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Archive for August, 2011

The bittorrent cases are speeding up, both in number of cases filed, and in the issues relating to the cases. Judges are smartening up to what is going on, and I am seeing the smaller “Does 1-23” cases ripped to shreds in the courts. But, because they are so small, the activities in each case are falling below the radar.

These smaller cases are now filed in the multiple courts across the country — the correct courts — with the John Doe Defendants often living in the states in which they are sued. Thus, there are no more motion to quash issues, and there are no more “wrong jurisdiction” arguments.

However, while NEARLY ALL the smaller lawsuits still have “improper joinder” issues (meaning, suing Does together in the same lawsuit who did not participate in the same swarm; thus, they did not take part in the same transaction at the same time), THE CASES ARE SIMPLY NOT GOING TO TRIAL and thus defendants are not getting the chance to contest improper joinder.

The problem with these smaller cases is that 1) the settlement amounts are elevated, and 2) the risk of being named as a defendant goes through the roof because all that is required to name defendants in these smaller cases is that the plaintiff merely needs to amend the complaint against a particular Doe (thus the case will change from Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-30 to Patrick Collins v. “Elliot Hendel” and Does 1-29 [this name is merely fictitious]), and then someone comes knocking at Elliot’s home and serves him a copy of the complaint. At that point if he has not already done so [and he should have hired an attorney immediately upon having notice from his ISP that he was one of the Does in this case], he has to hire an attorney to respond within 20 days with his answer and his counterclaims, or he will default (which means the court can enter a default judgment against him for the full $150,000).

However, the BIG SECRET is that for the most part, these defendants do NOT get named as defendants, and they remain anonymous as far as what is visible from the court’s eyes. Instead, the plaintiff attorneys scare the b’jeebies out of them and cause them in some cases to sign [in many cases] an “I’m guilty, I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again” settlement agreement. The end result is that they end up paying significantly more than they would have if they merely called an attorney and had that attorney negotiate on their behalf. To make matters worse, defendants do not realize that there are really three-tiers of settlement prices (not two) — 1) the plaintiff attorney’s asking price (the “pay us $X by this date or else we’ll name you as a defendant in this case” amount), 2) defendant-negotiated price, and 3) attorney-negotiated price.

When the defendant tries to negotiate his settlement on his own, the likelihood is that he will probably say something incriminating about his case. (For example, not knowing the case law, he may say, “it wasn’t me; it was probably my son — he uses the internet all the time; I keep telling him not to watch that porn,” or “I let my neighbor / son / guest / roommate use my internet,” or “I didn’t realize it was illegal to download — I thought it was only illegal to upload!” etc.) The result is that the plaintiff says, “thank you for telling me you are guilty; the offer is now off the table and I will see you in court <click>,” only to call back shortly afterwards and, in the graces of his heart, he will offer a new settlement amount which is nearly double the asking price of the original settlement amount.

It is not only important to have an attorney negotiate your settlement amount 1) because he can, and 2) he won’t incriminate you while you would likely incriminate yourself, but also, the attorney knows the case law [which is not so obvious], and he knows what to put into a settlement agreement so that the settling defendant does not later get sued for the same claim, attorney fees, etc. It kills me to see so many people turn around and try to settle on their own without reading what they are agreeing to. What burns me more is when attorneys don’t read the contracts they have their clients agree to.

…In short, the plaintiff attorney mops up the floor with the defendants, and many of the defendants (if not most of them) turn over and lay dead while they capitulate and settle their cases. Had they lawyered-up, they would have known how to protect themselves. Better yet, their lawyer would have stepped in their shoes and the plaintiff attorneys would not have even been allowed to contact the defendants in the first place. No letters, no scare tactics; no threats.

Everything being said, one thing that most don’t even bother to find out is who exactly their plaintiff attorneys are. In more cases than not, the plaintiff attorney is merely a guy in a room with a laptop and a phone. Sometimes there is a second lawyer guy in the room making phone calls scaring the defendants into settling — a two-man show. …Do you really think this one or two-man show actually has the ability to sue more than just a few defendants, and if you defendants lawyered-up, do you think the plaintiff attorneys would have the time to name each and every one of you? AND if they named each and every one of you (which is literally impossible because to serve each one of you with service of process would be nearly impossible to track and there are bound to be significant errors), do you think they would have time to respond to each and every one our discovery requests?

