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Archive for August, 2012

Umm… Did Judge Wilson just suggest that ISPs fall under the CABLE ACT??

I was just reading DieTrollDie’s article, and looking at Judge Wilson’s ruling [in the Malibu Media, LLC v. John Does 1-18 (Case No. 8:12-cv-01419) case in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida], it appears as if he just suggested that ISPs fall under the CABLE ACT (See Order, Doc 14, p. 5 of 7).

ORDER: …3. Each of the ISPs that qualify as a “cable operator” under 47 U.S.C. 522(5) shall comply with 47 U.S.C. 551(c)(2)(B), which provides that:

A cable operator may disclose [personally identifiable information] if the disclosure is … made pursuant to a court order authorizing such disclosure, if the subscriber is notified of such order by the person to whom the order is directed.”

Now many of you know that I have wrapped my head around the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (a.k.a., “the Cable Act”) so many times, and it surprises me that now TWO judges have suggested that a law written in 1984 applies to the internet (which was not even in existence at the time the Cable Act was written).

As we discussed on Monday in the “Judge Facciola opens up a can of worms with the Cable Act” article, 1) DC Judge Facciola argued whether an ISP would violate the Cable Act by sharing subscriber information. He concluded that assuming arguendo that the Cable Act did apply [noting that DC has not yet ruled on the issue of whether the Cable Act applies to ISPs], that Cablevision would not violate the statute if it complied with the copyright troll’s subpoena. Now, we have 2) Judge Wilson explicitly ordering “each of the ISPs that qualify as a “cable operator” under the Cable Act to comply with the subpoena.

In its essence, the Florida Middle District just ruled that ISPs WHO ARE ALSO CABLE OPERATORS ARE BOUND BY THE CABLE ACT STATUTES.

This is fascinating to me (especially since these judges would be going against significant case law from other districts stating that the Cable Act does NOT apply to ISPs) because it appears as if Judges are trying to corner the ISPs into the confines of the Cable Act (which makes my May 5, 2011 argument of how to sue ISPs for violating the Cable Act possibly viable). I have not even considered the MANY IMPLICATIONS of what happens if — as a rule — ISPs became bound by the Cable Act provisions? What else would change?

Looking at this logically, it makes sense to me that an Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) can be a “cable operator” bound under the Cable Act. Why? Because cable companies (Cablevision, Comcast, Verizon, etc.) *ALL* have taken a HUGE SHARE of the internet subscriber business. Cable companies today offer internet services to their subscribers. Thus, it makes sense that an ISP can be a “cable operator,” and thus they can be bound by the Cable Act.

After all, if hypothetically a huge oil company such as Exxon started selling their Esso Tiger toy dolls (remember these?), wouldn’t they also be obligatged to the laws that govern child safety laws regarding lead paint? How can an ISP say “we’re no longer a cable operator, we’re an ISP” when the same customer who pays for their internet connection pays them for their cable service?

In other words, I am starting to form the opinion that CABLE COMPANIES SOLICITED INTERNET BUSINESS AND BECAME ISPs. THEY ARE STILL CABLE COMPANIES AND THEIR SERVICES SHOULD STILL BE BOUND BY THE CABLE ACT WHICH GOVERNS CABLE COMPANIES.

Wow, this is a can of worms.

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These old cases keep creeping back up on us, and I am quite frankly dumbfounded that they are still alive so many months later. In the Openmind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-565 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01883) case in the District of Columbia, Judge Facciola brought back to life what was a stale, dormant case by answering an unanswered question of whether it would violate the Cable Act if Cablevision complied with the subpoenas and shared subscriber information with the copyright trolls.

Cablevision’s argument resembled a failed argument which I posted on my blog in May, 2011 for literally a day before puling it from the website.

[FOR PURPOSES OF CLARITY, I was writing two years ago about whether you can sue an ISP based on the Cable Act.  Then, I was referring to subsection (f) of the statute; here, Cablevision is referring to subsection (c) of the statute, asserting that the “checklist” of requirements under the Cable Act was not met and thus the subpoena was defective and they didn’t have to comply.]

More than two years ago, I wrote an article entitled “How an attorney can sue an ISP for disclosing a subscriber’s information“. In that article, I stated that a John Doe Defendant could possibly sue his ISP for violating the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (better known as the “Cable Act”). Shortly after writing the article, however, I did further research into the matter and I found that there was a significant amount of case law which held that this statute DID NOT APPLY TO ISPs. Apparently, however, I am not the only attorney who stumbled upon this statute.

