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Archive for the ‘Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK)’ Category

I try my hardest to separate out the “photo” copyright trolls from the “bittorrent” copyright trolls when writing articles on this blog, as they are a separate category of trolls with their own rules.

In sum, “photo” copyright trolls search the web for images that are used on websites, often by bloggers, without permission or license from the owner of that photograph. Essentially, a blogger writes (for example) about the topic of “red pepper” vegetables. To make their blog entry more visually appealing, they search Google Images for “red pepper,” copy the first image they see, and they paste it on the top of their blog.

Most bloggers stay away from pictures that have a watermark on it, or from images which have a copyright logo marked on it. The problem is that 99% of the pictures out there have no copyright marking, and are not sold anywhere. Unsuspecting bloggers use these photos or random pictures on their blogs, and unbenownst to them, the owner (or a third party who purchases the rights to the photo with the intention of suing bloggers) begins asserting their copyright interests in the photo. Many accused bloggers who I have spoken to have expressed that they didn’t think they needed a license for a photo for non-commercial activities, and now they are facing threats of a lawsuit for using an image on their website.

Where the waters get muddied is that now Copyright Enforcement Group (a.k.a., “CEG-TEK”, “CEG TEK”, and more recently, “CEG”) is sending out the same DMCA letters that they ordinarily send to my bittorrent clients, but now they are in the “photo trolling” business. Their letters assert that a particular website used a copyrighted photo without a license, and the copyright holder is now asserting his rights for the “theft” that happened to his intellectual property rights. Thus, they are asking for $500 per photo, which in my opinion is obscene considering all their other letters ask for $200 per video shared via bittorrent.

On a personal note, hitting website users with a threat of a lawsuit over an image pulled from a Google image search is simply obscene. I would certainly understand such a letter if the image had a watermark pointing the user to a website where they can purchase rights to the photo without the watermark, or if there was a copyright mark on the image. Yet these photos have none of these, and they are literally trolling old websites and blogs looking for photos which were copied from other websites.

What makes this so obscene is that the photo copyright owners are asserting the same copyright infringement claims as do the copyright holders for the bittorrent cases we deal with daily. Along with the same copyright claims come the same shock of having the law provide statutory damages of $150,000 to the copyright holder who can prove the infringement. $150,000 for a movie download in my mind is an obscene and disproportionate punishment for the “crime” of downloading a copyrighted title. Even moreso for a photo. AND, even moreso for an unmarked and unwatermarked photo freely available on a Google image search.

Now here are the details as they are unfolding. So far, it appears as if the “photo” copyright troll entity asserting the copyrights is a company called “AKM Images / GSI Media.” The letter CEG-TEK is sending out provides a screenshot image of the blog containing the photo (and in a number of cases, the blog is no longer in existence and is only shown in the internet archives on the “Way Back Machine” on http://archive.org). It appears as if even CEG-TEK was unsure if they wanted to go into this area, because many of the screenshots are said to be from last year (2012). And, the so-called DMCA letters are not sent by ISPs, but appear to be forwarded by the website admins who host the various blogs.

6/13 UPDATE: There is some talk about the copyrighted images being posted on the website owner’s website or blog by a third party RSS aggregator. In sum, the accused blogger or website owner in many cases didn’t even post the images themselves, yet they are still asked by CEG to pay $500 to avoid a lawsuit.

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Back in November 2012, I wrote an article about CEG-TEK’s CopyrightSettlements.com web site “crashes” where following a failed settlement transaction (purposeful or not), accused infringers received letters essentially saying, “[B]ecause you have decided not to settle, we will be moving forward against you in a copyright infringement lawsuit. Please pay us $3,500 or else we will sue you.” These letters were apparently sent from Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK), a software brainchild of Ira Siegel.

Now it appears that CEG-TEK is “stepping up” their game again, and more letters are being sent out, but this time from CEG-TEK’s local counsel, Marvin Cable. What is particularly concerning is that this letter appears to be sent out to:

1) ANYONE WHO CALLED IN TO CEG-TEK, BUT DID NOT SETTLE (they are scouring the CALLER-ID RECORDS and matching them with publicly available contact information), and

2) ANYONE WHO ENTERED THEIR CONTACT INFORMATION ON THEIR WEBSITE (e.g., to process their credit card payment), but the website “crashed,”

3) ANYONE WHO LEFT “BREADCRUMBS” WHEN INTERACTING WITH THEM, BUT DID NOT SETTLE.

NOTE: I have personally heard reports of 1) and 2), but 3) is a catchall for items I have not yet heard about, but expect that they are doing.

In sum, as I suspected when the Six Strikes System was put into place, with the big ISPs no longer forwarding their “$200 per title” settlement letters, their settlement stream of cash has started to run dry. As such, their production studio clients are forcing them to do whatever they can to “monetize” their clients IP (here, scrubbing the voicemail records, the caller ID records, and website tracking records, and putting names to those traces left by accused internet users), or else sue. In order to keep these clients, we see examples of letters such as this one:

 

Just to be clear, for a long time, when people ask “Should I settle or ignore CEG-TEK’s DMCA letters? What are my chances of being sued if I ignore?” I have been telling people that they could do either, and I laid out the factors to consider.  I am still of this opinion, namely that 1) Neither Ira Siegel, Terik Hashmi, Marvin Cable, or Mike Meier have sued anyone in MANY MONTHS (since July, 2012 to be exact), and 2) the purpose of their CopyrightSettlements.com website was to convince production companies that it is easier for them to sign on with CEG-TEK and run a settlement “IP monetization” campaign, rather than to sue everyone in a copyright infringement lawsuit.  I assume they are still trying to salvage this system, especially with the renewed efforts to find those who have not settled.

