TRENTON – New Jerseyans who download and share pirated pornographic films could wind up seeing more than they expected – a lawsuit from the film’s producer that could expose their habit, unless they pay a settlement.

Strike 3 Holdings regularly files copyright claims in courthouses across the country that it says are needed to respond to massive piracy of its adult films, distributed under brands known as Blacked, Blacked Raw, Tushy and Vixen.

In its lawsuits, the company says its portals get 15 million visitors a month.

Since 2017, the company has filed around 800 lawsuits in New Jersey, representing the majority of copyright claims in the state.

This year, 168 of their lawsuits in New Jersey’s federal court have been closed, usually dismissed after settlement. As of last month, they had 48 open cases in U.S. District Court in New Jersey.

'Extreme infringers'

The lawsuits aren’t focused on people watching movies on porn video-streaming websites. They say they target “extreme infringers” who regularly download and distribute the company’s movies through the dark web, on peer-to-peer file sharing protocols such as BitTorrent or Tor.

Lawsuits have accused people of illegally sharing as many as 30 movies, which the company detects using a system it developed called VXN Scan.

“Defendant is, in a word, stealing these works on a grand scale,” says one lawsuit. “Using the BitTorrent protocol, Defendant is committing rampant and wholesale copyright infringement.”

Strike 3 says in its court filings that in addition to those lawsuits, the company sends 50,000 "take-down" notices each month under copyright law.

The lawsuits are often captioned with “John Doe” and an IP address as the defendant. The company requests that a judge direct the internet service provider to provide it identifying information about the user of that address.

'Shame people into paying'

The company offers to seal any documents that might publicly identify them as part of a settlement. Critics of the company’s approach liken it to a shakedown in which a person basically must pay up to keep their name from being publicly associated with a lawsuit about watching and distributing porn.

“There is a basic unfairness in using copyright law to shame people into paying to preserve their anonymity,” said The Nissenbaum Law Group in Union Township, in advertising to help clients “minimize the fallout” from being named in such lawsuits.

Here’s what happens, says the law firm. An internet service provider forwards the subpoena to the person and says if the user doesn’t successfully challenge the subpoena within 30 days, it will provide Strike 3 Holdings their name and identifying information, which will probably wind up in the caption of a lawsuit available to the public.

But if someone settles, they’ll be dropped as a party to any lawsuit.

“You are essentially going to purchase your anonymity,” The Nissenbaum Law Group said. “Is this legal? You would be surprised at how many courts nationwide have taken the position that it is not only legal, but that Strike3 has the right to do this because its rights under the United States copyright laws have been violated.”

Attorney Gary Nissenbaum declined to comment for the story, though his firm says online it has handled many such cases.

The lawyer representing Strike 3 in New Jersey, John Atkin of Morristown, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

But in a court filing, Strike 3 Holdings’ chief technology officer David Williamson said the company tries to be mindful and reasonable and only files lawsuits against people who distribute illegally downloaded movies.

“We are mindful of the nature of the works at issue in this litigation,” Williamson said in a court filing. “Our goal is not to embarrass anyone or force anyone to settle unwillingly, especially anyone that is innocent. We are proud of the films we make. We do not want anyone to be humiliated by them.”

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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