In the Openmind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-565 case, Cablevision asserted that according to the Cable Act (47 U.S.C. §551(c)(2)(B)), they would violate the statute if they complied with the subpoena issued to it (which makes me wonder why they have been complying in other cases since). On Friday, Judge Facciola disagreed simply because regardless of what the Cable Act says, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) simply gives the court the power to force the ISPs to comply with the subpoenas, and the Cable Act is irrelevant to the issue. (Personal note: A judge can’t throw away a statute that conflicts with the rules! They must address the law and explain why it DOES or DOES NOT apply to the circumstances. They can’t ignore it and pretend the statute is not there!)

In short, the last time I took a look at this argument, I came to the conclusion that it was a very muddy issue. Anyone who wants to have a crack at this, please feel free to comment. I’m merely posting this article so that you understand what argument Cablevision was trying to assert, and why Judge Facciola ruled against it.

Once again, I feel that Judge Facciola didn’t properly address the issue of whether the Cable Act applied to copyright infringement statutes (and particularly to these bittorrent cases where his court has been ruling that John Doe defendants do not have standing to file motions to quash until they are “named” as defendants). In my opinion, Cablevision brought before the court the Cable Act statute, specifically, “47 USC §551 – Protection of subscriber privacy,” subsection “(c) Disclosure of personally identifiable information.” I keep asking myself, “how in the world does this NOT apply to our cases?!? (and if this does not apply, what statute does apply?)” EVEN THE CABLEVISION ISP ITSELF (a cable company) THOUGHT IT APPLIED TO THEM!

In sum, Cablevision brought before the court an issue – “how can I comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when this statute prohibits me from doing so?” At the very least, Judge Facciola should have ruled on whether the statute applies to these cases because instead, he said, “assuming it does apply, here’s why your argument is wrong.” My question is immediately, “assuming it does apply?!?WHAT?!? WHAT ABOUT ALL THESE OTHER PARTS OF THE STATUTE? DO THEY APPLY TO ISPs TOO?

As a result of this ruling, Judge Facciola has reopened a copyright troll case that until now was pretty much in a coma.  As far as this Openmind Solutions, Inc. case is concerned, expect now to start getting subpoenas from Prenda Law Inc. because once again, Judge Facciola has sided with the copyright trolls and has let the extortion scheme continue.

…And as far as the Cable Act and 47 USC § 551? Judge Facciola has just opened up a can of worms.

[For those of you who want to read the statute on your own, it can be found at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/551 ]

As far as the two documents which caused this mess, the original motion requesting that the judge rule on Cablevision’s motion applying the Cable Act to bittorrent lawsuits can be found here.

And, Judge Facciola’s ruling (the subject of this article) can be found here.

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This morning I woke up to news that the Third World Media, LLC v. Does 1-4,171 (DC; Case No. 1:11-cv-00059) plaintiff voluntarily dismissed all 4,000+ defendants. “That was disappointing,” I thought. What a waste of a case.

What got me thinking is that it was NOT the DC court (or their copyright-troll-friendly rulings) which prompted this dismissal, as I have a lot to say about Judge Facciola and his recent slew of rulings in a number of copyright infringement cases (more on that in another blog entry).  As far as I am concerned, this dismissal had other reasons which caused it.

Now obviously I’m very happy when a case like this goes bust, but it didn’t go bust. The plaintiff (and their copyright troll attorneys at Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC) simply lost interest and dismissed the case. I’ve been seeing this a few times over the past two weeks, specifically here in Texas with copyright troll Doug McIntryre dismissing his West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-351 (Case No. 4:12-cv-00504) case here in the Southern District of Texas — some copyright trolls are simply losing interest in their cases and giving up and dismissing all defendants.

Now I can obviously give an educated guess as to why this is. Local attorneys who work for copyright trolls don’t get paid by the copyright trolls.  As much as I villianize the local attorneys here on the blogs, local attorneys who file lawsuits on behalf of copyright trolls usually get cheated by their copyright troll bosses. I have heard many stories of clearly oblivious local attorneys making statements such as “well, nobody is settling my cases,” when I regretfully know the opposite is true. I once read a motion by a prolific copyright troll who wrote, “there is no honor among thieves” (referring to the bittorrent users who he was suing in his cases). Quite frankly, it is my opinion that this is probably the case between the copyright “trolls” themselves.

Then again, I have heard stories that the copyright trolls themselves often have trouble with the production companies (their clients, the porn companies) who have retained them to sue John Doe Defendants in the various lawsuits. I have often heard stories that behind each of the lawsuits is a imbecilic man with a short temper and a small brain who screams and yells at the copyright trolls to sue everybody on the planet. The problem is that these clients don’t want to pay the legal bills or commissions that they legitimately owe to the copyright trolls, as if they expect them to work for free.  Again, “there is no honor among thieves.”

