On MyShingle, we celebrate the solo and small firm practitioner, and those at the forefront of innovation in the legal field. Our newest project, 41 Legal Practice Areas That Didn’t Exist 15 Years Ago highlights solo and small firm practitioners who have embraced unconventional and upcoming niche practices from Cryptocurrency Law to First Amendment & Online Defamation.
Our next profile is of Steven C. Vondran, a specialist in BitTorrent Litigation.
BitTorrent is commonly associated with online piracy, as it includes protocol for peer-to-peer transfering of large files, including copyrighted entertainment like music, movies, and games. While BitTorrent can be used for legal means, such as preserving earlier versions of websites through the Wayback Machine, it is commonly referenced in litigation over copyright infringement. BitTorrent litigation varies in scope between content creators who sue for illegal distribution of their properties, to copyright trolls, who file mass lawsuits in hopes of achieving a settlement.
Vondran discusses the different legal implications of modern day sharing technology and how the law has (and hasn’t) caught up.
Q: What is your name, your law firm’s name and location and website?
The Law Offices of Steven C. Vondran, P.C.
Offices in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Newport Beach, San Diego and Phoenix, AZ.
Q: At what point in your career did you begin to focus on BitTorrent Litigation, and what was the motivation for choosing BitTorrent Litigation?
A: I had clients coming to me looking for a lawyer with technology experience. They were receiving notices from their ISP’s informing them that a movie company had detected them illegally sharing their videos online. Many people were confused if these subpoena notices were a scam or a legitimate lawsuit. I started helping these clients and my passion for technology fueled my interest (I worked for a web based software company during law school).
Q: Tell us a little about your work in BitTorrent Litigation. What types of clients do you represent and what are some of the legal issues you encounter?
A: We represent companies and individuals accused of illegally downloading or “file-sharing” copyrighted movies on the internet. This can range from an individual downloading movies on their couch, to a fraternity downloading and sharing movies P2P (peer-to-peer) or a company, such as a coffee shop or café being accused of copyright infringement. The legal issues generally pertain to the accuracy of the information and whether or not the accused person was actually the one who did the downloading. Sometimes when you have an “open-wifi” (unsecured network) you may find that someone other than the accused was the copyright infringer. This can create legal challenges.
Q: What do you enjoy most about BitTorrent Litigation?
A: What I love about BitTorrent Litigation is helping real people deal with the “copyright trolls” who are often seeking $20,000 to $50,000 to settle these cases. The opposing counsel can be real bullies because they want to know what your clients financial position is, and they want to exploit that to the fullest (we refer to this as “shame settlements” when the movie involves adult pornography).
Sometimes, the Plaintiff claims to the press that they are not in this to make money (which is total nonsense and a blatant lie). We fight for our clients and help them get the best settlement possible and the best terms of settlement possible. This is very rewarding as many people have no idea that they are violating the law merely because they engaged in file sharing on the internet (often thought to be a legal activity by some of our clients). After all, who studies copyright law in high school or college?
Q: What kind of background is necessary for BitTorrent Litigation?
A: A strong understanding of technology is important. Understanding IP address and geolocation technology issues is essential. Having a strong understanding of copyright law and defenses is also extremely important. Finally, building “working” relationships with often aggressive opposing counsel is also important as is mastering the art of negotiation. There is definitely an art to defending those accused of movie piracy on the internet.
Q: How did you market your practice and gain a reputation in BitTorrent Litigation?
A: Most of my marketing is done through my popular legal video channel (http://www.AttorneySteveVideos.com). We have almost 10,000 subscribers and this has helped not only show our mastery of the subject matter, but to education the masses and to aid in referrals from other attorneys including in-house attorneys. It is important for the practitioner to never forgot that other attorneys can be a tremendous source of referral business. Network with other attorneys and having a strong showing of authority, along with client review and extensive federal court experience can go a long way.
Q: As you know, this practice area really did not exist 15 years ago. How do you address or advise clients on novel or emerging issues for which there is no precedent?
A: It is often said that the law lags behind technology. I have found this to be true. But I have also found that common sense existing legal principles can usually be applied to make arguments on what the law is, or what the law “should be.” Many lawyers forget that as attorneys, we have the right to not only make legal arguments as to “what the law is” but to also make arguments about what the law should be. That means you get a chance to MAKE PRECEDENT. Remember Brown v. Board of Education, there was no law until some lawyer made the perfect winning argument. In technology law, there is plenty of room for creativity and winning arguments that become future legal precedent.
Q: Tell us about one of your most interesting or challenging cases.
A: Client faced not one, but several “John Doe” lawsuits from a movie company. He was an ex-military veteran and we took the case on a pro bono basis due to his current financial condition. Client faced MASSIVE legal liability. We were able to use our working relationship and able to make a convincing case that the cases should be dropped. Luckily, opposing agreed and we were able to get the cases dismissed.
Q: What advice do you have for other attorneys interested in BitTorrent Litigation?”
A: Brush up on your copyright law. If you have not taken a course in copyright law this is essential. Also, many people inherently believe they are great negotiators simply because they are good at “arguing” (not a good negotiation skill) and because they graduated law school. This is not enough in my opinion. You have to learn the art of negotiation. This takes time and with experience handling these types of cases you will get better. But you have to like being on the phones settling cases, talking to clients, and managing the federal court litigation which goes along with most cases.
The Law Uninvented Profile Series is co-written and edited by MyShingle’s new Content Coordinator, Rachel Wallen.