And as always, if you haven’t read my previous articles on the topic, I am still getting reports of website transactions not working (website “crashes,” failed transactions), and so once again, be smart and protect your contact information. Know that when you visit a website, unless you are using Tor or you subscribe to a private VPN, you share with that website your IP address, and when you call Copyright Enforcement Group’s phone number to inquire about your matter, you leak your phone number which can easily be cross-referenced back to you.

In other words, be careful with your information, and the “breadcrumbs” you leave when you conduct your daily life.  These breadcrumbs can be traced back to you, and next thing you know, you’ll be on the phone with me asking how to defend a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against you and 200 other Doe Defendants.

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As you can see, I am taking some time educating individuals involved in the Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK) / Ira Siegel DMCA letters being sent to thousands of individuals across the U.S. by their http://www.CopyrightSettlements.com system.

As a recap, anyone involved in receiving such a letter should read the following three articles I have written on their tactics:
1. Why CEG-TEK’s DMCA settlement system will FAIL (2/22/2013)

2. When CEG-TEK’s DMCA notices contain duplicate titles. Purposeful luring of defendants or not? (11/26/2012)

3. The trouble with Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK)’s DMCA scare letters. (11/2/2012)

Now, as far as the topic of this blog entry, the question people often ask is “what are the risks that CEG-TEK or Ira Siegel will sue me if I don’t settle?”  

While the easy answer is that so far it appears as if they are NOT suing (remember, they are soliciting their clients under the premise that they’ll make more money by making use of their DMCA settlement system rather than by suing), that answer needs to be elaborated.  I hope you will forgive me saving time in answering this way, but I have laid out my answer below in the form of an e-mail I sent to one of the individuals who called me for assistance.

LETTER SENT TO CLIENT:

It is good to hear from you. Just to reiterate, the “case” numbers are not actual lawsuits (at least not yet). If you did not settle by their due dates, their threat is that they would file a lawsuit against you [likely for only one of the titles; knowing them, in order to maximize their return, they would reserve the other titles for separate lawsuits]. Also, my opinion is that the lawsuit would be filed in the Northern District of California (where Ira Siegel is), or the Southern District of New York (where Mike Meier is). Even though you live here in [LOCATION REDACTED] and [COURT REDACTED] would be the proper location for a lawsuit, by filing in the wrong location, they know by doing so they would push you to settle rather than hire an attorney (someone like me) to fight the jurisdiction issue on your behalf.

So far as we discussed, their lawsuits are few and far in between. In fact, up until a week or so ago, I was ambivalent whether a client ignores the letter or settles it (see below article link for what has changed). If you want to see what they are doing lawsuit-wise, you’ll find them by looking for the words “Digital Sin” or any of their other clients on the http://www.rfcexpress.com website. Alternatively, you can search for “Mike Meier” since he seems to be their top guy as far as skill in suing defendants aside from Ira Siegel himself.

It is my opinion that they are not in the habit of suing at this point, which means they are trying to “milk” the settlements for all they are worth. However, they do have three (3) years from the alleged date of infringement to sue, so if you didn’t settle, you’ll be looking over your shoulder waiting for them to have a bad day when they decide to press the button and sue everyone.

I wrote an article yesterday on my http://torrentlawyer.wordpress.com website which should answer your questions as to the factors influencing the odds of whether they’ll be suing defendants in the near future, or whether they would wait the full three-years to sue everyone at once.

Once again, it drives me nuts when attorneys try to scare defendants into settling their cases.  With these DMCA “scare” letters, I am merely stating the obvious paths CEG-TEK and their attorneys can take.

For me, I think Ira Siegel and the Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK) would like to avoid suing defendants.  It didn’t seem that profitable for them the first time around, and it took incredible resources to maintain their copyright infringement lawsuits prior to the creation of their out-of-court turn-key settlement system. Then again, they are IP enforcement companies who are serving the needs of their production company clients (the copyright holders), and if the clients pay them to use their CopyrightSettlements.com system and send DMCA letters to the ISPs, they send the letters.  If the clients instruct them to sue, they sue. It is my understanding that they dislike the other copyright trolls, and that they compete for business (e.g., the production companies). Thus, if their settlement system dries up as I believe it inevitably will, they will do anything not to lose their clients to the likes of Lipscomb, Steele, or the other less credible trolls out there.

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This is a rather tricky article to write, especially since I am setting some copyright trolls apart from others, and I am unsure whether this is a good idea or not.

It is my opinion that the “Six Strikes” System which has recently gone into effect will ultimately kill Copyright Enforcement Group’s (CEG-TEK)’s “CopyrightSettlements.com” settlement system. In short, their selling point of attracting new copyright holders (the production companies) with the promise of big profits through volume settlements (from you, the internet users) by the sending of DMCA scare letters directly to internet subscribers via their ISPs will fail. I am concerned that the production companies / copyright holders might decide to start once again suing defendants in copyright infringement lawsuits.

