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Archive for the ‘Federal Judges’ Category

Dallas Buyers Club, LLC Texas-based lawsuits in my opinion tell a modern story of Icarus who flew too close to the sun with wings of feathers and wax and got burned. The reason for this is because these cases have caused one Texas federal judge to rule against their fictitious name “John Doe” lawsuits.

There was news today that affects the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC cases filed here in the Southern District of Texas (TXSD). The news is not only a black eye for the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC attorney, but as a result of today’s news, Dallas Buyers Club, LLC might never again file here in Texas.

Dallas Buyers Club, LLC cases have been rather docile here in Texas. Until ten days ago, they only filed two cases:

Dallas Buyers Club LLC v. Does 1-31 (Case No. 4:14-cv-00248), and
Dallas Buyers Club LLC v. Does 1-45 (Case No. 4:14-cv-00815).

Strategically, until now, the plaintiff attorney did not have local counsel, and it was almost certain that he would not fly down to Texas to appear for the hearings, so there was really nothing to talk about with these cases. Yes, of course he could have appeared by telephone, but I’ve been at those hearings, and they almost never end well for the absent attorney.

However, here the plaintiff attorney did hire local counsel and ten days ago, they filed Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. Does 1-25 (Case No. 4:14-cv-02218); the case was assigned to Judge Lynn Hughes.

Now I’ve seen Judge Hughes rule in a number of cases. While many Texas judges typically allow bittorent cases to sit on their dockets for months at a time, I don’t think Judge Hughes had any interest in allowing this case to sit for any length of time. My understanding is that Judge Hughes was very aware of the copyright trolling problem from the previous copyright troll adult film cases we were fighting back in 2011-2013, and the new filings by Dallas Buyers Club, LLC across the U.S. was a problem that threatened to turn into a Malibu Media, LLC problem.

My guess is that Judge Hughes immediately identified the “John Does” copyright infringement case [filed by an out-of-state attorney] on his docket as a cookie-cutter copyright troll lawsuit. The complaint even read almost identical to the pornography cases we tried against Prenda Law Inc. and their local counsel Doug McIntyre just two years before this.  Within four days, Judge Hughes ordered the plaintiff to identify the defendants, I assume because he was not about to tolerate yet another “John Doe” lawsuit against fictional characters and putative defendants on his docket for months while the attorney shook down each putative defendant for thousands of dollars a piece.

The problem is that the plaintiff did not yet have the names of the putative defendants from the ISPs, and so when ordered to remove the fictional “John Doe” character names, he could only identify them as “Internet User (IU) subscribers having a particular IP address” thinking that would satisfy the judge. It didn’t.

For the rest of the story details, I invite you to read Sophisticated Jane Doe’s article on the case. What I can contribute, however, is that as a result of this case, any Dallas Buyers Club, LLC case filed in this district is ordered to be assigned to Judge Hughes, which suggests that it will die upon arrival. Similarly, moving forward, I suspect that the plaintiff attorney will likely be dismissing all cases which are assigned to Judge Hughes, which will no doubt raise suspicions of not “forum shopping,” but rather, “judge shopping,” a tactic that Prenda Law Inc. got in trouble for exploiting years back.

In sum, starting in 2010 with the Larry Flynt Production (LFP Internet Group, LLP) cases in the Northern District of Texas, and now ending with the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC cases in the Southern District of Texas, it is becoming apparent that Texas judges no longer tolerate copyright troll bittorrent-related cases.

On a personal note, I understand that this most recent Dallas Buyers Club, LLC filing was supposed to be one of many more cases to be filed here in Texas. And, just as Icarus flew too close to the sun, it was inevitable that this copyright holder would stumble upon a judge who dealt with the predatory bittorrent pornography cases we dealt with a few years ago. It was just a matter of time.

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Congratulation to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants who will soon be dismissed from the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,058 (Case No. 1:12-cv-00048) case filed TWO YEARS AGO in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Seeing that the appellate (circuit) court came out with a ruling this afternoon, I read the circuit court’s ruling with fervor thinking that I was about to write an article entitled “the jig is up, no more copyright trolling lawsuits.” Well, I am underwhelmed.

If you remember the Judge Beryl Howell CREATES A SPLIT in the DC Court article I wrote back in August, 2012, at the time, thousands of “John Doe” Defendants from across the U.S. were being sued in the US District Court in DC, and Judge Beryl Howell was in favor of allowing the mass bittorrent lawsuits to continue in DC, even though other district court judges [not former copyright lobbyists for the Recording Industry Association of America] (notably, Judge Wilkins, now a United States Circuit Judge) wrote opinions questioning the validity of mass bittorrent lawsuits. As a result of this, now almost two year later, we have a circuit court ruling resolving the question of whether “personal jurisdiction” and/or “joinder” are relevant questions for a court to investigate before it signs an order invoking the “machinery of the courts” to force a non-party ISP to comply with a subpoena [asking for them to turn over the private contact information of each subscriber implicated as a "John Doe"].

Judge David Tatel [writing for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit] wrote a few pointers that we already knew, and in my opinion, the circuit court’s ruling is two years, too late. The ruling is essentially that a court may justifiably force a plaintiff “copyright troll” to establish that it has PERSONAL JURISDICTION over the John Doe Defendants who are implicated in the lawsuit BEFORE it allows that copyright troll to obtain [through discovery] the list of names and addresses belonging to the internet subscribers. His opinion, however, resolves ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the hundreds of smaller John Doe (e.g., v. Does 1-20) lawsuits filling the courts’ dockets across the U.S., where the “copyright troll” plaintiffs have figured out that “you sue a defendant where a defendant lives.”

