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Archive for September, 2012

These kind of c-rated b-rated film lawsuits annoy me. Take our new copyright troll production company, Tomcat Films, LLC and their attorney Martin Sipple of Ausley & McMullen (you can read about his medical malpractice and generic intellectual property cases here). I would consider calling Martin Sipple a copyright troll, but no — he has only filed one case, and he seems to be a copycat lawyer who used a copyright lawsuit template to file his lawsuit. Way to go for someone who graduated top of his class.

In the Tomcat Films, LLC v. Does 1-XXX (Case No. 4:12-cv-00261) case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tomcat has sued hundreds of John Doe Defendants (they forgot to list who) in the typical copyright troll fashion in order to recoup the wasted funds in their “Aliens vs. Avatars” 2011 failed film. I don’t even recall seeing this in theaters, but according to Aliens vs. Avatars, a new copyright troll film.” target=”_blank”>IMDb, it achieved a “we wasted everyone’s time and money making this” 1.5 out of 10 stars from 904 users. And, if anyone wants to pay $2.99, they can rent it from Amazon.com for 7 days. After reading the description of the film, “Six college friends find themselves caught up in a cat and mouse hunt with a race of creatures…” I decided to pass.

Another reason I might hesitate to call them copyright trolls is because in the complaint, while Tomcat Films alleges copyright infringement among the usual other elements in their complaint, they seem to want to stop the ongoing infringement of their film (something we don’t see in other lawsuits). I can respect that. What I cannot respect is the “let’s sue hundreds of Does and extort thousands of dollars from each one” approach. This is a reputable firm with reputable clients — in my opinion they have no business filing these kinds of low-life copyright troll cases.

Now as far as Tomcat Films’ other movies (see them here), I would consider thinking twice before downloading them because this company has obviously found the business model of “releasing low budget films and suing for loads of cash” quite appealing.  Quite frankly, with movie titles such as “Robin Hood: Ghosts of Sherwood,” “Captain Battle” (think Captain America), “Rise of the Black Bat” (think Batman), “Thunderstorm of Thor,” and “Jurassic Shark,” and “Street Fighter,” I am surprised that a company like this is not entangled in a whole SLEW of copyright infringement lawsuits themselves.  I would guess “FAIR USE” and “PARODY” are words that are posted on every wall of their office.

UPDATE: The film is now called “Alien vs. Alien” on their website, and all mention of “Avatar” has been removed from their trailer (although it is still up on Amazon.com).  Apparently 20th Century Fox’s lawyers didn’t like the use of their Avatar character in Tomcat’s movies.  

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I have always known that “crabs crammed in a crate grab crabs trying to escape,” and this is no doubt true for judges in DC.

In our November 16, 2011 article entitled, “Judge Bates “removed” from Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No.1:11-cv-01741) DC case,” we wrote about how Judge Bates courageously called the copyright troll extortion scheme for what it is, and he halted all subpoena requests for John Doe Defendants. However, it was apparent to us at the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC that as soon as he did so, the other judges (“crabs“) grabbed at him and stopped him from killing the case. If you remember from our post, Judge Bates was immediately removed from the case and Judge Facciola replaced him (almost as if there was a DC conspiracy to promote copyright enforcement efforts by porn production companies such as Hard Drive Productions, Inc.).

As of yesterday, Judge Bates caved in and wrote a scathing order describing in detail how and why Hard Drive Productions, Inc. should be allowed to force the ISPs to hand over the subscriber information for the John Does implicated in this case. In addition, siding with Judge Facciola and Judge Beryl Howell, Judge Bates agreed that internet subscribers have no expectation of privacy for the account information they provide to their ISP.  I wonder if the same thing holds true for my electricity bill.

What I found most offensive, however, was that Judge Bates initially promised John Doe Defendants that if they filed motions to quash anonymously, that they would remain anonymous (even if later denied). We have been advising internet users for almost a year now to be VERY WARY regarding Judge Bates’ promise because he could always go back on his word and unseal the motions to quash thus revealing the identities of those who filed them [and making the John Doe Defendants who filed these motions to quash targets for Prenda Law Inc.'s bloodthirsty desire for revenge (image)]. And I am hurting when I write this (because I hate it when I end up being right, especially when I fight against well-meaning individuals who think they are doing the right thing by following the instructions on the subpoena letters they receive from their ISPs and they file motions to quash), but as we suspected, it turns out that Judge Bates lied to us, and in yesterday’s order, he stated that “all sealed motions to quash will be ordered unsealed.”