Copyright trolls take two forms — the “copyright troll” lawyer, and the production company who embraces the concept of extorting settlements from so-called “infringers” rather than selling their copyrighted product on the marketplace.  There is one entity often missing from our blog’s focus on lawyers and their clients — the “IP enforcement company” (“IP” = intellectual property) who is working behind the scenes to 1) acquire clients for their firm, 2) track the peer-to-peer / bittorrent downloads and torrent swarms, 3) hire and maintain one or more attorneys capable of suing, and 4) converting their tracking efforts into CASH [in terms of $$$ settlements from accused downloaders].

This explains why whether you are sued by Patrick Collins, K-Beech, or Malibu Media, you’ll be contacted by someone on the Lipscomb & Eisenberg law firm’s collection team. Similarly, if the production company is Digital Sin, Zero Tolerance, Girls Gone Wild, etc., then your IP enforcement company is the Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK) and you will be sent DMCA letters suggesting that you settle their claims against you or else they may sue you (so far, this has not been the rule, but the exception). Yet, if your plaintiff is AF Holdings, Hard Drive Productions, Openmind Solutions, or any of the others connected with Prenda Law Inc. or the new Anti-Piracy Law Group, your IP enforcement company is one of John Steele’s entities. In other words, every copyright troll plaintiff is a client of a particular IP enforcement company, and that IP enforcement company has one or more lawyers on their team (or more often then not, as with John Steele and Ira Siegel — very different entities) — the lawyers themselves appear to own an ownership interest in the IP enforcement companies they run and work on behalf of.

It is my understanding that an enterprising attorney (or members of his IP enforcement company’s sales team) will often attend annual pornography conventions, and they will rub shoulders with production companies who end up being the copyright holders in these lawsuits.

The traditional IP enforcement companies (Lipscomb, Steele, etc.) will tell them, “I am aware of your company’s piracy problem, and I have a solution. Look at all our data as to the piracy of your videos.  Our team of experts can track the piracy of your copyrighted content, and our team of “expert” lawyers will sue defendants on your behalf. Instead of defending themselves, the accused internet user will be shamed with a lawsuit and will settle with us for thousands of dollars (average asking price: $3,400), we’ll take our commission, and we’ll both be millionaires. And, we’ll cut down on piracy in the process.

CEG-TEK (the Copyright Enforcement Group) and Ira Siegel has a different approach, and I believe the Six Strikes System will be the achilles heel of their “out-of-court pre-lawsuit settlement” approach.

The Copyright Enforcement Group was essentially formed because Ira Siegel didn’t like the idea of suing defendants and having all of his settlement activities monitored by a federal judge who can ask him uncomfortable questions about his activities. Rather, he has been paying ISPs to send out “DMCA” settlement letters (invoking and in my opinion, misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act) in order to scare defendants into settling cases before they are filed in federal court. Settlements average $200 per accused title, but I have seen a few $500 per-title settlements as well.

It is my understanding that the way CEG-TEK acquires new clients — their “unique selling proposition,” if you will — is that they tell production companies, “we can track and sue the downloaders if we want — we have attorneys in a number of states who can sue defendants, and possibly get a $3,400 settlement from a few of them [once in a while]. However, if you come on board with us, we will send DMCA settlement letters out to the internet user directly via his ISP, and that letter will point them to our Copyright Settlements (www.copyrightsettlements.com) website where they can enter their unique username and password and privately pay their settlement fee. The settlement fee will be $200 and not $3,400, but the quantity of users who will pay us our small fee and move on will be significantly higher than those who will settle a federal copyright infringement lawsuit. We’ll all make millions!”

The reason I think CEG-TEK’s business model of sending DMCA letters will ultimately fail is because the Six Strikes System has undermined CEG-TEK’s abilities to contact so many internet users. In short, instead of sending the DMCA letters directly to the ISP subscribers as Charter and a number of smaller ISPs do, the big ISPs have banded together and formed something called the “Six Strikes System” which essentially gives six warnings to their subscribers before giving copyright holders access to their subscriber’s contact information for the purposes of suing for copyright infringement or sending DMCA threat letters as CEG-TEK does every day.

In other words, anyone who has Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, etc. as their ISP will no longer receive CEG-TEK’s DMCA letters. Instead, they receive a notice such as “we have received a complaint of copyright infringement from your account; stop this activity.” But with ISP members of the Six Strikes Program, CEG-TEK’s DMCA LETTERS ARE NO LONGER FORWARDED OVER TO THE SUBSCRIBERS! What this means is that let’s say 75% of the market share of internet users (I’m using this number merely as a hypothetical) will no longer go online and settle CEG-TEK’s claims against them. Or in other words, the http://www.CopyrightSettlements.com website as of a week or so ago [the plan went into effect roughly a week or so ago] will have experienced a 75% drop in settlements.

Knowing the production companies who signed on with CEG-TEK with the sole purpose of making millions in settlements from these DMCA letters, I suspect that they are starting to get upset and impatient because CEG-TEK’s promise of directing would-be defendants to their website is no longer the money-making machine they thought it would be. As a result, I am concerned that the production companies who signed on with CEG-TEK might start opt for suing defendants once again en masse.