And then again, (I have to note this,) I believe that there are instances where the copyright troll lawyers cheat their clients as well, binding them to settlement agreements and accepting money from defendants for infringements of their copyrighted works WITHOUT EVER TELLING THEIR CLIENT that this money was received.  The strategy: Sue on behalf of one production company, accuse the defendant of also infringing another production company’s copyrighted works, collect settlements for both infringements.  So I believe it goes both ways.  Production companies (clients) cheat their attorneys out of commissions and fees, and the attorneys accept settlements and never tell the production companies about it.  Again, “there is no honor among thieves.”

In short, while I do not know the politics of why a plaintiff attorney drops a case without explanation such as what you see here, it is my expectation that the reason for both of these cases is that there is conflict between the copyright troll attorneys, and the production companies in which they represent. Whether it is that the copyright troll attorneys are asking for too much money from the production companies (greed), or whether it is that the production companies who are not paying the copyright trolls, I don’t know or care. As far as I am concerned, my clients are being dismissed from the cases against them, and conflict between copyright troll attorneys who sue defendants and their clients can only be good for the world.

Side thought: As far as the copyright trolls cheating the local attorneys who they hire to file lawsuits on their behalf? While it frustrates me when I hear stories about the copyright troll bosses cheating their local counsel, part of me also thinks that there is also justice in the world. At the end of the day, these local counsel made a conscious decision to try to profit off of extorting thousands of dollars from each internet user (legal or not, we’ll see), and even if an internet user did download the title(s) he or she was accused of, there is no reason for them to pay thousands of dollars (often their life savings, or more accurately, their parents’ life savings) for what often ends up being a porn video where they could have purchased the DVD title for $34.99.  Obviously the distinction here is “actual damages” ($34.99) versus “statutory damages” (up to $150,000 for each infringement), and quite frankly, it is the copyright law that is broken [or that is being misapplied to downloaders], and not the lawsuits themselves which are inherently blind, or at least they are supposed to be — purposefully ignoring bias from certain DC judges.  That being said, only a piece of work would capitalize on this misapplication of the law and extort thousands of dollars from a defendant.  I really think the courts (and the law) needs to make a distinction as to who is a “pirate” and who is really just an innocent infringer.

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I am very excited to see that judges are starting to get involved in the discussion of whether it is proper to sue tens, hundreds, or thousands of John Doe Defendants accused of downloading copyrighted films (usually pornographic in character, and using bittorrent to do so) in one lawsuit.

Just a few days ago, I wrote about Judge Beryl Howell’s opinion in D.C. where she ruled that joinder of any number of defendants in a bittorrent lawsuit is OKAY. Her reasoning centered around the fact that the defendants are unnamed, and [ignoring the mass extortion scheme that is causing many families to hand over their life’s savings to the copyright trolls] that it is more “convenient” for the court to manage one lawsuit with thousands of UNNAMED Doe Defendants rather than trying to manage thousands of lawsuits with one defendant in each lawsuit.

This evening, I read an article from Sophicticated Jane Doe’s “Fight Copyright Trolls” (kudos to Raul) entitled “Judge Marrero: Pornography may not be entitled to copyright protection.

Quite frankly, the article is not only one of the best articles I have read yet, but it teaches and describes the issues in a very methodical order and in a way that cannot be replicated in any blog post of mine, and for this reason, I highly suggest that you read 1) that article, and 2) the actual order (which is equally a good read for those interested in the topic).

My contribution is that although this order pre-dated Judge Howell’s order, it addressed the split not only in the Southern District of New York, but it also describes the issues surrounding bittorrent copyright infringement cases in which judges have been ruling inconsistently across the federal districts. It demonstrates that the issues are heating up, and that there is a need for consistent application of the joinder rules across the federal districts.

The funny part about this order is that whether or not joinder was proper in this case — “Next Phase Distribution, Inc. v. John Does 1-27” (Case No. 1:12-cv-03755-VM [or 12 Civ. 3755 for those New York attorneys who don’t like federal case law nomenclature], which is being heard by Judge Marrero in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York) — the SDNY Judge Marrero decided to sever and dismiss John Does 2-27 for reasons INDEPENDENT OF THE JOINDER RULES. Read on.

Here are the three reasons [independent of joinder] which Judge Marrero used to sever and dismiss the defendants:

Reason one – “it would be impossible to manage the discovery of 27 different defendants.”