Next point. When requesting the subscribers’ contact information from an ISP, the plaintiffs purpose must be to gather this information for use in THIS LAWSUIT, and not for other proceedings or other lawsuits. Good luck enforcing this one. I have no doubt that we will still see defendants dismissed from one “v. Does 1-20” lawsuit, only to be named and served in his own “v. John Doe” lawsuit. This happens every day. Also, good luck stopping a copyright troll from calling up dismissed defendants and saying, “unless you settle with us, we will name and serve you in your own lawsuit.”

Then after glossing over the “you must sue a defendant in the state in which he lives” rule, thirteen pages later, Judge Tatel discusses joinder (who can be sued together as co-defendants in a lawsuit).

I thought the joinder discussion would be juicy, but it was vague and vanilla, and it lacked explanation. The ruling was essentially that “you can only sue John Doe Defendants together in one lawsuit as long as they were part of the same bittorrent swarm.” This precludes plaintiffs who often sue defendants who did the same “crime” of downloading copyrighted films using bittorrent, but they did so days or weeks apart. In mentioning what is considered the “same bittorrent swarm,” the judge mentioned ABSOLUTELY NOTHING as to what the scope of a bittorrent swarm is, and how long one lasts — whether a swarm continues for minutes, days, or weeks at a time — and who is properly connected in a bittorrent swarm to be sued together in a lawsuit.

All I pulled from his discussion is that “if Tom and Dick were downloading at the same time, they can be sued together in a lawsuit; joinder here would be proper.” However, if Tom finished downloading and logged off five minutes before Dick logged on, would this be considered the “same transaction or occurrence” to allow the two of them to be sued together? What happens if Tom finishes downloading and logs off, and by the time Dick logged on to the bittorrent swarm, everyone who was part of that swarm [e.g., all 10 or 20 people] also logged off and new people logged on. If Dick is downloading from a completely different group of downloaders than the group who was online when Tom was downloading, but they downloaded five minutes apart, is this the same bittorrent swarm or a different bittorrent swarm? The judge provided ABSOLUTELY NO ANSWER as to the scope of a bittorrent swarm, so we are still left with uncertainty.

…So you see why I am underwhelmed. The ruling was essentially, “personal jurisdiction, bla bla blah, joinder, blah blah blah.” I learned nothing new from this, and yet the media is jumping all over this as if it is some kind of jewel. NOTHING NEW HAPPENED HERE.

Putting all of this in perspective, if you think about only the issue that Judge Beryl Howell wanted the appellate court to answer, “whether personal jurisdiction and joinder are relevant in a discovery request to obtain information about not-yet-named ‘John Doe’ defendants who are identified merely by their accused IP addresses,” Judge Tatel did exactly what he needed to. He correctly answered, “yes, personal jurisdiction and joinder are relevant when the plaintiff attorneys ‘attempts to use the machinery of the courts to force a party to comply with its discovery demands.'”

Thus, when a copyright troll files a lawsuit against unnamed John Doe defendants, and they seek discovery to force an ISP to comply with a discovery request (e.g., a subpoena forcing them to hand over the contact information of the accused subscriber affiliated with that accused IP Address), issues such as personal jurisdiction and joinder ARE ripe for inquiry before the court grants the copyright troll permission to subpoena the ISP, forcing them to hand over the contact information of the accused “John Doe” defendants.

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Add Missouri to the list of states unfriendly to copyright trolls. And, congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been severed and dismissed from the Purzel Video GMBH v. Does 1-91 (Case No. 4:12-cv-02292) lawsuit!

Now what was exciting about this Purzel Video GMBH case ruling was U.S. District Judge Audrery Fleissig’s 1) refutation of the “judicial economy” justification for joinder, and 2) her clarification of the relationship between bittorrent users for joinder purposes (and similarly, what she left open for future rulings by referring to bittorrent transfers as mere “pieces”).

Courts in other federal jursidictions which allow multiple defendants to be sued together in bittorrent cases (pro-joinder jurisdictions) allow joinder of non-related defendants based on the fact that it is easier to have one “John Doe 1-500″ case with five hundred (500) defendants in it rather than to have five hundred “single John Doe” lawsuits. The defendants in these cases are all accused of violating the same copyright laws; the defendants are all accused of using bittorrent to download the same title; the courts are all deciding the same issues for each defendant — whether the court has “personal jurisdiction” over each defendant (whether the plaintiffs sued defendants in the wrong state, depriving that federal court of personal jurisdiction over each John Doe Defendant), and whether the defendants are properly joined together as co-defendants in the same lawsuit.

I suspect that Judge Flessig caught on to the extortion scheme, and she made her ruling with the understanding that everything in the above justifications for “judicial economy” is true… if the plaintiffs are running a settlement extortion scheme. However, if the plaintiffs indeed intend in good faith to move forward with their case “on the merits,” then as the judge points out, the “judicial economy” approach falls apart.

The rule now in Missouri federal courts (binding on other Missouri cases, persuasive in non-Missouri cases) is that suing multiple defendants in a “John Doe 1-X” lawsuit is improper because of the prejudice to the co-defendants and the confusion that will result *if* the plaintiffs actually have a good faith intent on pursuing their claims (e.g., if they are “not” running a settlement extortion scheme).

For example, a rule in federal courts is that every named defendant needs to be provided copies of all documents for the case in which they are accused. The judge points out that it would prejudice Defendant #2 if he started receiving motions and rulings relating to the depositions and interrogatories for Defendant #1. Multiply the confusion that would occur if there are ten defendants, or one hundred defendants, and so on. Similarly, each defendant will end up having his own lawyer. If the lawyer for Defendant #1 makes a motion and the court orders his client to a case management hearing, Defendant #2 will receive a copy of this order and may think that he has to attend the hearing.