In my opinion, I must point out that I have a respect for Judges, and I must believe that most of them (including Judge Bates) are good. In the legal system, just as there are copyright troll attorneys who abuse the legal system, these same “bad apples” plague the legal system because many of these bad apples sit on the bench and render one bad decision after another. Many people have called me “dark and jaded” for my opinions about these cases, and while I am not one to subscribe to a conspiracy theory, I do smell conspiracy here.

Looking over the order many times, I cannot shake the feeling that Judge Bates’ order smells as if it was written by Judge Beryl Howell. If you compare the terminologies used by each of the judges in the past, terms such as “putative defendants” was a term that Judge Howell uses, not Judge Bates, just as the Call of the Wild v. Does case referenced incessantly in the order was Judge Beryl Howell’s. In sum, “crabs grabbing crabs” applies here — it is my opinion that Judge Bates tried to crawl out of the “crab cage” and call this case for what it is; the other “crabs” merely clawed at him until he fell back in line with the others. Welcome to the DC court.

I do not have anything else to say about this case other than that ISPs will start handing out the subscribers’ information, and John Steele and the Prenda Law Inc. gang will start sending out “scare” letters, harassing John Doe Defendants, and will scare too many into settling before they retain someone like me to represent them (or anyone else who fights these cases).

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It appears as if Prenda Law Inc. is shaking things up once again. It appears as if Mark Lutz is no longer working for the firm.

Since John Steele [wanted us to believe that he] left the firm in the capable hands of Paul Duffy (now we have an image of him), Mark Lutz has been running the firm. All of the phone calls, the harassing voicemails, and the threats have all been from Mark. When John Steele “left the firm,” Mark moved to Miami, FL and was running the firm from its Miami office which in my opinion was opened for the sole purpose of filing the corrupt state-based “bill of discovery” cases in the Miami-Dade county courts (AFAIK, now defunct).

As far as I observed, John Steele and Mark Lutz did not get along.  I expect that the whole “robocall” fiasco was just the first step of Steele ousting Mark Lutz from the firm so that he can reclaim his throne, although Mark may have left for his own reasons.  No doubt there is dirt there, and as angry John Steele has gotten in the past for me contacting (and in a few cases offering to visit) his local counsel, I have no doubt that he would enjoy my inviting Mark to call me at his convenience to share his stories with me.  Mark, if you are out there, please feel free to give me a call (on or off the record).

On a related note, I have always said to John Steele that he (and other copyright trolls) should start a blog explaining their side of the story.

Well, apparently they have started to listen.

Prenda Law Inc.’s new website (http://www.wefightpiracy.com) now has a blog (and a “news and press” section, which in my opinion should be combined), and they have started posting articles on their various cases. Obviously the headings are one-sided, but it is nice to see them start to express their side of the story. My one critique — JOHN STEELE, OPEN UP YOUR BLOG AND ALLOW COMMENTS! No doubt doing this will flood your site with “f-u’s,” but still — you can easily moderate the comments and only allow those comments that are not inflammatory. This will bring the blog some needed credibility rather than it being a pedestal used only to pontificate your firm’s skewed values.

Last, but not least, I have a deep psychological concern with the large red copyright image on the main page of their website:

…It reminds me too much of the clown from the “Saw” series.

Last, but not least, I want to point out that their website incorrectly states that they have attorneys in all 50 states. This is simply not true. However, one piece of information that I can share is that there appears to be new counsel in Chris Fiore’s Pennsylvania territory, and it’s not Chris Fiore.  Whether this turns out to be another rumor or not is something we’ll have to wait and see.

P.S. – I love the “Lorem Ipsum” category.  Looking forward to seeing the website out of beta.

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Lightspeed Media Corp. has been one of the more aggressive copyright trolls over the past two years. They are intimately associated with John Steele and Prenda Law Inc., and have changed their lawsuits as the case law has changed over the years.

They started out as one of Prenda Law Inc.’s first bittorrent lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, where they sued 100 John Doe Defendants in the Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Does 1-100 (Case No. 1:10-cv-05604), of which 99 WERE DISMISSED ON 12/21/2010, with the remaining one shortly afterwards.

Then Lightspeed Media Corp. amended their complaint to sue 1,000 defendants instead of 100 defendants, and as we wrote about in our “Judge Steeles The Life From A Second Torrent Case” article, the judge responded by SEVERING AND DISMISSING ALL DEFENDANTS but one.

