ISP Sued Over Releasing User Data After Targeting Her

Rhett Pardon
MERCER ISLAND, Wash. — A Washington state woman has filed a lawsuit claiming media giant Comcast wrongfully provided her personal information to the recording industry in its attempt to collect funds through a third party over alleged file sharing.

The suit, filed in King County Superior Court, alleges that Internet service provider Comcast released personal data on Renton, Wash., resident Dawnell Leadbetter without an order from a court.

Later, without a court order, the information was used by a “representative,” which turned out to be Settlement Support Center LLC, the suit said.

Settlement Support is a company formulated for the express purpose of collecting money from alleged “John Doe” defendants the record industry is pursuing in its attempt to stop file sharing.

“This is a case that affects anyone who uses the Internet,” said Mercer Island, Wash., attorney Brian Hodges, who represents Leadbetter. “The [record industry’s] tactic is faulty — anyone can get their IP address pirated. It happens all the time.”

Hodges told XBiz that the “strongarm” tactic used by Settlement Support “is happening all over the country.”

Settlement Support threatened to sue Leadbetter for “hundreds of thousands of dollars” unless she agreed to pay them immediately the “bargain price” of $4,500, Hodges said.

According to a court filing, Leadbetter said she felt she was a victim of extortion. “She was understandably upset,” Hodges said.

In the filing, Leadbetter said Settlement Support instructed her not to seek legal advice and indicated that doing so would only drive up the cost of settlement. Later, Settlement Support suggested it would accept an even lower payment if she acted immediately and did not consult an attorney.

The release of Leadbetter’s identity emanated from a lawsuit filed by recording companies in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania.

But Hodges said that Settlement Supports’ efforts pre-date any legal decision, including an order to obtain ISP disclosures through issuance of a subpoena.

“The case that Leadbetter was notified of had not had an order issued in it allowing disclosure,” Hodges said.

Under federal law, an ISP must privately notify a customer if information is to be released, so an individual can challenge a subpoena for the information, according to Hodges.

The lawsuit filed in the Pennsylvania court listing the IP addresses of Leadbetter and others was dismissed by the recording industry earlier this month. The dismissal came two days after Leadbetter filed her complaint in Washington.

Also named as a defendant is Settlement Support, which acts on behalf of the recording industry to collect money from residents who allegedly shared files of copyrighted material over the Internet.

Leadbetter’s claim alleges the Settlement Support violated the federal and state Fair Debt Collection Practitioner's Act by seeking to collect a “settlement” from her in the recording industry's lawsuit against her and others.

Settlement Support, which does not have a license in Washington state to engage in collection practices, broke laws by trying, through deceptive means, “to collect a debt that does not exist,” the lawsuit said.

The complaint further alleges that Comcast's actions allowed Settlement Support to use Leadbetter's information to intimidate her.

Leadbetter's complaint also lists her as a class representative for “John Does 1-500” and includes a section setting forth “Potential Class Action Allegations.”