FUNimation Sues 1,400 Torrent Downloaders

UPDATED. Anime powerhouse FUNimation has sued more than 1,400 BitTorrent users who allegedly downloaded the martial arts movie The Legend Is Born: IP Man. (Hat tip to Anime News Network.) The lawsuit targets downloads that happened between May 13 and May 26, and FUNimation is asking for the statutory maximum of $150,000 in damages per instance of infringement.
Hollywood has abstained from taking P2P users to court, but mass lawsuits like these are getting more common with smaller studios. FUNimation sued 1,337 downloaders of its Anime show One Piece in January, and the producers of The Hurt Locker sued close to 25,000 downloaders last week. These lawsuits typically target a large number of unnamed John Does in a single filing, with the intent of unmasking the downloaders’ identities during discovery.
Once rights holders knows the name behind an IP address, it pursues the alleged infringers individually and offers to settle in exchange for a cash payment. Rights holders have been hugely successful with these kinds of lawsuits overseas. Just this week, German ISPs said that they have to reveal the identity of some 300,000 subscribers per month. However, U.S. courts have been much more skeptical of this approach, and Funimation’s One Piece lawsuit was thrown out against all but one defendant.
The Legend Is Born: IP Man is a bit of a special case for FUNimation. The movie is a prequel to the highly successful martial arts flick IP Man, which was distributed in the U.S. by Warner Brothers. (s TWX) Funimation acquired the rights to The Legend Is Born earlier this month and plans to distribute it by December through various channels, including VOD and DVD. However, the movie was released in Hong Kong last summer, and imported DVDs have been selling in the U.S. for months. It has also been popular on torrent sites, where first copies appeared as early as last July.
Update: FUNimation sent us the following statement via email:

“As the local distributor of many titles entrusted to us by our partners around the world, part of our responsibility is to prevent infringement of those titles – such as The Legend is Born – Ip Man. The practice of illegal downloads is very harmful to our partners and as their rights are applicable, and enforceable, worldwide, we will continue to monitor and take action as needed.”