Just when we thought this case was dead, John Steele filed an amended complaint on 4/11/2011 and brought the case back to life by suing one John Doe. The funny part, however, was that they continued to send “scare” letters to ALL THE SEVERED AND DISMISSED DEFENDANTS (even though they were no longer defendants in the case). The court picked up on this and berated Steele on 4/19/2011. A few months later, the zombie Lightspeed Media Corp. federal case was DEAD.

Then, Lightspeed and Steele came up with a novel idea — sue defendants across the U.S. for violation of federal hacker statutes, alleging that accused internet users accessed Lightspeed’s websites using stolen passwords (which “through no fault of their own” were “leaked” onto the internet). The twist was that their new lawsuit was filed in the corrupt ILLINOIS STATE COURT (even though the subject matter of the lawsuits belong in the federal courts). In the Lightspeed “Hacker” lawsuit, even if the accused John Doe Defendants used the passwords to access Lightspeed’s websites, THEY WOULD NOT VIOLATE THE FEDERAL STATUTES WHICH WERE ASSERTED AGAINST THEM IN THE COMPLAINT. This is the joke about the case — it simply has no merit, but the case persists. It befuttles me that the state court is still allowing subpoenas to be sent out (even though the Illinois SUPREME COURT has come in and voiced its opinion that this case is a fraud and that it should be shut down). Yet, it persists.

These same Hacker lawsuits were also filed in the Miami Dade, FL state courts (equal in integrity to the Chicago state courts) in the Lightspeed Media Corp. v. John Does (Case No. 12-05673 CA 05), and in the Maricopa County, AZ state court (Case No. CV2012-053230). There is a lot that is written about these cases, but because they are taking place in state courts (in which we do not have eyes), we have not been tracking these cases. Essentially, it is important to note that the lawsuits are filed against one Doe Defendant, but implicate HUNDREDS of Doe Defendants as co-conspirators.

Word is that a few weeks ago, Lightspeed Media Corp. has been sold to another company (perhaps to Prenda Law Inc.?), yet the lawsuits continue.

So as you see, Lightspeed Media Corp. is essentially a zombie company that keeps coming back asking internet users for more and more money. If you take a look on http://www.rfcexpress.com, you’ll see that there are a few cases on the books, but they are ALL DISMISSED. Yet, if you asked the internet world how many thousands of internet users are still getting calls or letters for Lightspeed, you’ll get a surprising answer.

FEDERAL CASES FILED ON BEHALF OF LIGHTSPEED MEDIA CORPORATION
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Does 1-9 (CAND; 4:11-cv-02261) [DEAD]
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Doe (ILND; 1:11-cv-00385) [DEAD]
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Doe (ILND; 1:11-cv-00209) [DEAD]
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Does 1-100 (then 1-1,000) (ILND; 1:10-cv-05604) [DEAD]

KNOWN STATE CASES FILED ON BEHALF OF LIGHTSPEED MEDIA CORPORATION
Lightspeed Media Corp. v. John Doe (Miami Dade, FL Case No. 12-05673 CA 05)
Lightspeed Media Corp. v. John Doe (St. Clair, IL Case No. 11-L-683)
Lightspeed Media Corp. v. World Timbers, Inc. & John Doe (Maricopa, AZ Case No. CV2012-053230)

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NOTE: The above video (NSFW) is from 2006.  While it (and many others) were made to address the Napster lawsuit (which was a lawsuit against a COMPANY), they apply more than ever now (where the plaintiffs are suing individual bittorrent users).

Lurking in the midsts of our bittorrent lawsuits has been a silent party who has been watching everything we have been doing in the pornography lawsuits and the “B-Rated” movie cases. This silent party is the RIAA, the MPAA, and the record labels who started all of these lawsuits years before the John Steeles, the Dunlap Grubb & Weavers, and before the Mike Meiers of the world got involved, grew their copyright troll legs, and started suing John Doe groups of internet subscribers. I used to refer to the record labels as the “sleeping giants,” because their lawsuits got really quiet after they scored their million dollar judgments (now reduced) against defendants such as Jammie Thomas-Rasset and Joel Tenenbaum.