PERSONAL NOTE: I obviously don’t want to scare anyone because I am very far from screaming “the sky is falling.” We have been defending clients in countless cases filed in federal courts across the U.S., and in recent months, there has been a clear change in the level of education of the judges and their feelings towards “copyright troll” plaintiffs. Possibly with the help of our POLICY LETTER (or simply our phone calls and faxes to a judge’s chambers when one is assigned to a copyright infringement case).  Judges are now educated as to the copyright trolling problem, and it is much more difficult to go after defendants because our collective arguments (such as, “an IP address is not a person,” and “just because you can prove an IP address snapshot was involved in a download does not mean that copyright infringement occurred,” etc.) are starting to take plant themselves deeply in the federal court system. In other words, if they start suing, we are very prepared, and they are almost a year-and-a-half behind.

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Copyright Enforcement Group’s (“CEG-TEK Int’l”) DMCA letters have been sent out to thousands of would-be “John Doe” copyright infringement defendants to date for the alleged downloading of pornographic films. The problem is that they often ask for MULTIPLE SETTLEMENTS FOR THE SAME DOWNLOADED TITLE.

BACKGROUND: Just in case you did not read my first article on Ira Siegel’s / CEG-TEK’s DMCA Scare LettersI’m including these next two paragraphs to bring you up to speed.

Instead of CEG-TEK’s failed methods of suing hundreds of John Doe Defendants in one bittorrent lawsuit, CEG-TEK has concocted a turnkey method of scaring a would-be internet user into settling their case BEFORE THE PLAINTIFF EVEN FILES A LAWSUIT. Instead of a copyright troll paying a $350 filing fee and proving copyright infringement in front of a judge, and in lieu of hiring plaintiff attorneys to fight the ISPs in order to obtain the names, the addresses, and the phone numbers of would-be defendants (and noting that ISPs are no longer cooperating as easily as they used to), Ira Siegel and CEG-TEK have found a way using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to have the ISP send letters to the alleged infringers, doing CEG-TEK’s dirty work for them.

The notice an ISP subscriber would receive would say something such as “Notice of Unauthorized Use of Registered Copyrights Owned by so-and-so,” followed by a Case #, a password, and CEG TEK International’s long and confusing “scare” letter threatening that if the defendant didn’t settle the claims against them online via their http://www.copyrightsettlements.com website (I am not including the link for obvious reasons of protecting your privacy; read my other article for details relating to IP address tracking, website failures, etc.), then Ira M. Siegel or one on CEG-TEK’s legal counsel would sue for violation of the U.S. Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 106.

The problem is that even though they are only asking for a settlement of $200 for each title [UPDATE: $500 per infringed title (prices per title for some production companies have gone up)], CEG-TEK IS NOT FILTERING OUT DUPLICATE DOWNLOAD ATTEMPTS.  So, a downloader who downloads a title such as Media Products, Inc. DBA Devil’s Film’s “It’s Okay! She’s my Step-Daughter” or Digital Sin Inc.’s “Fresh Outta Highschool” using bittorrent, and their bittorrent software attempts to connect to these files multiple times, -OR- if CEG-TEK monitors that you have downloaded various pieces of the same title multiple times (even when the IP address is the same), YOU WILL GET MULTIPLE LETTERS FROM YOUR ISP.

The problem I ask is — how does an accused downloader call up Ira Siegel — a KNOWN COPYRIGHT TROLL who has sued thousands of defendants for $150,000 per title, and who has sent out countless “scare” letters demanding thousands of dollars per title — how do you call up Ira Siegel and say, “yeah, I downloaded it,” ***ADMISSION OF GUILT*** “but I only did it once, not three times”???

Thinking with my jaded lawyer mind, part of me wonders whether CEG-TEK Int’l have purposefully left the duplicate titles on their DMCA notices to lure would-be defendants to call them up, admit guilt [that they have done the download, "but only once," and then CEG-TEK and Ira Siegel would have all the ammunition that they would need to sue that downloader in federal court.

Anyway, I don't need to say that an attorney (our firm or any other firm) could negotiate down the duplicate downloads without admitting guilt or incriminating you as you might do on your own if you called them yourself.

PERSONAL NOTE: I still hold the opinion that if they really have a claim against you than they should present their claim in the form of a lawsuit in federal court where a judge will make them prove their claims against you (and quite frankly, I am even more of the opinion that they should not be suing downloaders AT ALL [and that they should focus their efforts on taking down infringing content using the DMCA remedies given to them by the law]), but I also understand the economics involved with someone wanting to just make this go away at the early stages.

Once again, if you have not already done so, go back and read my initial article on CEG-TEK Int’l’s DMCA letters and what I think of them.

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UPDATE: Read my note at the bottom of this article for comments about IP tracing issues when you visit CEG-TEK’s settlement website.

A troubling number of people write me who receive “DMCA scare letters” (usually in the form of an e-mail from Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK) signed by Ira Siegel), and this blog generally neglects these victims because there is no lawsuit filed against anyone — just a “we might sue you if you don’t settle” e-mail which arrives from the ISP.  In the past few days, I have found that the inquiries have spiked and I am writing the same letter to a number of people.  To save time, I am posting my e-mail response online.

The letters generally ask for $200 per infringement, and there is usually only one or two alleged instances of infringement.  The problem that appeared most recently is that now Copyright Enforcement Group is sending letters for movies which appear not to have copyright protection.