This gets even more burdensome as soon as defendants are named and discovery begins to take place. Judge Fleissig points out that every defendant has the right to attend the depositions of the other co-defendants. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if every John Doe Defendant crowds into a small office to hear the other defendants’ depositions. My own addition — imagine if all the accused defendants and each of their lawyers try to crowd into one small courtroom for a hearing.

Lastly, we all know that the justifications for joinder in a federal lawsuit is the “same transaction or occurrence” standard. In other words, courts have ruled that defendants can be joined together in one lawsuit if they were participating in the same bittorrent swarm at the same time — this is known as the “swarm joinder theory” asserted by the plaintiffs in every bittorrent lawsuit complaint.

In plaintiff attorney Paul Lesko’s cases, it is interesting to note that he was trying to extend the definition of a bittorrent swarm to span 18 weeks — from August 5th, 2012 to December 5th, 2012. This would obviously include internet users who never uploaded or downloaded from each other, and it would place them together as being part of the same transaction [big ongoing swarm] or occurrence [the "happening" of the swarm, for as long as "it" stays "alive"].

This secondary swarm theory has no official name, but it could be described as the “temporal swarm theory,” which asserts that defendants who participate in a bittorent swarm can be sued with all other defendants who ever uploaded or downloaded to that swarm (as opposed to a more legitimate “snapshot swarm theory” which joins bittorrent users together in a lawsuit based on who is uploading and downloads to whom at a particular point in time).

However, Judge Fleissig rejected both the “swarm joinder theory” and the “temporal swarm theory” (“snapshot swarms” were not discussed) because in both cases, the bittorrent users did not download and upload from EACH OF ALL the other bittorrent users in that swarm. In other words, a bittorrent swarm consists of many small “transactions and occurrences” between multiple users, and the judge essentially ruled that association with a “bittorrent swarm” does not properly connect [for joinder purposes] one defendant with another defendant from whom or to whom he did not specifically download or upload.

Food for thought for future Missouri federal cases: I want to also mention that Judge Fleissig refers to the accused bittorrent users as merely transferring “pieces” of the copyrighted files to each other rather than the entire copyrighted title [to be found liable for copyright infringement (under the "substantial similarity" prong), courts have ruled that the entire copyrighted file needs to be transferred; not merely "pieces" of it].

I would love to interpret her words as meaning that ‘because no user transfers a complete copyrighted file to any other user (only data bits and “pieces” of the copyrighted file that the downloader’s bittorrent software pieces together into a file), no user can be found liable for copyright infringement,’ but I do not think this is what she was referring to.

Rather, by mentioning bittorrent transfers from one user to another user as mere “pieces” of a copyrighted file, Judge Fleissig leaves open the question (perhaps to be elaborated in a future ruling) whether transferring bits and “pieces” of a copyrighted file (but not the entire file) can constitute copyright infringement.

NOTE: This ruling directly affects as binding upon the following Missouri bittorrent cases* (sorted by filing date):

reFX Audio Software Inc. v. Does 1-39 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00895)
Georgia Film Fund Four, LLC v. Does 1-75 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00832)
The Bicycle Peddler, LLC v. Does 1-28 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00583)
Elf-Man, LLC v. Does 1-17 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00576)
The Thompsons Film, LLC v. Does 1-23 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00577)
PHE, Inc. v. Does 1-27 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00480)
Purzel Video GMBH v. Does 1-32 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00449)
Purzel Video GMBH v. Does 1-67 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00450)
Riding Films, Inc. v. John Does 1-11 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00430)
Bayou Pictures, LLC v. John Does 1-11 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00433)
The Good Doctor, LLC v. John Does 1-36 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00434)
Maxcon Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-88 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00428)
reFX Audio Software Inc. v. Does 1-97 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00409)
reFX Audio Software Inc. v. Does 1-53 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00408)
Breaking Glass Pictures, LLC v. Does 1-188 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00388)
Vision Films, Inc. v. Does 1-10 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00290)
Vision Films, Inc. v. Does 1-30 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00020)

*some of these may have already been dismissed on other grounds.

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ID-100157775Image courtesy of @artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Much of the bittorrent world is saddened by the leaked news reports of the recent “Bellwether” case in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Malibu Media v. John Does, Case No. 5:12-cv-02088) where at least one defendant is reported to be facing close to $112,500 in damages plus attorney fees for the peer-to-peer downloads he is said to have taken part in. The plaintiff attorneys, along with Keith Lipscomb and others who have a vested interest in seeing bittorrent cases against internet users succeed are drinking champagne and celebrating their victory.

It is both my professional belief and my personal conviction that copyright trolling lawsuits are wrong, and while there is nothing illegal in suing a defendant for copyright infringement, doing so in my opinion is unlawful and morally corrupt. These lawsuits are nothing more than a STAGE SHOW to permit a behind the scenes SHAKEDOWN of accused interent users, whether or not they actually participated in the accused infringement. For G-d’s sake, the “guilty” so-called “criminal” defendant merely clicked on a link, and downloaded a title that was openly shared with thousands of other downloaders. To hit that defendant with a shock lawsuit where they face $150,000 statutory damages for a video that could have been purchased for a few bucks is a disproportionate punishment for the “crime” of downloading copyrighted films. Rather, instead of suing downloaders and letting the piracy continue, why not just end the piracy problem by issuing a DMCA take down notice to the bittorrent tracker? The alternative of sitting in bittorrent swarms and employing tracking software to track the IP addresses of who is downloading to me just seems like an abusive step to what would otherwise be a simple problem of making the torrent files go away so that unsuspecting downloaders couldn’t click on the links.