Imagine seizing 27 different sets of computers and dealing with 27 different sets of discovery, where each defendant held their own depositions, interrogetories, and where each defendant answered their complaint with potentially different and incompatible defenses (e.g., it wasn’t me, it was my son, it was my neighbor; I have an open wireless connection, my wifi was hacked, etc.). It would essentially be like holding 27 different trials in one trial. For this reason, the judge decided to sever and dismiss the defendants.

Reason two – “it is conceivable that several of the John Does did not actually download the copyrighted film.”

According to Mike Meier’s own admission, “roughly 30% of names turned over by ISPs are not those who actually shared or downloaded the videos.” Now while this statement can easily be taken out of context, it points to the reasonable doubt as to whether an accused infringer is actually the one who downloaded the copyrighted film. What made me stop and stare at the screen was that I was so excited that the judge explicitly stated that “an IP address does not necessarily correlate to a particular alleged infringer because several people may access the same IP address.”

There is more to this statement than the judge realizes, and while it has application to IP addresses changing and being used by multiple infringers (specifically regarding cases where the plaintiffs track THE IP ADDRESS regardless of whether it was issued to the subscriber at the time the downloads happened), in this case, it has the simple application that the subscriber is akin to the owner of a telephone landline account, and many people come in to use their phone — the account holder is not the one that makes each and every call, and for this reason, the account holder cannot be held liable for something that someone else did on their account. Back to the case.

Reason three – “if the Motion Picture is considered obscene, it may not be eligible for copyright protection.”

I cannot state more clearly that as Raul described in his article, this certainly is a clear shot across the bow that I have been sensing in many cases for quite a while now – that pornographic films are obscene, and that they do not qualify for copyright protection.

All I could say about this is that a number of attorneys and I have discussed this issue, not in the context of whether a “cheating housewife,” a “babysitter,” or any genre is copyrightable in and of itself (see the topic of “Scènes à faire”), but in the context of simply whether an obscene film is copyrightable at all.  For a long time, it wasn’t.  Then NY and some states started to allow it, and now perhaps courts will start reconsidering the topic. For an interesting write-up on the topic, see here.

In short, judges are getting tired of these pornography lawsuits, and I am getting tired of judges granting early discovery to copyright trolls without restrictions.

For this reason, I am happy that judges are starting to smarten up, and hopefully they will all start taking my advise that if they are going to grant early discovery to the copyright trolls, 1) the contact information of the accused John Does should remain private to the copyright trolls — only the CITY AND STATE of each accused Doe Defendant should be provided; 2) if contact information is to be provided, that it be “in camera” meaning that the ISPs should produce the information NOT TO THE COPYRIGHT TROLLS, BUT TO THE COURTS (so that the extortion scheme where plaintiff attorneys scare defendants into settling), and 3) the information provided on each John Doe Defendant only be permitted to be used IN THE INSTANT CASE (and not in a subsequent case where the plaintiff attorney threatens that “unless you settle now, we will ‘name’ you in a lawsuit in your home state.”

Judge Forrest (and now Judge Marrero) has put one more spin on this which is commendable — that the identity of the accused Doe Defendant be kept anonymous on the court’s docket. While this is admirable, it is not enough because defendants don’t only settle out of embarassment for being associated with a pornography case — they settle because it is cheaper to pay the plaintiff attorneys off than it is to fight them. This is a sad and broken part of the legal system, and putting the protections I outlined above would stop the copyright trolls in their tracks and would make these cases go away once and for all.

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There is a balancing act in this post as to how to make it NOT deathly boring, and how do I convey the information you need to understand what you have in front of you. Here we go.

Judge Beryl Howell once again issued a scathing opinion favoring copyright trolls and ruling against John Doe Defendants, their ISPs, the EFF, and everyone in favor of making these cases go away once and for all. However, there is a twist here in her decision, so read on.

In the AF Holdings LLC v. DOES 1-1,058 case (Case No. 1:12-cv-00048-BAH, Doc. 46) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Howell wrote a 42 page opinion essentially regurgitating all of her opinions of “judicial economy,” “personal jurisdiction,” “joinder,” whether an ISP has standing to file a MOTION TO QUASH on behalf of their subscribers’ arguments, and whether a subscriber’s MOTION TO QUASH is “ripe” for adjudication.

I want to be clear that this order is not written to the John Doe Defendants filing motions to quash, but to the ISPs who filed motions to quash on behalf of their subscribers.  To put it into context, this order is written to the ISPs telling them why they must comply with the subpoenas requesting their subscribers’ information.  However, her opinion has clear implications as to what a John Doe Defendant needs to be aware of if he decides to file a motion to quash in her court.

Restating her opinion of these cases, Judge Howell believes the following:

1) Copyright trolls have a right to sue defendants for sharing content over the bittorrent network.