Thank you for contacting me about your DMCA issue.  I’m answering you honestly because you are correct that this DMCA letter scam appears to be just that — one more way of extorting money without having to file lawsuits against anyone.

I suspect that you are correct that there is a possibility that the films are not copyrighted, but you must take into consideration that since you are referring to a film which is decades old, there is not one copyright law to watch out for, but there were multiple versions of the Copyright Act which were in effect as the statutes transitioned into its current form.  So while under the current copyright statute there might be copyright protection for a particular kind of film or video, past statutes might give different protections for it (and note that at one time, pornography was not even copyrightable).  You also need to take into consideration that U.S. Copyright Law gives copyright protection to foreign-made films, and this might be one.

As you no doubt know, with some obvious exceptions, I charge a flat rate to handle copyright matters.  For your “DMCA scare letter” issue, included in that flat fee would be to research whether there is a copyright or not, and what their legal rights are.  But to keep this simple, we both know their extortion strategy, and we both know that their online form [@copyrightsettlements.com] provides a release from claims for $200 each.  While I have never seen anyone sued as a result of ignoring their letters, $200 x 3 is still less than having me research and argue your issue (especially where there is no lawsuit and there may never be one).  That being said, if you didn’t want to deal with their website (because of the games they play where I have heard of people being sued who went online and the site failed [whether by design or by bad luck] or they missed their deadline and they could no longer settle) or you wanted me to handle the transaction, I’m happy to handle all three transactions for one small fee.

Long story short, you have some quick decisions to make before your November 4th date.  If you want me to handle this for you, let me know and I’ll e-mail you a contract for you to sign and get back to me, and I’ll e-mail you a link that you can click on to process your payment.  I’ll also need you to e-mail me copies of each of the DMCA scare letters, and I’ll take care of the rest.  Once again, I am not advocating settling this — I think this is one more extortion tool [of many] up their sleeve — but if you wanted to dispose of it quickly, this is the cheapest and most effective way to do so.  Unlike the bittorrent lawsuits, I don’t think you need to pay me to research and fight this because you have no lawsuit yet against you.

NOTE: One more note for those who are security-minded on the topic of IP tracing and CEG’s website “which sometimes fails.”  I understand that CEG-TEK tracks IP addresses who visit their website.  As a lawyer, I think it would be a bad idea for someone facing a copyright infringement lawsuit to sign onto a website possibly with the same IP address as the person who allegedly downloaded the copyrighted materials.  I would suspect that CEG-TEK is not so evil that they have an app running that if there is an IP address match, the site fails [when you try to process your payment] and they automatically send a second scare letter for $3,500.  At the very least, however, you want a lawyer to make sure that the contract they give you will protect your interests because by logging into their website and using their “secret code” to access your “secret” settlement amount, and then by entering your full name, address, phone number, and credit card information [which means that you just identified yourself as being that downloader, and so they need no ISP subpoena to identify you], that contract better release you from liability.

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It is very easy to put up a banner claiming “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED — NO MORE BITTORRENT CASES IN SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK,” but reality is not that simple. A judge can give a ruling, and it can be a darned good ruling which is binding on all other judges in that federal district (similarly, that ruling is persuasive for judges in other federal districts). One such case is the case written up by Sophisticated Jane Doe in her “The Domino Effect: Trolls are not welcome in the Southern District of New York anymore” article posted just moments ago. I do not need to re-write this up — she did a wonderful job, and there is no reason to duplicate her efforts.

That being said, this case does merit some discussion. The name of the case is Digital Sins, Inc., v. John Does 1-245 (Case No. 1:11-cv-08170, or 11 Civ. 8170) [misspelled], filed in the U.S. District Court for the SOUTHERN DISTRICT of New York (remember our blog post about forum shopping there?). I am happy to share that the case is now SEVERED AND DISMISSED. Obviously, congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who were part of that case. This ruling is WONDERFUL for you.

As far as I am concerned, this ruling was the order I was waiting for back in March when I reported that all of copyright troll Mike Meier’s New York cases were consolidated by Judge Forrest. Similarly, you’ll see what I thought would happen in my “New York Judge consolidates and freezes SMALLER BITTORRENT CASES for plaintiff attorney” article earlier that month. Well in short, my opinion with hindsight was that all this was a dud, and Judge Forrest merely consolidated the cases to rein in Mike Meier so that she can control him and his cases so that they all had uniform outcomes. This was obviously a step in the right direction, but it did not dispose of the cases in their entirety. Perhaps because Judge Forrest had experience with copyright cases in the past, she thought she should be the one to preside over them. However, in my opinion, she just made them more orderly; she didn’t rule on the underlying issues plaguing each of Mike Meier’s cases.

Here comes Judge Colleen McMahon of the same Southern District as Judge Forrest, and she (like Judge Forrest) has my respect. In her ruling on Tuesday, she took the opportunity to take a John Doe ruling, and turn it into NEW LAW FOR NEW YORK COURTS (obviously I am referring to the federal courts). What impressed me was that not only was she aware of Judge Forrest’s activities, she changed the law by dissenting with them.