It is my conviction that copyright infringement lawsuits are wrong because it is simply immoral to shake down EVERY John Doe Defendant (yes, each one) with the threat of having to defend a lawsuit in federal court unless they cough up tens of thousands of dollars for downloads that the John Doe Defendant often did not even take part in. I have personally seen copyright trolls such as Malibu Media, LLC take large sums of money from defendants who did not do the download, but who were pressured into settling simply to avoid being named in a lawsuit. It is no secret that defending a case is sometimes significantly more expensive than settling a case.

Yet even with the pending resolution of this lawsuit, accused defendants across the U.S. in their own lawsuits should understand that this ruling will not be binding on other federal courts in other federal districts. Each federal court makes their own rules as to what constitutes copyright infringement, and what evidence is required to prove a defendant guilty when the so-called infringement happens via a bittorrent download. This is our job as attorneys — to know which districts have rules in favor of bittorrent users, and to know which districts have ruled in favor of the copyright holders. No doubt, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will now become a favored spot to sue internet users accross the U.S. for copyright infringement.

Lastly, on a personal note, this case does not change the way a lawyer handles copyright infringement cases. At least in our Cashman Law Firm, PLLC, there is no silver-bullet approach — some defendants choose to settle, and many do not. Considerations as always involve 1) whether the download actually happened and the circumstances surrounding the accused activities, 2) the accused defendant’s willingness to fight and defend a copyright infringement lawsuit, 3) the accused defendant’s aversion to risk of having their name become public knowledge in a court proceeding, and 4) the accused defendant’s financial ability to take each of the various pathways we suggest.

In sum, not all guilty defendants settle, and not all non-guilty defendants fight.  It is simply a calculation and a risk assessment that is based on the client’s desires, the federal district in which the lawsuit is filed (taking into consideration past bittorrent cases filed in that jurisdiction), the judge who assigned to the case (taking into consideration his past rulings), and the plaintiff attorney (or more frequently, the local counsel’s) proclivity towards naming, serving, and taking defendants to trial balanced with their willingness to negotiate an amicable settlement should we decide to go that route.

Bittorrent cases [in their current form] have now been around for three (3) years, and now we have a verdict where a case has been taken to trial — by Malibu Media, LLC surprisingly enough.  When we started, there were no cases taken to trial, and now there is one.  Before the appearance in 2010 of the bittorrent cases, all we had to go on were the old Napster and Grokster cases, combined with the various lawsuits filed by the RIAA / MPAA and miscellaneous copyright infringement files dealing with the internet. Up until now we have been developing case law surrounding peer-to-peer downloads as each case matures. Now we are starting to get some clarity as to the law surrounding bittorrent use.

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houstonlawy3r:

Sometimes there are no words other than silence to best express the thoughts I have about Judge Wright’s order essentially referring John Steele and the Prenda Law Inc. gang to the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Division (CID) for all the settlements on which no taxes were paid. There is one police agency that a criminal organization does not want to be contacted by, and that is the CID.

The $81K in sanctions essentially funds the lead attorneys who spent time on this case. And, the referral to the bar associations means that the principals at Prenda Law Inc. may no longer have their law licenses shortly.

In sum, there is not much for me to comment here, except to be silent, because the judge’s order itself says all it needs to. Copyright trolling may seem profitable for the attorneys filing the lawsuits, but no money can compensate for the loss of freedom that one experiences when what was once a multi-million dollar law practice lands the principles in prison for tax evasion. This should be a lesson to all other copyright trolls out there. Judge yourselves accordingly.

Originally posted on Fight Copyright Trolls:

We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Congratulations to everyone involved, especially Morgan and Nick.

Media coverage

View original 382 more words

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The Divide - New Copyright Trolls
For those involved in the R & D Film 1, LLC  cases across the US, I wanted to give you a heads up as to the “state of affairs” of those cases.

I have been watching R & D Film 1, LLC (a.k.a., “R&D Film 1“) since they began suing defendants for downloading the copyrighted title “The Divide.” [Whether they themselves have made ANY ATTEMPTS to take down the offending torrents using tools provided to them in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is not the topic of this article.] 

R&D Film 1 lawsuits showed up in July, 2012, and now 37 weeks later, I am surprised they are still alive.

DRAMA IN THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI

The R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-35 (Case No. 4:12-cv-01743) case has shaken a few people up, because it is unclear which defendants were dismissed, and which were named and served.

In January, Judge Jean Hamilton invoked Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4(m), which gave R & D Film 1, LLC 120 days to name and serve defendants. As you know, this is a tool judges have at their disposal to dispose of cases which get stale — they are not forced to dismiss stale cases. This deadline according to the judge’s calculations passed on 3/29/2013, but according to the plaintiff attorney’s calculations, it passed on 4/9/2013.

On 4/11/2013, the judge issued an “Order to Show Cause” why this lawsuit should not be dismissed, plaintiff attorney Joel Samuels responded, “but judge, we DID name and serve certain defendants,” and then Samuels dismissed everyone else [Does 1,6,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,30, and 35] without prejudice. Obviously we haven’t seen the list of who was “named and served,” but I must believe that Samuels wasn’t lying to the judge. That would be a bad idea.

So this case is still in play, and our firm is watching it carefully because what happens in one R & D Film 1, LLC case affects their other cases. Of note in Missouri — these cases are beginning to age, and I suspect more judges will be imposing FRCP Rule 4(m). Already, in EACH OF THE CASES, the other plaintiff attorney Matthew Cutler has filed a “Request for an extension of time to name and serve defendants,” which have been granted by the respective judges. In his next round of requests, they may not be so forgiving.