PERSONAL JURISDICTION
2) “Personal jurisdiction” over a John Doe Defendant is IRRELEVANT before that defendant is “named and served” as a defendant in a lawsuit.

3) The proper place for a NAMED defendant to assert a lack of personal jurisdiction is in a responsive pleading (e.g., the “answer”) under a FRCP Rule 12(b)(2) motion.

4) A motion to quash by an unnamed defendant is NOT the proper place to assert improper jurisdiction.

JOINDER
5) “Joinder” — the question of whether the various John Doe Defendants are properly sued together (e.g., based on the “bittorrent swarm” theory) is IRRELEVANT before those defendants are “named and served” as defendants in a lawsuit.

6) Only NAMED defendants (not ISPs, not John Doe Defendants) may assert improper joinder.

7) A motion to quash by an unnamed defendant is NOT the proper place to assert improper joinder.

“JUDICIAL ECONOMY” (CONVENIENCE OF THE COURT)
8) It is more economical to deal with 1,000+ defendants in one lawsuit rather than dealing with the identical issues in 1,000 lawsuits.

Now essentially, as much as Paul Duffy, John Steele, and everyone at Prenda Law Inc. are overly excited about their wonderful order, there is not much that is new in this order that we didn’t know from Judge Howell’s previous orders.

Her breakdown of WHY MOTIONS TO QUASH DO NOT WORK, however, was astounding.

In her opinion, she states that NOWHERE IN THE FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE DOES IT SAY THAT A THIRD-PARTY MAY FILE A MOTION TO QUASH BASED ON IMPROPER JURISDICTION OR IMPROPER JOINDER.

Her words: “The plaintiff is correct that lack of personal jurisdiction and misjoinder are not delineated under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure [“FRCP” Rule] 45 as bases to quash a subpoena issued to a third-party [e.g., an ISP]. Indeed, third-parties cannot assert these defenses as a basis to dismiss the underlying action because, if either of these flaws did exist in the underlying action, they must be raised, and may be waived, by named defendants.  See FRCP Rule 12(b)(2) (lack of jurisdiction must be asserted in a responsive pleading [e.g., in the “answer”]); FRCP Rule 21 (“Misjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action…)” (emphasis added)

You can find a link to the actual order here.

MY OPINION:
This ruling is just another one of Judge Howell’s many opinions essentially saying the same thing.  The issues that inherently plague these cases (“jurisdiction,” “joinder,”) are unimportant to her, because as far as she is concerned, the copyright trolls have done everything properly according to the letter of the law.  Further, as far as she is concerned, there is no need for these smaller “John Doe 1-5″ cases that we see Lipscomb & Eisenberg filing on behalf of Malibu Media, LLC, Patrick Collins, Inc., K-Beech, Inc., and the like.  Rather, just sue hundreds or thousands IN ONE CASE in HER DC COURT and she’ll let it go on indefinitely while the copyright trolls extort thousands of dollars from each defendant.

Further, as I have said before, JUDGE HOWELL (A FORMER COPYRIGHT LOBBYIST) DOES NOT CARE IF COPYRIGHT TROLLS EXTORT MONEY FROM JOHN DOE DEFENDANTS.  She even clearly states it here:

“At this stage, the plaintiff is attempting to identify those infringing… That the plaintiff chooses, after obtaining identifying information, to pursue settlement or to drop its claims altogether is of no consequence to the Court.

MOVING FORWARD FROM THIS CASE:
Luckily, however, Judge Howell is just one judge in one small federal court, and her opinions ARE NOT BINDING on other federal courts outside D.C.  And, even in D.C., we have a clearly an opposing opinion by Judge Wilkins, who has killed a number of bittorrent cases.  In short, Judge Howell has created a CLEAR SPLIT IN THE D.C. COURT which she has certified for interlocutory appeal.

What this means is that D.C. now has two opposing sets of case law, each which says the law is something opposite from what the other says it is.  For this reason, Judge Howell has authorized an immediate interlocutory appeal to a higher court so that these issues of jurisdiction, joinder, and the other issues discussed in the case (not discussed here) can be decided once and for all by a higher court.

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UPDATE (10/10/2012): “He loved her not.” All 33 cases severed and dismissed. Congratulations to all the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been dismissed from these lawsuits.

“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.”

It appears as if us attorneys are playing a “he loves me, he loves me not” game watching Judge Klausner’s orders in the Malibu Media, LLC v. John Does 1-10 (Case No. 2:12-cv-03615) case in the California Central District Court (where copyright troll Leemore Kushner’s bittorrent swarm scam cases are). Quite frankly, it looks to me as if he is doing one of two things, but it is unclear which game he is playing.