“Judges Forrest and Nathan, have decided to allow these actions to go forward on a theory that permissive joinder was proper.  I most respectfully disagree with their conclusion.” (p.4)

Further, she ruled that if Mike Meier wanted to sue these 244 defendants, he may do so in separate lawsuits, AND HE MUST PAY THE $350 FILING FEE FOR EACH LAWSUIT (that’s $85,400 in filing fees that Digital Sin, Inc. will have to pay if they want to go after the dismissed defendants).

“They are dismissed because the plaintiff has not paid the filing fee that is statutorily required to bring these 244 separate lawsuits.” (p.4)

What made this case blogworthy (and you’ll notice, I rarely post about the run-of-the-mill dismissals that happen every day in various jurisdictions when their rulings teach nothing new) was that Judge McMahon suggested TWO STRATEGIES to John Doe Defendants that she believes would successfully refute the plaintiff attorney’s geolocation evidence as proof that the court has personal jurisdiction over the accused IP addresses.

Firstly, she suggests that the John Doe defendants not living in the jurisdictional confines of the court simply file a SWORN DECLARATION that they live somewhere else.

“John Doe 148 could have overcome [the geolocation data evidence provided by the plaintiff] by averring [e.g., in a sworn decaration] that he was a citizen and resident of some state other than New York — even New Jersey or Connecticut, portions of which are located within the geographic area that is covered by the geolocation data.” (emphasis added, p.5)

Secondly, she said that since plaintiff attorneys are getting the personal jurisdiction right (e.g., filing lawsuits against Californians in California, against Texans in Texas, etc.), defendants could start asserting the “WRONG VENUE” argument (essentially saying, “Court, yes, I live in New York.  But I was sued in Long Island and I live in Buffalo.  It would be an extreme hardship for me to travel down to Long Island every time I need to show up for a hearing there to defend my case.”).  The actual verbiage suggested by the Court is that “…plaintiff has failed to plead facts rom which a reasonable trier of fact could conclude that this Court has personal jurisdiction over this John Doe, or that venue is properly laid in this district.”  (emphasis added).

Next, this ruling is VERY EXCITING because it puts handcuffs on Mike Meier should he wish to file against any of the severed and dismissed defendants in a follow-up case.  Those rules are:

1) When an ISP complies with a subpoena request, it may not share the telephone number or e-mail address of the subscriber with the plaintiff attorney.

2) Assuming the ISP does not file a motion to quash (it obviously may AND SHOULD do so on behalf of its subscribers [my opinion]), the ISP shall share the subscriber’s information WITH THE COURT ONLY (not directly to the plaintiff as is usually done), and the court will disclose the information to the plaintiff attorney.  (I’m not sure the benefit of this — they still get the contact information of the John Doe Defendants this way).

3) The plaintiff may use the information disclosed ONLY FOR THE PURPOSE OF LITIGATING THAT CASE (so the plaintiff may no longer use the threat of future litigation if they do not immediately settle to extort a settlement.  This was a tactic used by many plaintiff attorneys (most notoriously, Prenda Law Inc. who admitted that they dismissed the case so that they can go after the John Doe Defendants [extorting settlements] without the court’s involvement).

Lastly — and her timing is quite interesting as we just finished writing about forum shopping in bittorrent cases — she warned Mike Meier not to engage in “judge shopping.”

“Lest plaintiff’s counsel think he can simply put cases against the severed and dismissed John Doe defendants into the wheel for assignment to yet another judge, I remind him of Local Civil Rule 1.6(a) [which requires the plaintiff attorney to bring the existence of potentially related cases to the attention of the Court].” 

For your reading pleasure, I have pasted a copy of the order below.  For my own opinion on the topics discussed by the judge, I have pasted them below the judge’s order.

MY OPINION:  There is more here that I did not write about, namely that the judge believes that all the bittorrent cases currently being held by Judge Forrest and Judge Nathan should be assigned over to her so that she can dispose of them once and for all.  She also went into other judge’s rulings which duplicate content in other articles on the blog.  However, once again, we have another wonderful ruling.  However, moving forward, perhaps I am a bit jaded, but I don’t foresee Judge Forrest or Judge Nathan tomorrow assigning over all their bittorrent cases to this judge.  There is now a disagreement in the New York courts (as there are in many jurisdictions) as to how to handle these cases.  I would love to jump up and down, wave a banner and declare “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED — NO MORE BITTORRENT CASES IN SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK,” but quite frankly this is not reality.

More likely than not, plaintiff attorneys such as Mike Meier, Jason Kotzker, and any other copyright troll who wants to file in New York will continue to file there.  As you can see in my forum shopping article (which should more properly be called “Judge Shopping”), an attorney can in ONE DAY file  9 SEPARATE CASES and receive 7 SEPARATE JUDGES, as was the case with Kotzker’s recent filings.