CASES FILED BY MATTHEW L. CUTLER OF HERNESS & DICKEY IN THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI:
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-33 (Case No. 4:12-cv-01741)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-39 (Case No. 4:12-cv-01742)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-35 (Case No. 4:12-cv-01743)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-14 (Case No. 4:12-cv-01754)

WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON: NO DRAMA.

As you know, on January 8th, 2013, Richard Symmes sued a total of 315 John Doe Defendants in Washington. I wrote about it here in my “(WAWD) R&D Film 1, LLC hires Richard Symmes to file against 315 Defendants” article.

In the R & D Film 1, LLC cases in the Western District of Washington, the story is the same for all the cases. Judge Lasnik has taken over all the cases, and he has allowed R&D Film 1 to serve the ISPs with subpoenas. At this point I have no indication as to whether Judge Lasnik is actively copyright-troll friendly or whether he is simply unifying the proceedings and allowing all cases to proceed.

Interestingly enough, all the defendants appear to be Comcast subscribers, and notwithstanding the Six Strikes System (not to confuse Ira Siegel/CEG-TEK’s “CopyrightSettlements.com” system and the lawsuits of the copyright trolls), Comcast is forwarding the subpoenas to their subscribers. The problem is that all defendants here are IN WASHINGTON (meaning, jurisdiction is fine), so everyone calling me is asking about a motion to quash, but quashing is not the answer since they live in the state in which they were sued.

CASES FILED BY RICHARD SYMMES IN THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON
(ALL ALIVE AND WELL):

R & D Film 1 LLC v. Does 1-46 (Case No. 2:13-cv-00050)
R & D Film 1 LLC v. Does 1-45 (Case No. 2:13-cv-00051)
R & D Film 1 LLC v. Does 1-41 (Case No. 2:13-cv-00052)
R & D Film 1 LLC v. Does 1-22 (Case No. 2:13-cv-00053)
R & D Film 1 LLC v. Does 1-51 (Case No. 2:13-cv-00054)
R & D Film 1 LLC v. Does 1-50 (Case No. 2:13-cv-00055)
R & D Film 1 LLC v. Does 1-44 (Case No. 2:13-cv-00056)
R & D Film 1 LLC v. Does 1-16 (Case No. 2:13-cv-00057)

ILLINOIS NORTHERN DISTRICT — “IN AND OUT” LIKE A BANDIT:

In the Northern District of Illinois, R&D Film 1 plaintiff attorneys Michael Hierl and Todd Parkhurt are literally “making away like bandits” with their quick “in-and-out” strategy in the courtroom.

As soon as either of these lawyers get the subscriber information from the ISP, they hit the John Doe Defendants, and they hit them hard, soliciting a number of settlements. As soon as they reach a certain pre-determined number of settlements, they immediately dismiss the case and get out of the court as quickly as possible. No judge oversight — they are “in and out” like a flash before any judge notices what they’ve done.

This is the same pattern for EVERY ONE OF THEIR CASES.  I have left my notes next to their cases (below) because I thought the pattern was telling of their strategy.

CASES FILED BY TODD S. PARKHURST & MICHAEL A. HIERL OF HUGHES SOCOL PIERS RESNICK & DYM LTD. IN THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS:
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-52 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05810) closed 4/4
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-20 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05817) closed 4/11
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-57 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05821) closed 4/17
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-62 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05822) closed 4/10
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-36 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05823) closed 4/18
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-88 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05825) not yet dismissed; last hearing was supposed to happen on 1/23. didn’t.
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-29 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05827) closed 4/17
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-20 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05828) closed 4/18

R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-37 (Case No. 1:12-cv-09036) Still alive; Judge Matthew Kennelly denying motions to quash. Status hearing held and continued to 6/4/2013
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-92 (Case No. 1:12-cv-09039) Still alive; Status hearing held on 3/19/2013 and continued to 4/23/2013.
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-103 (Case No. 1:12-cv-09041) closed 3/20
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-66 (Case No. 1:12-cv-09043) Still alive; ORDER granting motion for leave to take discovery prior to Rule 26(f) conference.

NEW JERSEY DISTRICT — ALL CASES “DEAD”

New Jersey is where copyright troll cases die a quick death. If you remember, all of the Century Media, Ltd., Baseprotect UG, Ltd. cases, along with all of Jay McDaniel’s bittorrent cases were in NJ and they are now dead.

All the New Jersey R&D Film 1, LLC Cases were assigned to Judge Noel L. Hillman and referred to Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio. They have dealt all cases (below) a swift death by requiring that local counsel Stamatios Stamoulis explain to the court why each of these cases should not be SEVERED AND DISMISSED for improper joinder.

Essentially, these cases will fail because New Jersey does not buy into the “bittorrent swarm” theory that every downloader was part of the “same transaction or occurrence” as is required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

CASES FILED BY STAMATIOS STAMOULIS IN THE NEW JERSEY DISTRICT:
R & D Film 1, LLC v. John Does 1-28 (Case No. 1:13-cv-00482)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. John Does 1-103 (Case No. 1:13-cv-00483)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. John Does 1-104 (Case No. 1:13-cv-00484)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. John Does 1-105 (Case No. 1:13-cv-00485)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. John Does 1-31 (Case No. 1:13-cv-00486)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. John Does 1-28 (Case No. 1:13-cv-00487)

NOTE: NJ’s Dragon Quest Productions LLC v. John Does 1-100 (Case No. 1:12-cv-06611) will be affected (and likely killed) as a result of this as well.