SCENARIO 1: “HE LOVES ME NOT”

In the first scenario, Judge Klausner is against the John Does, and he is very aware of the case law that has been flourishing around the federal district courts in so many states cutting down the bittorrent lawsuits at the knees of the copyright trolls. The problem is that Judge Klausner hates a copyright infringer.

So as we discussed in the “California Judge Consolidates ALL Malibu Media, LLC Cases, and WHY THIS IS BAD” article on 7/12/2012, the judge consolidated all of the Malibu Media, LLC cases under his control, his decision to separate out JURISDICTION and JOINDER issues was deliberate.  In his charade where he ordered Leemore Kushner (the copyright troll) to explain to the court why the cases should not be dismissed for LACK OF PERSONAL JURISDICTION — we know Kushner sues California defendants in the California courts, so jurisdiction is likely proper — the Judge was pretending to cause her grief, but in secret, he was winking at her and telling her he supports her cause.

This order was EASY to comply with, and in just a few minutes time, Leemore Kushner filed the proper response explaining why jurisdiction was correct.

UPDATE: *AS OF THIS AFTERNOON,* Judge Klausner graciously accepted her explanation, and in doing so, he established case law indicating that “it is proper to sue a bittorrent defendant where the bittorrent defendant resides.” Now for joinder.

Now that Judge Klausner enjoyed Kushner’s explanation regarding PERSONAL JURISDICTION, today he asked her to explain to the court the JOINDER issue. Following this line of thought, she’ll provide him the usual “blah blah” swarm nonsense, and he’ll accept her explanation for that too. At that point, he’ll grant her motion for early discovery, and he’ll let the ISPs hand over subscriber information for the many defendants who are implicated in Leemore Kushner’s cases.

While Kushner would no doubt be thrilled at this victory, Judge Klausner will have also scored a victory in his own “judgy kind of way.” If he accepts her explanation regarding joinder, he will have effectively ruled that“in California, suing defendants together in a bittorrent swarm is PROPER, even when the defendants never knew each other, and none of the defendants uploaded or downloaded to the other (because the dates and times of the alleged infringement would be weeks if not months apart).” In other words, NO MORE SEVERANCE AND DISMISSALS for improper joinder. Now wouldn’t that be a nightmare?!? Watch out for Judge Klausner. EFF, consider an amicus brief here, because HE IS SEPARATING OUT THE ISSUES.

SCENARIO 2: “HE LOVES ME.” <– the MORE LIKELY SCENARIO.

As we discussed in our “California Judge Consolidates ALL Malibu Media, LLC Cases, and WHY THIS IS BAD” article, Judge Klausner made a silly mistake and sent an ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE why the cases should not be dismissed for lack of PERSONAL JURISDICTION. Pretending for a second that he read my article (I highly doubt this is the case) where I chided him for his error in confusing PERSONAL JURSIDICTION and JOINDER, he accepted Leemore Kushner’s explanation of why PERSONAL JURISDICTION is proper.

Now, instead of saying, “okay, proceed with the case,” behind the scenes, Judge Klausner is getting ready to kill each and every one of the cases with one stroke of the pen. So, instead of admitting to his mistake (“who cares anyway,” he might think — “I just cost the evil troll some time and money.”), after being satisfied with Kushner’s explanation, he said, “Oh yeah, and by the way — I’m accepting your personal jurisdiction argument, but I’m not letting you subpoena the ISPs until you explain to me that JOINDER is proper. Why would you sue defendants together in the same lawsuit who were NOT INVOLVED IN THE SAME TRANSACTION OR OCCURRENCE? Silly troll.” In other words, he’s covering his oversight by making Leemore Kushner (the troll) jump through hoops, whereas in the end, he’ll take one look at her boilerplate answer as to why all the defendants belong in the same lawsuit and he’ll LAUGH HER OUT OF COURT. Severance and dismissal of each of the cases. “Go sue them individually and pay the $350 filing fee for each Doe,” he’ll say. In other words, Judge Klausner could be on your side.

MY OPINION: I wrote this quick article because at this point, it is unclear what will happen, and since many people are calling into my office asking my opinion about this particular case (and the California consolidations in general), I wanted to be explicitly clear that IT CAN GO EITHER WAY. We can only wait and see what he’ll do, and based on that, you, the putative defendant, will learn whether Leemore Kushner or the Lipscomb gang will be calling you to solicit a settlement in the near future. There is really nothing else here. He is either for the trolls, or he is for the downloaders. He can bend the law in whatever direction his judicial activist mind would like to.

So what’s you’re thought? Is it “he loves me?” or “he loves me not?”