However, one case at a time, I’ve been seeing the record labels rear their ugly heads again. The record labels have now started suing John Doe Defendants in EXACTLY the same way as the copyright trolls have been for the past two years.  In a way, you could thank the porn industry for repaving the way for the music industry to prey on its fans.  The record labels appear to be using the same tactics — file for early discovery against a set of IP addresses, contact and harass the John Doe Defendants en masse, and scare each one (or their parents) into settling for thousands of dollars for each download (and unlike the John Steeles of the world, the music industry has actually have brought defendants to trial, are well funded, and have achieved million-dollar verdicts).  The threat as we have heard ad nauseam is that if the accused downloader doesn’t settle the plaintiff’s claims of copyright infringement against him or her, they will “name” them as a defendant in a copyright infringement lawsuit.

One such record label troll is “Century Media Ltd.” who is suing on behalf of their “Iced Earth” band (think  Jon Schaffer and Greg Seymour) for the download of their 2011 heavy metal album “Dystopia.”  The interesting thing about the lawsuit, however, is that Century Media has retained copyright troll Jay McDaniel of the McDaniel Law Firm in New Jersey to sue defendants, and it is unclear to me why.  Jay McDaniel runs what I call a “settlement factory,” where he spends his time fighting motions to quash in court, and while not in court, he has his staff attorneys contact defendants attempting to convince them to settle.

CASES FILED BY JAY R. MCDANIEL OFMCDANIEL LAW FIRM PC IN THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY:

Century Media Ltd. v. Swarm Does 1-2,192 (Case No. 2:12-cv-03867)
Century Media Ltd. v. Swarm Does 1-944 (Case No. 2:12-cv-03868)
Century Media Ltd. v. Swarm Does 1-225 (Case No. 2:12-cv-03869)
Century Media Ltd. v. Swarm Does 1-214 (Case No. 2:12-cv-03870)
Century Media Ltd. v. Swarm Does 1-77 (Case No. 2:12-cv-03911)
Century Media Ltd. v. Swarm Does 1-3,811 (Case No. 2:12-cv-03912)

I count almost 7,500 Doe Defendants in these NJ cases alone, and more are being filed as we speak. And, as far as I can see, the plaintiff attorneys are setting the subpoena deadlines far into the future, so we will not be hearing more about these until after October 1st, 2012 (this appears to be Comcast’s deadline before they hand out subscriber information for these cases).

Now while we try our best to keep a professional tone in these cases, I think the following video properly describe the mentality of those suing defendants today:

On a personal note, while I respect the interests of the artists and the musicians who deserve to have their copyrighted media sold to willing consumers and fans at reasonable prices (and it would be nice if the record labels properly compensated the artists and musicians for their work), I choose to represent the so-called “pirates” as well (many of whom have actually downloaded what they have been accused of and would happily do so again). It is my opinion as an attorney that it is a misuse of the copyright laws to sue defendants for $150,000 per title (statutory damages for willful copyright infringement) when the actual damages suffered by the record labels and the production companies are at best a small fraction of this statutory amount.

So… Has the sleeping giant woken up from its slumber?  Will we see more?  Or is Century Media Ltd. merely an overly ambitious record label who thought it would be better for business to assault its’ fans rather than to devise ethical means to convince them to buy their music album?

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I am always hesitant to write articles which are not relevant to the reason you are here. Very simply put, you and I are fighting against the production companies (the “copyright trolls”) who hire Intellectual Property (“IP”) Enforcement Companies and “copyright troll attorney” law firms who turn around and hire local counsel (your “Doug McIntyres, Joseph Pereas, and Mike Meiers” of the world) who sue defendants on behalf of their bosses to shake down internet users (regardless of whether they actually did the bittorrent downloads or not) to extort thousands of dollars “or else they will move forward in a copyright litigation lawsuit against that individual John Doe Defendant.” This is *our* fight.

However, there is a bigger fight looming in the courts, and our so-called “piracy” lawsuits are getting influenced by their headwinds — there is a brewing fight between 1) the CONTENT DISTRIBUTORS (e.g., the cable companies, the ISPs, and streaming content providers such as Netflix, Hulu, and now Amazon Prime), and 2) the CONTENT CREATORS (e.g., the television networks and movie, film, and production companies) who produce the films that the ISPs share with you, sometimes for a fee or a premium membership. Where it is impacting us is the strange and recent “out-of-place” rulings in our cases discussing the applicability of the Cable Act to ISPs. It appears that the judges want the ISPs and the CONTENT DISTRIBUTORS to fall under the Cable Act.