In sum, it’s a battle ground, and R & D Films 1, LLC (sometimes spelled R&D Films 1, LLC in the case filings) is fighting to gain as many settlements as is possible. The fact that an Eastern District of Missouri attorney told the court that he named and served defendants indicates to me that R&D Film 1 is willing (maybe) to pay their attorneys to take this fight to the discovery level, if the copyright troll attorney is up for the challenge. Some clearly are not.

PERSONAL NOTE: I am waiting to see whether people were actually named and served (or not); I assume the lawyer’s statement is true because a lawyer would never lie to a court, would they? (#Prenda)

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While the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC and its clients were celebrating “freedom,” I am sure some of my readers will be wondering the fate of Prenda Law Inc. / Steele Hansmeier, PLLC / John Steele / Paul Duffy / Mark Lutz / Brett Gibbs et al. after their hearing today before Judge Wright.  Today was the big day where the world of those who have been injured by Prenda Law Inc.’s activities looked on to see their demise.

In sum, the hearing was short, and John Steele and his “gang” showed up as they were ordered to, but they decided to plead the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution rather than answer Judge Wright’s questions.  As a result, the judge did not allow them the pleasure of “pleading the fifth” as he appears to have no interest in lawyer gamesmanship.  Thus, after 12 minutes, he walked off the bench and ended the hearing.

While there was no immediate gratification for those who flew over to attend the hearing, in my opinion, “Popehat” described their fate better than I ever could:

“Prenda Law may still be standing. But it’s dead.”

I would be very surprised if I saw any further activities coming from this law firm. I expect that in a few days (if not sooner), Judge Otis Wright will write an order which will make any copyright troll shake in their boots, and it is my hopes that this order will serve as a warning shot to any of the other copyright trolls who go after individual downloaders using the tactics and corporate structures that Prenda employed.

It is my opinion (although I *am* still cautious until I actually see Judge Wright’s order,) this will likely be the end of Prenda Law Inc., John Steele, and Paul Duffy, as I expect that this will evolve into inquiries which will endanger their law licenses. I don’t think we’ll see the end of them, per se, as it is not so difficult to find a hungry lawyer who will agree to have his hand held while he lets others practice under his law license in the shadows.

On the other hand, I believe the result of this case (and Judge Wright’s influence over the the future penalties of unlawful copyright enforcement tactics) will force the bittorrent cases to evolve from its current state (which comprise mere pre-trial settlement “or else” tactics) to actually taking clients to court on the merits.  Also, while the inquiry in this case surrounded plaintiff copyright trolls who “invent” corporate figureheads, who seem to falsify copyright assignment documents, and who structure their business tactics to allow their activities to proceed with limited affects on the attorneys furthering their scheme) no doubt, this will be a damaging blow to those copyright holders who try to enforce their copyrights against individual downloaders.

Articles on the topic:
Forbes: Porn Copyright Lawyer John Steele, Who Has Sued More Than 20,000 People, Is Now The One In Legal Trouble

ArsTechnica: Prenda lawyers take Fifth Amendment; judge storms out: “We’re done” — Those in attendance describe Judge Otis Wright as “incandescently angry.”

TechDirt: Team Prenda Shows Up In Court, Pleads The Fifth… Angry Judge Ends Hearing In 12 Minutes

TorrentFreak: Prenda Copyright Trolls Plead the Fifth

Fight Copyright Trolls (SJD): Prenda trolls appear in Judge Wright’s courtroom only to plead the Fifth. Furious judge ends the hearing after 12 minutes

Follow-Up Articles:

ArsTechnica: Judge smash: Prenda’s porn-trolling days are over

Popehat: Prenda Law’s Attorneys Take The Fifth Rather Than Answer Judge Wright’s Questions

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A number of interested readers have wondered what my opinion was about Monday’s sanctions hearing against Prenda Law Inc., Brett Gibbs, John Steele, Paul Hansmeier, and the others [Case Cite: Ingenuity 13 LLC v. John Doe, Case No. 2:12-cv-08333, in the California District Court (Case Documents "Recap'd" here)]. Quite frankly, I read the #Prenda Twitter stream throughout the day just as many of you did.

Up front, there were some pretty good articles on the event, and as far as I am concerned, there is nothing substantive that I can add to what has already been written. I advise anyone affected by the AF Holdings, LLC cases (or any of Prenda Law Inc.’s so-called “trusts”) to read the following articles:

IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE:

In sum, it is my opinion that whatever the result, there was a lesson taught — that copyright trolls are not “above the law,” so to speak. As far as the effect of Monday’s hearing, we will not know the effect until we read Judge Wright’s order (which we do not expect to see for a few days). However, as for the applicability, the ruling will apply nationwide, and no doubt every court which hears their cases will probably receive a copy of the order.

There is a lot of mention of “trusts” when it comes to the Steele|Hansmeier organization.  I have a “love-hate” relationships with trusts. They form a wonderful legal alter-ego function when it comes to protecting assets and benefiting third party beneficiaries. However, in scenarios like this, I believe they are tools to break the law and hide from responsibility. The problem here is that I’m not so sure Steele and Co. could pull off having a trust without it being broken by the courts.

From what I have read, it is my opinion that there is too much involvement in the trust by all parties, and putting it simply, keeping the classic definition and rules of a trust, I’m not sure they’ve done it in a way which could withstand scrutiny. For example, I’m not sure who the grantor is, who the grantee (receiver of assets) is, and for which beneficiary or purpose was the trust formed. Are there any documents relating to the formation of the trust?  Are there any filings anywhere relating to the trust?  Also, who is the trustee who is in charge of directing and managing the funds of the trust? I would be worried of the parties mishandling the movement of the funds (the trust assets), and this is where they may get busted for playing the trust game… not to mention that I hear that nobody has filed taxes on this income and all the members are U.S. citizens? I can’t believe no taxes have been filed or paid, because if not, the IRS would be after them for tax evasion (and I have heard nothing of the sort happening).