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At what point does an attorney stop being a copyright troll?

Anyone who knows me knows that John Steele [one of the original trolls from 2010] and I are not the closest of friends. In our many conversations, I have told him quite frankly that I considered him an enemy, and I have told him [and the world] what I think about his lawsuits.  We have sparred over the years over the forums, over clients, over settlements, and to date, everyone knows what I think about his copyright trolling efforts — the “grand extortion scheme” him and his local counsel have foisted over countless victims.  Together, Steele’s law firm — whether it is under the name “Steele Law Firm, PLLC,” “Steele Hansmeier, PLLC,” “Prenda Law Inc.,” (or even more recently, “Joseph Perea, P.A.” [although I have no idea if Joseph Perea is acting on his own, or whether this is a “fake” company, and he is still working under Prenda Law Inc.]) — has inflicted painful damage over the retirement accounts and savings accounts of COUNTLESS people (many of whom had NOTHING to do with the downloading or the hacking they were accused of doing).

The big elephant in the room has always been “open wi-fi”. Yet guilty or not, people still pay up, and John Steele profits.

The concerning thing about John Steele is that even he refers to himself as a copyright troll, and he appears to be proud of it.  However, while the classic definition of a “troll” is an enterprising attorney who has taken advantage of the legal system (or a loophole or a weakness in it) for his client’s material benefit, I understand a “copyright troll” term in the bittorrent lawsuit context to more commonly mean “an attorney or a company who sues many internet users for the purpose of extorting multi-thousand dollar settlements from the accused, regardless of whether or not they are guilty, AND who has NO INTENTION OF MOVING FORWARD AGAINST ANY OF THOSE DEFENDANTS IN THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.” In short, a copyright troll is someone who sues a lot of people and demands settlements through robocalls, “scare” letters, and threatening phone calls, but who has NO INTENT to move forward against those individuals should they decide not to settle.

The problem is that I’m not so sure that definition still holds, because John Steele, along with his threateningly growing number of local counsel across the U.S. are naming defendants.

RECAP: Initially, John Steele sued hundreds and thousands of defendants at a time, most of whom did not live in the state in which they were sued. Those were the older cases, most of which have all gone bust because the courts lacked PERSONAL JURISDICTION over the defendants. That was where we saw the “Congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who were SEVERED AND DISMISSED from [whatever] lawsuit” posts in 2010-early 2012. Then Steele smartened up. He (though his local attorneys) started filing SMALLER CASES where in many cases, the defendants lived in the states in which they were sued. Hence JURISDICTION WAS PROPER. However, even there, John Steele was still a copyright troll.

But, eventually people caught on that JOHN STEELE WAS NOT “NAMING” ANYONE AS A DEFENDANT, and no doubt his cases lost any credibility the might have had. Even judges started calling his cases a grand extortion scheme, and even in the news today, SOME JUDGES are shutting down his cases IMMEDIATELY before you — the accused bittorrent user — learned that you are sued. In other words, their initial “MOTION FOR EARLY DISCOVERY” to send subpoenas to the ISPs to learn the identities of the IP addresses / John Doe Defendants are here-and-there beind DENIED. But even here, John Steele is still a copyright troll.

Where John Steele loses the status of “copyright troll” is when he starts going after individual defendants in the courtroom. Once he files a First Time Videos, LLC v. James Swarez (a fictitional name), and James is now dragged into a lawsuit kicking and screaming and is forced to hire an attorney to file an “answer” with the court, and then James needs to give up his computer to some sleazy digital forensics experts hired by the attorneys (or he can hire his own), and he has to actually fight a real copyright case on the merits of whether or not he actually downloaded the copyrighted works he was accused of downloading in the lawsuit, well, at this point, John Steele is no longer a copyright troll, but rather, John Steele becomes merely a predatory attorney who is suing someone on behalf of his client for the violation of his client’s “copyright rights.”

Now the shift that is important to note is that in the olden days, John Steele did not name anybody. He never did, and for a while, many thought he never would (except perhaps one here or there just to prove to the courts or the world that he could and would name defendants).

However, the new strategy is that he *is* naming defendants. In fact, below is a list of defendants (for their own privacy [so that their names do not show up on search engines following this post — because PACER court documents often don’t get indexed on the search engines, but my posts do], I have edited out their last names, except for a few notorious cases) who have been named in their lawsuits (and this list is a crude list, some of which are state cases, and I even know of a few cases which are not on here):

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN ALABAMA
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Dewey W., 05-CV-2012-900893 (Dewey W.)