This morning, I read an ArsTechnica article written by New York Law School Professor James Grimmelmann entitled “Why Johnny can’t stream: How video copyright went insane,” which skillfully goes through the recent changes in the evolving application of copyright law from the creation of VHS and VCRs to today’s digital age of DVRs and more recently, Cablevision’s own DVR-RS (remote streaming — “DVRs in the cloud”) technology.

The ultimate issue which everyone is tiptoeing over is simply, “can an internet user download, share, stream, view, or save copyrighted content on their computers (or in their computer’s memory) and not be in violation of the copyright laws?” I suspect the answer will eventually be “yes,” but the law has a lot of catching up to do, and a lot of people like you and me will be sued in the process. This sounds scary, but this is the bigger fight we are in the middle of with our bittorent piracy lawsuits.

In the ArsTechnica article, it appears as if there is a circle of corporate parties fighting to capture the dollar of the internet user. The TV networks create and copyright the movies and the videos they produce, and the cable companies, the ISPs, and the online streaming companies pay extensive licensing fees to the TV networks in order to provide that TV show or that movie to their paying subscribers (and the advertisers who subsidize when subscribers view “free” content). The problem is that as a particular show (in my case, Stargate SG-1 which was pulled from Netflix a few weeks ago without explanation) gets popular, more people view and subscribe to the cable companies’ and online streaming companies’ websites to view the film. The problem is that as shows get more popular and the content distributors make more money from their subscriptions and their advertisers, the TV networks and content creators increase the licensing fees they demand from the cable companies and online streaming companies to erase their profits (and quite often to grossly unfair amounts). As a result, the cable companies and online streaming companies simply pull the show from the list of shows they offer their subscribers, and everyone loses. No TV show is being shown, the online content providers lose subscribers who go elsewhere, the advertisers don’t pay their advertising dollars (products that would be shown in the ads do not get sold) and the TV networks lost their licensing fees. Quite frankly, it is my opinion that this is where piracy kicks in, where users share with others shows that they cannot find online through normal streams of commerce without an outright purchase of a particular season at retail prices — in other words, the internet user loses as well.

In my opinion, the ArsTechnica article is more than a history lesson on copyright as its application to the everyday viewer has evolved over the years as the internet and technology has advanced, but it also discusses the absurdity of the “hoops” that cable companies and other start-ups are jumping through in order to be in strict compliance with the draconian copyright laws. Really? 10,000 tiny antennas so that a cable company does not infringe a TV network’s copyright [when ONE ANTENNA would serve exponentially more viewers at a dramatically LOWER COST to both the cable company AND the viewer]? This is where the laws are interfering with technology (think eating wet glue), and I have a problem with this.

As to the applicability of the cable companies (the “cable operators”) and the internet service providers (“ISPs”), I understand that these smaller-case Cable Act rulings in our cases have nothing to do with our problem, but with the fight between the cable companies, the ISPs, and the television networks. Cable companies have clear regulations as to where they fit within the Cable Act and the FCC’s rules. ISPs however are not so clear, and the water gets muddied when one skilled in telecommunications law compares the rules governing an ISP run by a cable company (e.g., Cablevision, or Xfinity run by Comcast, or Roadrunner run by Time Warner Cable, etc.) and the rules governing an ISP which provides their DSL, satellite (e.g., Dish Network), or fiber optic (e.g., Verizon “Fios”) who use means to allow users to view content other than through a coaxial cable. THE RELEVANCE OF THIS WHOLE FIGHT APPEARS TO BE OVER THE EVER-SKYROCKETING LICENSING FEES PAID TO THE TELEVISION NETWORKS, AND THE CABLE COMPANIES AND ISPs WHO ARE TRYING TO FIND WAYS NOT TO PAY THEM.

I understand that this should help you understand the headwinds which are affecting our cases, and while it is not relevant to the outcome of whether Hard Drive Productions, Inc. or West Coast Productions, Inc. sues thousands of internet users, or whether Malibu Media, LLC (a.k.a., “x-art”) has an unfair strategy in hooking internet users who download one torrent file (a bittorrent “siterip”) and are sued for twenty copyrighted films (even though they probably never downloaded them all in their entirety), it is still interesting to know that judges adjudicating the fight between the television networks and the ISPs are using our small lawsuits to plant case law which I suspect in the coming months and years will become relevant in the fight over licensing fees and which content provider has to pay them.

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