Hurt Locker producers sue 5,000 over digital piracy

Nick Allen in Los AngelesTelegraph Media Group Limited

Producers of The Hurt Locker are suing 5,000 people who allegedly downloaded copies of the Oscar-winning film from the internet in the latest attempt to fight digital piracy.

The Hurt Locker won six Oscars, including Best Picture, but earned only $16.4m (€13.3m) at the US box office, making it one of the least commercially successful winners of the top prize in the modern era.

Voltage Pictures, the company that produced the film, is determined to track down those who watched it on home computers and wants damages for copyright infringement.

Anyone who did so will have to pay $1,500 (€1,220) to be released from their liability and up to $150,000 (€120,000) if the case goes to court.

The list of defendants in the case is expected to grow from the as-yet unnamed 5,000 so far being targeted.

The film was first leaked online months before its US release and is believed to have been downloaded millions of times.

The producers' legal claim, filed in Washington DC, said the digital piracy was a "rampant infringement" of its rights.

It said distribution of even one unlawful copy could "result in the nearly instantaneous worldwide distribution of that single copy to a limitless number of people".

They are working with internet service providers to identify the individuals who allegedly downloaded the film.

Attempts to recoup money lost from digital piracy have not yet been successful.

The music industry has already tried a similar tactic to stop digital piracy. In 2003 the Recording Industry Association of America tried to curtail the distribution of songs on the internet by suing tens of thousands of people.

But there was a public backlash after one of the alleged pirates turned out to be Brianna LaHara, a 12-year-old girl in New York.

In another case, Gertrude Walton, an 83-year-old grandmother, was accused of sharing rap songs on the internet, but she died before being identified as a suspected pirate. The music industry eventually dropped its legal campaign.

Producers of The Hurt Locker encountered controversy before the Oscars when one of them, Nicholas Chartier, sent an email urging Academy members to vote for his film over Avatar.

He apologised for his "naivete and ignorance of the rules" but was barred from the Oscars ceremony, only receiving his statue after the event.

Mr Chartier was recently reported to have sent an email to a member of the public complaining about the plan to sue people who pirated the film on the internet.

The email, said to have been sent by Mr Chartier, was itself published on the internet. It said: "I actually like to pay my employees, my family, my bank for their work and like to get paid for my work.

"I'm glad you're a moron who believes stealing is right."