As far as the Hansmeier deposition that nobody gets paid and that every lawyer gratuitously works for free without receiving an income, I call BS on that statement. It appears to me that he is playing semantics with the term “income” according to the tax code, and he can get in trouble the way he has maybe misused the term. No lawyer, as wonderful as any of them might be, would work for “no income.” Even Brett Gibbs. I assume there is some foreign trust account set up for each of them into which funds get deposited on a regular basis. And, those “offshore trusts” need to pay taxes just like any other legal entity.

My sadness from Monday’s events stem from the fact that Steel/Hansmeier/Duffy clan staying out of court was a very smart move. By staying as far away from the court as possible, Judge Wright was unable to swear them in, and he was unable to take their [what would likely have been incriminating] testimony. If he sanctions them, if he orders a bench order for their arrest (not likely), or if he does something to them, from a distance [and out of jail], they can easily appeal any order the judge makes, essentially eviscerating any legal authority Judge Wright may show.

I mentioned to a few other lawyers how queasy attorneys get when a judge speaks strong words. However, we all have been watching these cases for almost THREE YEARS NOW (come June), and I have never seen a judge do any damage to a copyright troll. Even Evan Stone, the prolific copyright troll out of Dallas, Texas — for sending subpoenas out before the judge gave authorization to do so, he was only sanctioned $10,000 (essentially one day’s income for Steele, according to Alan Cooper’s testimony, or three of Evan Stone’s settlements).

At the end of the day, unless the result of this hearing is a state bar disciplinary hearing (or more seriously, a criminal investigation if there was indeed “fraud” in the legal sense), and unless some lawyers lose their licenses, there will be no deterrance from Prenda Law Inc. (or any other copyright troll) thinking twice about their actions, and copyright trolling lawsuits will grow exponentially until enough people cry out, “this must be stopped!”

UPDATE (3/14/2013):

SJD reports that Judge Wright has ordered the Steele|Hansmeier gang to appear on 3/29/2013 based on “their pecuniary interest and active, albeit clandestine participation in these cases” (emphasis added).  He continues that “Not only does [their motion not to appear] lack merit, its eleventh-hour filing exemplifies gamesmanship”  (emphasis added).  Wow.  Further, the judge expanded his inquiry to impose sanctions not only to the original masterminds of these lawsuits, but to the so-called entities who are supposed to be separate and apart from their operation (they’re not).  He called Livewire Holdings LLC, and 6881 Forensics, LLC to be present at the hearing.  Now if these entities will be represented by the same Steele / Hansmeier / Duffy / Lutz characters (Hansmeier’s deposition already pegged paralegal Lutz as the CEOs of a number of these entities), this will look very bad for them.

NOTE: A commenter referred to this article (or me) as a “buzzkill,” and that got a good laugh out of me.  If you knew how much my reporting on these blogs represented how dull I sometimes am in real life, the humor of that comment is pretty on-point.  On this note, however, if you read Judge Wright’s order carefully, again, he’s only threatening sanctions.  Even if he imposes $1 million dollars in sanctions, I cannot imagine Steele and the others would pay it.  After all, they technically don’t “own” that money that is in the various trusts (#sarcasm).

Also see:

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Congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been dismissed from the BASEPROTECT UG, LTD. v. JOHN DOES 1-X (Case No. 2:11-cv-03621) and the CENTURY MEDIA, LTD. v. SWARM AND JOHN DOES 1-944 (Case No. 2:12-cv-03868) cases in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

The politics leading to the dismissal of these cases is quite simple. Each of these cases lagged on for almost TWO YEARS with little progress being made against the hundreds of John Doe Defendants implicated in the lawsuits. After 178 documents were filed with the court in the Baseprotect case (whether they be motions to dismiss defendants who have settled, motions to quash, or administrative motions and/or hearing notes), eventually the case got stale.

On 2/26, Judge Joseph Dickson issued an ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE (which is usually indicative of a soon-to-be-dead case) as to why the court should not SEVER AND DISMISS all defendants except for John Doe 1.

In other words, Judge Dickson figured out that the John Doe Defendants in this case — the alleged co-defendants of the “same” bittorrent swarm — had download dates which were spaced so far apart that it was very unlikely that each of the hundreds of defendants participated in the “same swarm and the same time.” In other words, joinder was obviously deficient and the judge was about to break apart the case into a few hundred pieces telling plaintiff attorney Jay McDaniel that he better pay the $350 filing fee for each of the John Doe Defendants and file separate actions, or else he’s dismissing everyone except for John Doe #1.  The judge set the hearing date for 4/1.

In sum, McDaniel decided to cut his losses (which if you look at just how many people settled, you would conclude that this case was very profitable for him since its original filing on 6/23/2011), and without even waiting to attend the 4/1 hearing, he dismissed the case in its entirety.

Oh, and while he was at it, he also dismissed the Century Media, Ltd. case that same day.

Once again, congratulations to all who have been dismissed from these cases.

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“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!”
– Sir Walter Scott, Marmion: Canto VI. (1771 – 1832)

My greatest effort in this blog is not to decide what to write about, but what NOT to write about. I’ve been very aware of John Steele’s issues in Minnesota (where he made an appearance for one of his cases, and was served by Paul Godfread’s process server on the Alan Cooper identity theft issue). I’ve also been aware of the issues as to whether AF Holdings, Guava, (and we won’t mention Ingenuity 13, or the older MCGIP lawsuits) are in fact entities or whether there is an bit of sham involved in their formation and/or the enforcement of the intellectual property they appear to hold. I have also noticed the clear trend from the smarter lawsuits where Steele moved from suing hundreds of John Doe Defendants to him suing smaller numbers of John Does (20-75) in smaller “under-the-radar” lawsuits, and then finally to the “John Doe” individual lawsuits, some of which ended up with named defendants who were not served, others where the defendants were actually served, and finally others where a defendant and his attorney agreed to allow Prenda to add hundreds of unrelated defendants to the lawsuits as potential co-conspirators.

