Two weeks ago, publisher John Wiley made headlines by suing 27 internet users who were allegedly swapping editions of the popular “For Dummies” series online. The campaign appears to be working because John Wiley has now doubled-down on its effort by suing dozens more people. The prime targets this time include novice cooks and gardeners.
The litigation campaign reflects the fact that, in recent years, unauthorized file-sharing has become a problem for book publishers in the same way it has for the music and movie industry. In terms of file size, books are tiny compared to songs or videos and this makes it quick and easy for people to swap online copies. John Wiley claims that, since 2010, people have downloaded its “DOS for Dummies” title more than 74,000 times on the website demonoid.me
In a new lawsuit filed this week in New York federal court, John Wiley named more “John Doe” defendants and listed the titles they downloaded along with their location and IP address. Unlike a similar suit filed two weeks ago, the list of alleged offenders does not include many technology aficionados. Instead, the new list of miscreants is made up primarily of people from upstate New York towns like Rochester and Woodstock who shared “Cooking Basics For Dummies” and “Vegetable Gardening For Dummies.”
William Dunnegan, an attorney for John Wiley, said he could not comment on the litigation and would only confirm that it had been expanded to include 46 new “John Does.”
The decision to sue “John Does” reflects the fact that John Wiley cannot immediately identify the actual names of the file-sharers. The publisher is therefore using a procedural tactic that permits it to amend the complaint later on in order to add the defendants’ real names which it can obtain from internet service providers.
John Wiley’s goal with the litigation is likely to force the defendants to agree to a settlement rather than go to a full-blown trial. The publisher has considerable leverage because the Copyright Act provides draconian penalties of up to $150,000 per infringement, meaning many defendants could be willing to pay a few thousand dollars to end the matter.
This tactic of suing ‘John Does’ en masse has proved controversial with courts, however. As Ars Technica reported, a West Virginia lawyer this year partnered with a pornography studio in an attempt to extract payments from thousands of anonymous defendants — many of whom presumably pay to avoid embarrassment. Judges have halted the suits, saying the defendants should be sued one at a time, but this has led the lawyer to simply try again in different jurisdictions.
The John Wiley lawsuits suggest the book business is turning to the type of aggressive litigation long used by the music and movie industries. Many critics decry these tactics, claiming that copyright penalties are grossly disproportionate to the offense and that content industries should focus instead on developing new digital business models rather than suing people. Copyright owners believe that lawsuits are an effective deterrent and claim that piracy is making it impossible for them to invest in new content.
John Wiley launched the ‘For Dummies’ franchise in 1991 and has since sold more than 200 million copies in numerous languages.