Inside D.C. entertainment

Local law firm wants to defend people sued by local law firm

March 9, 2011 - 02:12 PM
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Whether or not she downloaded this movie, Adrienne Neal needs a lawyer.

Last week, Ars Technica published a letter by Adrienne Neal, a 37-year-old District resident and the sole named defendant in the Far Cry case, one of the many mass lawsuits filed by local firm Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver against BitTorrent users accused of sharing movies illegally. In the letter, filed in the U.S. District Court for D.C., Neal explains that she works in human resources for a local arts organization, and thus, "I'm very sympathetic to the actual victims of copyright infringements; I know many of them!" She says she thought the initial settlement letter she received from the U.S. Copyright Group — Dunlap's guise in these cases — was "a scam." Neal continues:

Just to find out more, I used my employer's assistance program to seek legal consultation. However, I could not afford to employ an attorney's services, as I don't make enough money to go beyond a free consultation. Further, I was preparing to get married and I'm paying my way through grad school.

By not hiring a lawyer, though, Neal has made matters worse. She missed a January deadline to respond to court papers, and the court clerk declared her in default. Last month, U.S. Copyright Group lawyers "asked the judge to fine Neal $30,000 plus more than $3,000 in attorney fees," according to Ars Technica.

This is what local lawyer Eric Menhart wants to help people avoid — while also, of course, expanding his client base — by launching, a bare-bones website that he plans to expand in the coming weeks. On the website, Menhart — whose one-man firm, CyberLaw, specializes in Internet law and intellectual property — provides some basic answers about the U.S. Copyright Group lawsuits and offers a non-binding half-hour consultation for $149.

"For a a lot of folks, it becomes very stressful because it's very difficult to figure out what's going on," he tells me. "I think there's a lot of confusion."

Currently, Menhart has four clients — three in the Maverick Entertainment case, which includes a number of films, and one in the Voltage Pictures case, which involves Oscar winner The Hurt Locker. With thousands of people ensnared in the U.S. Copyright Group's cases, you'd think that clients would be easy to come by. But many people have been scratched from cases because they live outside the District Court's jurisdiction, while others would rather pay the $1,500 – $2,500 settlement than hire a lawyer, which likely would cost more. Menhart, however, notes that "there are a variety of ways that attorney fees can potentially be reimbursed."

Suing BitTorrent users appears to be a financial boon for film production companies and law firms like Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver. Now, defending those users might be a boon to other firms. And to think, all of these lawyers and paperwork and court hours for this.

Here's WUSA9's story about Neal:

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