Then when even the individual lawsuits looked to no longer be fruitful for him, I noticed the move from copyright enforcement to absurd tactics, some of which involved having Mark Lutz pose as a representative for a production company.  I noticed when Prenda had their own local counsel (Joseph Perea) shift titles to avoid unauthorized practice of law issues (e.g., in Florida), and I noticed when local counsel Brett Gibbs ended up as “of counsel” for Prenda Law Inc., only to later disavow association from the firm when federal Judge Otis Wright mentioned the word “jail.” These absurd tactics have gone even farther, most recently with the creation of the Livewire Holdings, Inc. entity (see, Part I; Part II) using fake pictures on their website for their so-called “partners,” and reports that Mark Lutz (Prenda Law Inc.’s former paralegal, now pictured as “partner” in the Livewire Holdings, Inc. site) is back at it, calling dismissed defendants using a fake name.  I almost fell off my chair when I read local counsel Brett Gibbs’ most recent declaration [under oath] that [he has been informed that] Mark Lutz was the CEO for AF Holdings, LLC (p.4, paragraph 7), and that he was also the CEO for Ingenuity 13, LLC (p.4, paragraph 8).  Really?!?

All of this drama (including the Minnesota lawsuit and the so-called fake Alan Cooper issue) are topics I have purposefully chosen NOT to write about for the sole reason that they do not help my clients or potential clients understand the issues surrounding the copyright infringement lawsuits they face when they receive a subpoena notice from their ISP in the mail.

Behind the scenes, as owner of the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC, I and my staff have spent literally months building up local counsel networks and researching each federal court’s rules to properly defend clients who are named as defendants in their copyright infringement lawsuits. I personally warned a number of copyright trolls that if they named my clients, myself and the attorneys I work with would find a way to make defending these cases affordable. So you can understand why I was amused when the principals at Prenda Law Inc. shifted from what looked to be a trend towards individual lawsuits against former John Doe Defendants to their more recent “world domination” shenanigans which led to widespread questions as to the identity of the “real” AF Holdings, LLC Alan Cooper, which of the copyright troll entities are real and which are shams, and then once caught, which led to the finger-pointing which began between their local counsel and other defense counsel, and then ultimately to the finger-pointing towards the principals at Prenda Law Inc. I’m happy that their lawsuits have gone nowhere these recent months, but personally I feel that their focus has shifted to “doubling down” on what appear to be outright lies rather than representing their clients to stop the piracy of their copyrighted films.  I often stop myself from asking, “wasn’t that the whole purpose of this grand charade?”  At least the war I thought I was fighting was to defend internet users from being subjected to copyright extortion-like lawsuits for the downloading or viewing of copyrighted movies and videos.

For these reasons, I really have nothing to say or comment because what Prenda Law Inc. / formerly, Steele|Hansmeier PLLC/ or more recently, the Anti-Piracy Law Group / John Steele / Paul Duffy / Brett Gibbs / former paralegal Mark Lutz (and their local counsel, many still disgruntled) have been doing and their antics have little-to-nothing to do with the so-called “rampant piracy” and the copyright infringement I thought they were here to stop.

So now John Steele and the entities he supposedly has nothing to do with are suing Paul Godfread, the real Alan Cooper (as opposed to the one they have not yet produced), along with all of the anti-copyright troll internet population, probably most notably, Sophisticated Jane Doe (http://www.fightcopyrighttrolls.com), Die Troll Die (http://www.dietrolldie.com), and probably a handful of others who have been hugely helpful to our law firm over the years through their reporting on Twitter. I could easily be part of this group of anti-copyright troll “Does” from all the posts I have written on his cases.

The problem with the “sue everyone for defamation” approach is 1) the elements of defamation are simply not there (as Forbes Magazine might report, John Steele is clearly a “public person” who has cast himself forth as being one of the foremost and first copyright trolls), 2) his lawsuits likely invoke the anti-SLAPP laws because they appear to have been filed to “create chilling effects and to stifle speech,” and most importantly, 3) people like Sophisticated Jane Doe, Die Troll Die, and the others blog and tweet anonymously. Thus, even if they figured out which IP addresses did the posting or the tweeting, the IP address will likely point to a private VPN service who have no ability to even know who these anonymous bloggers are.

In closing, there is not much to say about these lawsuits. Techdirt wrote about them here.  ArsTechnica wrote about them here.  Sophisticated Jane Doe wrote about them here. Copyright Clerk wrote about them here. Jordan Rushie wrote about them here. No doubt there will be many more articles, and no doubt there will be much more drama. However, as far as these lawsuits affect his copyright infringement and “hacker” lawsuits (the purpose for which I write this blog), I cannot see them affecting his lawsuits positively, and if anything, this was a misstep for Steele and his affiliates.


UPDATE (3/9/2013): DENIED.  Automattic, Inc. letter to Prenda Law Inc. (on behalf of WordPress.com sites) rejects Prenda’s attempts to ascertain the IP addresses of the anti-troll community citing five (5) deficiencies in their subpoena.  Other notable reasons for non-compliance with the subpoena include: 1) rights under the First Amendment to anonymous speech; 2) right to privacy; 3) subpoena (“outrageously”) overly broad; 4) subpoena seeks information that is not likely to lead to discoverable information.

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