X-rated legal action makes US history books

x-art-580In 2006, Colette Pelissier was selling houses in Southern California, and her boyfriend, Brigham Field, was working as a photographer of nude models.

Colette Pelissier wanted to leave the real-estate business, so she convinced her boyfriend to start making adult films. “I had this idea, when the real-estate market was cooling—you know, maybe we could make beautiful erotic movies,” she said.

By 2009 they had launched X-art.com and had started shooting adult films in places like Madrid and Prague as Malibu Media. The website promised its customers erotica featuring “gorgeous fashion models from the USA, Europe, South America and Beyond.” For $40 a month, subscribers had unlimited access to a growing collection of short films. The site attracted a few hundred subscribers in its first year, then a couple thousand the next; it became profitable by 2010.

The couple married in 2011; Pelissier changed her last name to Pelissier-Field. That year, she noticed a change at X-art.com: the number of subscribers—the site had about 50,000 by then—had stopped growing.

The Fields hired a private investigation (PI) agency to find out whether people were watching their films without paying. Unsurprisingly, they discovered 300,000 people each month were watching pirated versions of X-art movies — including 80,000 people in the US.

“We felt like we had to do something,” blushed Colette Pelissier-Field. “I don’t want to wake up in five years and have everything be free.”

In order to create a new business model, the Fields turned themselves into a litigation monster. And they became the biggest flier of copyright litigation in the US, filing a staggering 1,300 copyright infringement lawsuits over the past 12 months. To put that into perspective, that equates to more than 33% of all US copyright infringements lawsuits filed last year and three law suits a day!

Defendants in this saga of rags to riches include an elderly woman and a former lieutenant governor. Defendants are tracked down by their IP address, although this isn’t a foolproof way of finding the person who infringed their copyright in the first place.

One federal judge has compared its lawsuits to an “extortion scheme” writing that many defendants, whether they committed copyright infringement or not, would rather settle than face the costs and potential embarrassment of fighting their cases.

Law bkIt’s hard to see why anyone facing such a legal action wouldn’t choose not to settle: hiring a lawyer costs more than settling, and damages are exponentially higher in the event of a loss at trial. Plus, no one wants to be publicly accused of stealing pornography.

To avoid embarrassment, many defendants have chosen to settle before Malibu Media names them in a complaint. Many judges have allowed defendants to remain anonymous as their cases progress toward a trial or settlement, although their names would be revealed if they ever faced a monetary court judgment.

Malibu Media’s attorney said that the company would never oppose a defendant’s wish to remain anonymous, and doesn’t threaten to out anyone…yet.

So far, only one of Malibu Media’s cases has proceeded to trial.

The judge in that case held that the defendant had stolen five movies and lied about it in court and ordered exemplary damages of $245,000 plus legal costs.

The Fields have found a new and very lucrative way to make money.

Given that lawyers are expensive for most people, the US legal system is stacked in favour of litigants like Malibu Media that can file a lot of lawsuits against people who can afford to settle but can’t afford to hire a lawyer.

And who says sex doesn’t pay? Maybe I’m in the wrong business …

Leave a reply