ht distanced itself from the popular hacking app after it faced legal issues. Soon after, VeePN began promoting itself in connection with the Popcorn Time brand, according to the lawsuit.
“Just 3 months after VPN.HT ended its engagement with Popcorn Time, VeePN began marketing itself as a “Popcorn Time VPN” and operates under a similar lucrative scheme to capitalize on the fear of prolific hackers getting caught.”
The complaint lists various examples including a blog post on VeePN where it recommends using a VPN with Popcorn Time to avoid trouble.
“Downloading and sharing files via torrent is a violation of copyright law. This means that it can be punished by law. That is why you need Popcorn Time VPN. This way you hide your IP address and reduce the risk of vulnerability.
“Advertising on YTS.mx”
The problems don’t end there, VeePN has also been accused of actively advertising its services on YTS.mx, the most popular torrent site on the internet.
“VePN goes one step further and is even promoting its VPN service on the infamous hacking site YTS as an essential tool for downloading copies of the plaintiffs movies without ‘…[ting] Claims fined! The plaintiffs wrote.
The complaint states that VeePN has a partnership agreement with YTS, which promotes the VPN and gets paid for each referral. VeePN is taking advantage of this partnership by getting more users on board.
Whether VeePN actively sought YTS as a partner is not immediately clear from the evidence presented. However, the plaintiffs are convinced that the company is actively targeting and benefiting from hackers.
To curb the piracy activity of VeePN users, movie companies sent hundreds or thousands of DMCA notices to host company DataCamp. However, this did little to stop the counterfeiting activity.
Millions in copyright and trademark damages
In addition to various copyright infringement claims, VeePN is also accused of DMCA and trademark infringement. It was uploaded by 42 Ventures, which claims that VeePN has used its YTS, RARBG, and Popcorn Time trademarks without permission.
The complaint states that “VeePN has advertised and offered its goods and services for sale using 42 marks with the intent to mislead, deceive, or confuse consumers as to the origin of its merchandise and to compromise the reputation and goodwill of the plaintiff 42”.
In addition to stopping the offending activity, the plaintiffs are also seeking compensation. In total, the rights holders are seeking $6 million in trademark damages and $3.9 million in copyright damages, bringing the total to nearly $10 million.
A copy of the complaint filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, available here (pdf)