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN ARIZONA
First Time Videos, LLC v. Gary P., 2:12-cv-01488-ROS (Gary P.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Adam Sekora, CV2012-053194 (Adam Sekora)

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN CALIFORNIA
AF Holdings LLC v. John Doe, 2:11-cv-03076-LKK-KJN (Francisco R.)
AF Holdings LLC v. John Doe, 3:11-cv-05633-JSC (Vu C.)
AF Holdings, LLC v. John Doe, 3:12-cv-02049-EDL (Josh H.)
AF Holdings, LLC v. John Doe, 5:12-cv-02048-HRL (John B.)
Boy Racer Inc. v. John Doe, 4:11-cv-06634-DMR (Daniel C.)
Boy Racer, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-01935-LJO-SKO (Anthony N.)
Boy Racer, Inc. v. John Doe, 3:11-cv-05628-JCS (Samuel T.)
Boy Racer, Inc. v. Philip W., 2:11-cv-03072-MCE-KJN (Philip W.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 2:11-cv-03074-KJM-CKD (Jeff G.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 2:11-cv-03075-JAM-JFM (Kenneth S.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 3:11-cv-05634-JCS (Seth Abrahams)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 4:11-cv-03826-DMR (Soukha P.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 4:11-cv-05630-YGR (Liuxia Wong)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 5:11-cv-05631-PSG (Isaac K.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Reza S., 37-2012-00100384-CU-BC-CTL (Reza S.)
Millennium TGA, Inc. v. John Doe, 2:11-cv-03080-MCE-KJN (Joe V.)
Millennium TGA, Inc. v. John Doe, 3:12-cv-00792-MMA (Tyree P.)
Pink Lotus Entertainment, LLC v. John Doe and Steve P., 2:11-cv-03073-WBS-KJN (Steve P.)
Pink Lotus Entertainment, LLC v. John Doe, 2:11-cv-03077-JAM-KJN (Jason A.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Myron H., 12-CV-0952 (Myron H.)

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN ILLINOIS
First Time Videos LLC v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08334 (Arthur S.)
First Time Videos LLC v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08335 (Arthur H.)
First Time Videos LLC v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08336 (Christopher P.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08333 (Jason S.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08337 (Jamie P.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08339 (Gerald G.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08340 (Edward N.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08341 (Erik S.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08342 (Stilan P.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08343 (Hyung K.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:12-cv-01053-MMM-JAG (Matt R.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:12-cv-01104 (Robert R.)
Pink Lotus Entertainment, LLC v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08338 (Klint C.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Lucas S.,2012L000927 (Lucas S.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Michael A., 2012L000530 (Michael A.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Ronald T., 2012L000531 (Ronald T.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Tom B., 2012L95 (Tom B.)

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN NEVADA
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Adam G., CI12-2625 (Adam G.)

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN TEXAS
First Time Videos, LLC & AF Holdings, LLC v. John Doe, 4:12-cv-00535 (Tingwei & Chinatsu L.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Austin C., C-133,846 (Austin C.)
Pacific Century International, LTD v. John Doe, 4:12-cv-00536 (Stephen C.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. W.T., Inc., CV2012-053230(W.T., Inc.)

In sum, as you can see, John Steele (through Prenda Law Inc. and his local counsel) are naming defendants, and one-by-one, they are hiring new counsel in a number of states to file against individuals. Now does this mean that John Steele is no longer a copyright troll? Maybe, maybe not. The point is that he is taking the “next step,” and he is forcing more and more individuals into litigation.  This is a concerning trend.

MY OPINION: Will he come after you? Quite frankly, with the tens of thousands of individuals he has sued, this small list is only a sliver of the huge pool of defendants who have been sued (NOT “NAMED”), who have been dismissed, and who are somewhere in between. The point though, is that while once upon a time John Steele did not name defendants, now he does.

On a personal note, I am saddened by writing this post, and as much as I always love to write the “we won!” articles (and THERE ARE SO MANY OF THOSE OUT THERE that don’t make it onto this blog), a defendant that calls my office needs to understand that there IS a risk that they might be named as a defendant at some point in the future. As we have said before, it is important that both current defendants AND DISMISSED DEFENDANTS should keep an eye out for Prenda Law Inc. filings in their state. The way they can do this is by going to the http://www.rfcexpress.com website, and watching what is going on in their state. Until a Prenda Law Inc. client (e.g., Hard Drive Productions, AF Holdings, First Time Videos, LLC) files against a John Doe or against a named defendant in a particular state, it is safe to assume they are not yet there and quite frankly, in my opinion, the risk of getting “named” is quite low. But then again, you need to be vigilant even after a dismissal, and for this reason, I have written this blog post.  This simply was not the case just a few months ago.

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