Elderly couple accused of downloading movies illegally: We’re innocent

Elderly Kailua couple says they are being wrongfully accused of illegal downloads
Updated: Aug. 7, 2017 at 8:06 PM HST
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KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A 72-year-old Kailua man said he is being wrongfully accused of illegally downloading movies on the internet, including pornography.

"I've never illegally downloaded anything … or even legally! I use my computer for email, games, news and that's about it," John J. Harding said.

[UPDATE: In June of 2019, it was brought to Hawaii News Now’s attention that a renter at the Hardings’ home in Kailua admitted to illegally downloading the movies. Court documents filed that month verify the claim.]

Harding is among scores of Hawaii residents being targeted as part of a statewide crackdown on those who have illegally downloaded movies.

Movie companies have hired a local attorney to pursue alleged offenders, but some say they're going after the wrong people.

"It was kind of overwhelming because I've never downloaded anything in my life, and a movie, it's crazy!" Harding said.

Harding said he got a letter from a Big Island attorney in June. In the letter, it said the attorney has evidence that Harding's IP address is attached to more than 1,000 illegal downloads. Harding's IP address was identified in a search for unpaid downloads.

Attorney Kerry Culpepper subpoenaed internet service providers to identify customers at IP addresses he tracked down. Although Harding was one of them, it's possible someone else may have used his internet service.

"I know definitely that I'm not guilty and my wife is not guilty. So what's going on? Did somebody hack us?" Harding said. "Is somebody out there actively hacking us? How they do that and go about doing that, I have no idea."

The letter states, "Our firm is authorized to accept the sum of $3,900 as full settlement for our client's claims. This offer will expire on 7/31/2017. Thereafter, our client will accept no less than the sum of $4,900 to settle this matter, but this increased settlement offer will expire on 8/7/2017."

"The tone of the letter was basically, pay up or we're coming after you," Harding said. "It's absurd. Absolutely absurd."

Culpepper said damages go up to $150,000 per illegal download and said the letter was not just a scare tactic.

"I have to strike a balance between getting the attention of the subscriber, but not causing too much stress, and I believe that my letters strike that balance," Culpepper said.

Culpepper said people need to contact his office if they have been wrongfully accused.

"This is similar to a car stolen. If your car was stolen and your car hit someone or did some damage, initially the victim would look to see who was the owner of the car," he said. "You would probably tell them, someone stole my car. That time, that person would try to find the person who stole your car."

Culpepper said in the past, he has accepted much less money and sometimes apology letters instead of payment.

"We're not trying to bankrupt people or take food from the mouths of struggling people. The purpose of this campaign is to deter piracy," he said.

Jonathan Yunger, vice president of Millennium Media, the parent company of one of the plaintiffs, said they take piracy very seriously and they are not after people's money, they just want them to stop.

Harding said he doesn't want to hire an attorney because of expenses.

But Culpepper is advising people not to ignore his letters.

"The worst thing that could happen would be someone who is not responsible for this becoming a named defendant."

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