HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Production companies are using new technology to get more aggressive about illegal downloads. And in recent months, more than 100 residents have already been forced to pay up after watching pirated movies online.
Experts are now able to follow the internet's trail right to your computer.
"Technology has finally gotten to the point where these movie companies can actually protect their copyrighted material," said attorney Victor Bakke, who has represented bootleggers who settled with the companies.
Bakke's clients were able to do it anonymously because they responded right away after receiving notice that they were caught.
"The fines range from $200 up to $150,000," and Bakke says that's per movie.
A decade ago, companies like Napster were getting sued for copyright infringement. It was a popular platform for illegal file sharing.
It later switched to a legitimate online store. Back then, production companies could go directly after the sites; but now, apps and websites are simply the platform that allows file sharing without a central server. That makes it almost impossible to shut them down.
"We have no other remedy," said Kona attorney Kerry Culpepper, who represents the production companies.
He's filed lawsuits against more than a 100 Hawaii residents in the last four months.
Culpepper says the simple act of viewing the downloaded movie, can lead investigators right to your computer.
Culpepper said each movie file is broken down into hundreds of small pieces so that it can get to your computer.
He said those pieces come from various computers, phones, or tablets, that already have the file. Combined, they fit like a puzzle to create your movie. The minute you start watching it, your computer becomes another piece for other movie viewers to access.
People who announce they have such material available for download points officials in the right direction.
Computer experts can obtain an IP address, but they need to find out who the IP address belongs to.
Culpepper files a "Jane" or "John Doe" lawsuit, asking the courts to force the internet provider companies to turn over the name of the owner. "The internet service provider notifies customers that they have 30 days to raise objections," he said.
If there are no objections, the subscriber's name is provided.
Bakke said it's that time that the customers should immediately contact an attorney and come forward. "Try to settle out that case anonymously before their identity is revealed," he said.
Almost all of the Hawaii cases settled anonymously, through the bootleggers' attorneys.
Many times, it's not even the internet subscriber who is illegally downloading the materials, it's a young person in the home and the parents are trying to protect them so they pay to make the suit go away, experts said.
"If your child is watching a movie and they aren't paying anything then, as a parent, you should be very concerned," Culpepper says.
He said free movies online or movies that are still in theaters should tip off viewers that it's probably illegal.
Legitimate companies like Hulu, Amazon, or Netflix have a subscription fee because they pay the production companies.
The new method of tracking the IP address is proving successful in catching the pirates, but Culpepper admits, it's time consuming because there are so many viewers out there using file sharing apps.
Culpepper said the production companies are only targeting the worst offenders right now; one Hawaii resident downloaded more than 400 movies or video games in about six months.
Culpepper hopes people will realize that the cost of a ticket at the theater, or a subscription to a legitimate streaming service, could save them thousands of dollars -- and a lawsuit down the road.