In addition, while the SWORN DECLARATION argument and the VENUE arguments are both easy solutions to disprove the plaintiff’s prima facia case for personal jurisdiction (meaning, the bare minimum a court will require in order to accept the fact that it has personal jurisdiction over the defendants in the case), a John Doe Defendant hoping to hide his identity from the plaintiff attorney and quash a subpoena should not be excited by these solutions.  1) For the sworn declaration, they’ll necessarily be giving up their true location (they cannot lie that they live in Connecticut when they live in California), and we all know that Mike Meier is only ONE local attorney to a larger IP monetization group (“The Copyright Enforcement Group”) which has other attorneys in other states, and who continues to recruit new hungry would-be copyright trolls.  So even if they succeed in getting their case dismissed here, guess who will be filing against them in their home state’s federal court?  2) A John Doe Defendant who asserts the “correct state, wrong venue” argue just made a big blunder — he admitted that personal jurisdiction is proper in that state.  Rules for venue are based on a number of factors, NOT ONLY WHERE THE DEFENDANT LIVES.  Similarly, no doubt the plaintiff will respond in a wrongful venue argument in a motion to quash that “John Doe filed this motion to quash asserting wrongful venue (which by the way is not a valid ground to quash a subpoena; jurisdiction IS), but he is not a party to the action [yet] and thus he has no standing to file this motion to quash.”  Remember this?  Lastly and realistically, the proper time a defendant CAN AND SHOULD use this wrongful venue argument is in his ANSWER (which means he was already NAMED as a defendant in the case).  Too late.  There are better issues to kill a case at this point than complaining that the court is too much of a drive.

[DISCLAIMER: I've given many opinions here which is not to be taken as legal advice.  Each defendant has different needs and different circumstances, and for this reason, the legal advice I give for one of my clients may not be appropriate (or may even be harmful) to another client who's circumstances are different.  Also, obviously no attorney-client relationship is formed until you sign a retainer and become a client.]

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With a bit of legal humor, as most of you now know, Judge Robert Hinkle of the Florida Northern District Court dismissed each and every one of Terik Hashmi’s cases today.

As we discussed back in February, Judge Hinkle consolidated and froze all of Terik Hashmi’s bittorrent cases because he learned that Terik was practicing law while residing in Florida state without having a Florida state law license.

As a result of the “order to show cause” order that the judge issued [which is generally an indication that the case is imminently about to go bust], Terik Hashmi withdrew from representing his cases, and Mike Meier conveniently took over as the attorney for the plaintiffs hoping Hashmi’s Unauthorized Practice of Law misstep would be forgotten. The judge wasn’t impressed with Meier’s explanation of why the case should not be dismissed, and Terik Hashmi wrote the court an “I’m sorry” letter, reiterating Meier’s legal points as to why the case should move forward notwithstanding Terik’s error. The judge was still not impressed, and thus he ordered that each of Terik Hashmi’s cases be immediately dismissed.

It appears as if the fact that Terik Hashmi was caught practicing law without a license once before was what sealed his fate. The last time he was caught, he signed a cease-and-desist affidavit, where he “swore that he understood that holding himself out as authorized to practice law in Florida would constitute contempt of the Florida Supreme Court and a THIRD-DEGREE FELONY.” [I couldn't help but to find some dry irony in that the attorney for Third Degree Films, Inc. might be guilty of a Third Degree Felony.]

In short, the judge could have slapped Hashmi with sanctions, and he could have made his life quite a bit more miserable than it already probably is (considering the fact that he could face felony charges for these cases).

In sum, the judge dismissed the lawsuits without prejudice, meaning that if the plaintiffs wish to re-file these lawsuits, they can do so, but they’ll have to pay the filing fees to start everything from scratch. “Under these circumstances,” the judge points out, “requiring the plaintiffs to start over and do it right is not too harsh a sanction.”

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Please allow me to extend a warm congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants (and all others) who have been dismissed from the New Sensations, Inc. v. Does 1-1,474 (Case No. 3:11-cv-02770) case and the Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-2590 (Case No. 3:11-cv-02766) case, both in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. While this is no longer news since the dismissal happened literally days after my last post, I wanted to follow up with a quick comment on these two cases.

I hate to pin this on Ira Siegel as no doubt Steele Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law Inc.) have made a mess of cases in the Northern District of California, but with these two plaintiff attorneys making messes of the bittorrent cases (to your benefit, of course), judges have smartened up about bittorrent lawsuits, and have been giving both of them a bunch of hurt. [There is news about the Hurt Locker case as well, but I'll save it for the next posting.] In short, I no longer believe that there is a judge in Northern California who is oblivious to what is going on in these bittorrent cases, and I feel that these cases moving forward will be shut down faster than the plaintiff attorneys can say “boo!” (akin to how John Steele (and soon Prenda Law Inc.) was essentially shut out of the Northern District of Illinois courts).

Here is the interesting part about these two cases. In Judge James’ order (almost identical in the two cases), she forbade Siegel from accepting settlements after 12/7. This means that if you have not already received an “I’m sorry for asking you for money” letter (actually phrased as “we intend to go after you after the issues are resolved”), expect one in the mail (or in your e-mail, as this is how your plaintiff attorney likes to cut costs and avoid huge postage fees).

The problem in my mind is that while Judge James dismissed the case without prejudice [meaning that Siegel can easily file against any of the Doe defendants in their home courts], she was UNCLEAR as to whether Siegel can now accept settlements now that the case is dismissed. In other words, there is an AMBIGUITY in her order which on its face means that Ira can no longer accept settlements from Doe Defendants from this case; logic suggests that this is not the case. I actually inquired about this, and two days ago (12/22, pasted below), Ira asked the court for a clarification as to whether he is still allowed to accept settlements moving forward now that the case is dismissed. He wrote the same inquiry to the court in the Patrick Collins, Inc. case (link here). We will wait and see what the judge says.