As your attorney, when I defend you, I have a duty to properly protect your interests. That means that us attorneys must establish evidence that calls into question their so-called experts’ methods in collecting IP addresses (see here for just a taste). We need to call into question their methods of suing multiple Does in one lawsuit. We need to fight them procedurally with motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgement, and in some cases, motions for sanctions.

Do you think that the one-man show attorney and their underlying plaintiff (too often, the porn production company) can handle the hours of deposition time that EACH OF YOU DEFENDANT would be entitled to? What about their so-called experts? Do you think they have the time to answer all our in-person depositions for each defendant? What about our interrogatories? What about our other discovery motions? Do you really think the one-man show — the attorney guy in the room with a laptop — has the time to spend going after each one of you when he can instead go after the unrepresented defendants who roll over and settle their cases?

To make these cases merely insulting, these plaintiff attorneys have been hiring no-name local-counsel attorneys to file their cases on their behalf (no disrespect to any of them; I understand they are doing it solely so that they can make a commission off of those who settle). As far as I understand, the local counsel often know absolutely NOTHING about these cases, but they talk a big game and then sheepishly refer you to someone else — an “in-house” negotiator, or the attorney behind the curtain — so that they can “close” the deal for them and scare you into settling. If you actually had us attorneys defend your cases rather than merely have us settle them, do you really think the BIG-8 ATTORNEYS (listed below) would have the time and the patience to babysit these local counsel when they ask for assistance after we file our own motions for discovery?

Thus, a client in these smaller Does 1-20 (or 1-50, or 1-80) cases does not need to settle, especially if they do not live in the jurisdiction in which they are sued. This is true regardless of whether the plaintiff attorney is Dunlap Grubb & Weaver (Nicholas Kurtz or Ellis Bennett), Steele Hansmeier (John Steele or Mark Lutz), Gill Sperlein, Ira Siegel, Keith Lipscomb, or even Marc Randazza.

We do know how to defend these smaller cases.

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Congratulations to clients of the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC (and now former defendants in the case) who were dismissed today from the Maverick Entertainment Group, Inc. v. Does 1-2,115 case (1:10-cv-00569-BAH) in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

Those of us who have been following this case (along with our clients) had their alarms set to check the docket this morning for a dismissal, as the judge was very clear that today was the deadline for the plaintiff attorneys at Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC to either name defendants or dismiss them according to the dictates of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) Rule 4(m). This rule gives plaintiff attorneys 120 days to name and serve defendants or to dismiss them.

There was an interesting note in these dismissals, [and it was not the fact that along with the dismissals the plaintiff attorneys asked for yet another 120-day extension to name and serve the remaining defendants].

What was notoriously MISSING from the dismissals were the defendants who had Charter Communications as their ISP. As the documents below indicate, not one Charter defendant was dismissed.

While there is no obvious reason for this, because I get phone calls each day from various Doe Defendants, I learn which ISPs have production dates due in the near future, and Charter is one of them. Charter still has at least one subpoena request (with potentially hundreds of defendants) which they have not yet turned over to Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC. As far as I can recall, this subpoena is due at the end of August.

So for those of you who are Charter Communications subscribers, I would not be shocked or surprised that you have not yet been dismissed. It appears to me as if your plaintiff attorneys are waiting until the results are in (e.g., until they receive all the accused subscribers’ contact information) before they do the next round of dismissals, which I expect to include Charter Communications’ subscribers.

For those of you who are putative John Doe Defendants in this case, please look for your IP address in this document to determine whether you have been dismissed. If you have, allow me to congratulate you on your victory.

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I was very impressed to see TorrentFreak.com write two articles entitled, “Are You Guilty If Pirates Use Your Internet? Lawyer Says NO,” and “Are You Guilty If Pirates Use Your Internet? Lawyer Says YES,” respectively.

Up front, I commend both attorneys Randazza and Ranallo for their contributions to these articles. Too many people are falling prey to these bittorrent lawsuits, and it is about time some on each side voice their opinions.

