This was driven home by this fine article in Ars Technica yesterday, about the Prenda Porn Trolls. Basically, Prenda is a law firm that set about conducting exactly this sort of behaviour on an industrial scale. They've been much in the tech news for the past year or two, and now that I think about it, JonMon's tactics sound a bit reminiscent.
Prenda would find some porn film that was getting Bittorrented online. They would sue *everybody* who might possibly have downloaded it (supposedly on behalf of the copyright holder, although I always got the sense that Prenda was really in charge), based simply on IP addresses. They would get the court to issue broad-based orders so that they could get contact info for all those IP addresses, and then they would serve scary court documents to everybody who turned up. (Never mind that going from a cable IP address to an individual is a pretty shaky chain of reasoning.) They would offer to settle for a few thousand dollars, while meanwhile scaring the snot out of people by pointing out how insanely high the fines for copyright violation can get nowadays. I don't think any of those cases ever got to court -- indeed, I gather that if someone *did* mount a defense, Prenda would quietly dismiss the case and fade into the night.
They made *millions* doing this.
They finally got slapped down, hard, by a judge this week, and are now at the sharp end of some criminal complaints themselves. But it's an interesting reminder of how the law can be used as a weapon of extortion, and how, sometimes, winning the case is in no way the point of the exercise...