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As many of you have no doubt read on other blogs, some of the smaller cases have gone bust, others have been given permission to move forward.  At the risk of sounding repetitive, when you see a blog entry on this site, that means that something certainly relevant and of note happened in the bittorrent litigation world.

As far as I am concerned, the former Steele | Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law Inc.) firm has started to copy the Patrick Collins, Inc. / K-Beech, Inc. business model (the Lipscomb & Eisenberg / Miami Dade / Florida State lawsuit model) of suing defendants in Florida under that state’s Bill of Discovery statutes, getting the judge there to rubber stamp their request to obtain defendants’ contact information from the ISPs (often without notice to the defendants), and then cold calling defendants and threatening to sue in that defendant’s home state unless they settle.  Ira Siegel’s firm has done the same thing with their Mike Meier attorney pretending to defend accused defendants and then switching sides only to start suing in federal courts of various states.  Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC has been quiet, naming some defendants and then subsequently dismissing them (presumptively when they settle or the court severs and dismisses their case for improperly suing defendants together in one lawsuit), and their big monster cases of last year have been widdling down into non-existence (bye bye Voltage Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-5,000, etc.).  That means nothing, because now they are playing the same game as everyone else — sending thousands of “scare” letters telling defendants that if they do not settle, they will not only increase the settlement cost, but that they will “name” that defendant in a federal court in their home state.  While this is obviously not the topic of this blog entry, 1) please do not be gullible and give into their demands just because they have made up some arbitrary date and settlement amount, and 2) please do not be cocky as to think that you can outsmart them and take care of this matter on your own.  Both of these approaches have caused much angst for Doe defendants who later realized what they paid for was a second settlement.

The topic of this blog entry is not Ira Siegel or his Copyright Enforcement Group, but it is Judge Maria-Elena James of the US District Court for the Northern District of California.  Prior to John Steele abandoning his cases in Illinois, the judges there started to shut them down as fast as he filed them.  I would posit that the failing of Steele’s business model of suing hundreds of out-of-state defendants in one lawsuit should have been a lesson to Ira Siegel who has not been paying attention, and now his cases are in trouble.  California’s Judge Maria Elena James — once a friend to Ira and his methods, has started to turn a fierce eye of judgement towards his cases.  It is for this reason that I suspect a bunch of his cases are about to go bust.

Until 12/1/2011, all seemed to be good for Ira Siegel.  Sure he suffered a few setbacks, dismissed a few cases, but these – New Sensations, Inc. v. Does 1-1,474 (3:11-cv-02770) and Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-2590 (Case No. 3:11-cv-02766) – his milk and honey — were moving forward flawlessly… until Judge James figured out that Ira Siegel was filing suits against thousands of defendants, extorting settlement agreements, and all this without naming even one defendant in any of his cases.  This angered her, and she ordered Siegel in both cases (identical orders) to disclose to the court all the details he could about all the Doe defendants, along with why she should not dismiss the case because he has failed to name and serve defendants within the 120 day limit given to him in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4(m) (the reason a number of Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC’s (“DGW”) cases went bust in DC).  Essentially, this should have served as a warning sign that his case is about to be dismissed, but instead of fighting back or dismissing a smaller group of defendants (a tactic which DGW did in the West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does case which kept their case alive for many months), Ira kept silent.

One week later, by 12/7/2011, Judge James utilized simple and free programs known as “geolocation tools” to isolate the location of where a random sample of the putative defendants lived.  When she saw that none of them lived in California, she filed an orders in both cases questioning Ira’s “good faith” in filing this case in the first place.  She also indicated that had she known then what she knows now, she would have never given the order to allow Ira to subpoena the ISPs to determine who the John Doe Defendants were.  As a result, she ordered Ira to run the geolocation tools himself and dismiss everybody who did not live in California (coming soon).  She also ORDERED that Ira Siegel MAY NO LONGER SEND ANY SETTLEMENT DEMAND LETTERS.  Even better, to any Doe Defendants to whom he sent letters, he must send them a second letter telling them that they do not need to comply with his demand letter.  Lastly, she nullified any settlement reached on or after the date of her order.  Ira asked her to change her order, and on 12/8, she denied his request.  Thus, to those of you who received settlement letters, expect to get a second letter explaining everything that I have written here.

While the scope of this article is to discuss the recent acts by Judge James, I wanted to point out that on Friday, the Digital Rights Foundation filed an amicus brief with the court urging them that Ira Siegel not only knew about these issues (e.g., filing against Doe defendants knowing the court had no personal jurisdiction over them), but essentially that what he has done amounts to fraud upon the court.

You could end reading the article here, but if you would like to know Ira’s most recent set of acts (and this might actually make you upset) — for some time, he has been hiring local attorneys and has only now started suing John Doe defendants in states OUTSIDE of California — something in the past he never did.  In short, he is copying what Patrick Collins, Inc. has done for months now, and what John Steele (now, Prenda Law, Inc.) are now doing — that is, he is suing smaller groups of defendants in their home states, most recently with his Digital Sin v. Does cases that he is having Mike Meier file on his behalf.  I hate to make the comparison to something sinister, but you stamp him down in one court, and he spreads his tentacles out to other courts.  Obviously there is more to come.  I expect more news starting on Wednesday, 12/14 (or perhaps on the day(s) following this should the judge learn that he has not complied with her orders).

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