In short, my take on the two articles. Starting with the “NO” article found here, I thought Ranallo’s brief was well written, but it felt, well, brief. As far as I was concerned, while I certainly commend attorney Ranallo for his well written opinion (and for putting himself out there), the article was significantly lacking as far as what is actually going on in these cases. In addition, he COMPLETELY glossed over discussing DIRECT INFRINGEMENT which is what 99.999% of you are accused of. Unlike the 1932 tugboat case referenced in Randazza’s opposing article (“YES”), there has grown some relevant case law in the various severances and dismissals that have already happened BOTH LAST YEAR AND THIS YEAR.

For example, joinder. Many courts have held that it is improper to sue multiple defendants in the same lawsuit (e.g., Plaintiff v. Does 1-500) who did not take part in the same torrent swarm or who did not download the same torrent file. On top of that, EFF.org has been screaming “personal jurisdiction!” since these cases started showing up, and they are correct. For the most part, many (if not most) defendants who are sued DO NOT LIVE IN THE STATE IN WHICH THE LAWSUIT IS BROUGHT, (and bringing a bit of current law from the 2nd District [not binding on other courts] into the mix,) NOR ARE MANY OF THE LAWSUITS BROUGHT IN THE STATE WHICH IS THE PLAINTIFF’S PRINCIPAL PLACE OF BUSINESS. In short, these cases suffer because plaintiffs sue defendants in the wrong court and thus in a number of cases, there is no personal jurisdiction over the putative defendants.

There was so much more that was missing from Ranallo’s brief, but I suppose he was most concerned about just stating basic copyright law rather than fighting our side of these bittorrent cases. For example, he completely missed the high likelihood of a defendant succeeding if a digital forensics expert (paid for by the plaintiffs and/or their attorneys) examines a defendants computer and finds 1) no infringing file, and 2) no spoliation [formatting/wiping] of evidence after having notice of the lawsuit. People seem to gloss over that one too. In short, if a defendant didn’t do the crime, they shouldn’t do the time (here, paying the plaintiff their settlement amounts). These topics often don’t get discussed in the context of these lawsuits because so far, they have not been going to trial.

Now for the “YES” article found here. In short, Marc Randazza brought forth a well-written viewpoint that internet users who do not lock down their internet connections (e.g., with WEP or WPA2 encryption) are negligent and they deserve what comes to them through their ignorance. In short, the negligence theory as applicable to these cases states that an internet user 1) has a DUTY to lock down their internet connection [so far not true], 2) the internet BREACHED that duty by leaving his wi-fi router “open” (e.g.,without a password), 3) because the internet user did not lock down his connection, he CAUSED the plaintiff’s damage [again, not true], and 4) whether and how much the copyright holder suffered DAMAGES from the internet user’s lack of a secured wi-fi connection.

In short (and in response), the negligence argument assumes there is a DUTY to lock down your wireless access point (as noted). As a side note, as far as a duty is imputed to internet users, I’ve seen a few plaintiff attorneys argue that some ISP TOS agreements now require users to put a password on their wi-fi routers, but I have yet to see any proof of these myself. Plus, as far as I know, there have been NO court cases indicating that there is a DUTY to lock down one’s wi-fi access point.  As far as imposing a duty where none existed in the statutes, citing back to a 1932 tugboat case is a stretch at best, but point taken. We will see whether the courts impose a duty to lock down an internet user’s connection. Then again, if that ever becomes the case, then routers will come with WPA2 encryption active as the default setting with custom passwords, especially since the older forms of encryption can be cracked by anyone knowing how to look up “WEP cracking” on Google. If this ever becomes the case (and it would be a dark world if we were not permitted to share our connections with others, note EFF’s Open Wireless Movement,) we’ll have a fun time joining the ISPs as defendants because last I checked, it is their technicians and not the computer illiterate subscribers who set up routers in the first place.

In sum, two good and well written articles.  Do either cover the topics which relate directly to the copyright infringement lawsuits currently pending?  Not really.  Copyright infringement has more of a dry way of looking at whether an internet user is guilty of copyright infringement, and neither side addressed those issues.  That being said, it was still fun reading the articles and no doubt they will attract a lot of attention over the coming weeks.

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