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Archive for the ‘Judge Bates (DC)’ Category

I don’t know how to say this other than in my field of work, it is not often that I am shocked.  I often speak to local counsel who get excited that they are handling a “porn” case.  Just a few days ago, I called one of Steele’s (a.k.a., “Anti-Piracy Law Group”) local counsel.  When I introduced myself, he said to me (with a boyish excitement), “Aren’t you the porn lawyer?” to which I responded, “Aren’t YOU the porn lawyer?!?”

Anyway, I cannot help but to generalize these cases into “okay, one more production company suing a college kid or husband for clicking on a link and viewing copyrighted materials.”  What I often forget is that there is usually some guy behind the scenes who has trailed so far into the world of pornography that he has opened up his own company, produced some porn videos, and now is suing defendants for their download.

The motive is usually the same.  Instead of “let’s punish these pirates” as they would like you to believe, their motive is rather, “let’s hit up as many people for thousands of dollars each until we get shut down by the courts.”  In my opinion, this was the motive of the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. lawsuits.

Digressing, the epic news of the day is that the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) case has been dismissed.  Congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants who have been released from this case.  

I don’t need to go into details about the case history — it has been riddled with controversy since they started suing internet users 2+ years ago.  As far as the legal issues were concerned, this was a typical copyright infringement lawsuit plagued with the same procedural issues that most of the other cases of its time suffered from — improper joinder (defendants were not part of the same “swarm”), and improper jurisdiction (defendants were sued in a court which did not have personal jurisdiction over them because the DC court’s reach could not decide the case against most of the defendants who were implicated in the lawsuit because they lived outside of the court’s jurisdiction).

What surprised me about the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case was not Hard Drive Productions, Inc., but the District of Columbia judges who made a political mess of these cases.  Judge Beryl Howell came on the scene making pro-copyright troll rulings, such as 1) “you don’t need to decide jurisdiction or joinder until a defendant is named and served in a lawsuit,” 2) an ISP cannot file a motion to quash on behalf of their subscribers, and 3) accused John Doe Defendants cannot file motions to quash until they are named as defendants in the case.  Mind you, she was a copyright lobbyist before she was appointed a federal judge.

Then in February, 2012, Judge Facciola came in with a ruling in the West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,434 (Case No. 1:11-cv-00055) case which I was sure was going to kill the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case and all the other bittorrent cases in DC.  In his order, he ruled that “a defendant who does not live in the District of Columbia cannot be sued in the DC court because the DC court lacks jurisdiction over those defendants.”  However, at some point, it appears to me as if the RIAA/MPAA copyright lobby (probably by using Judge Beryl Howell as their mouthpiece) pressured Judge Facciola into giving into the copyright lobby’s pressure, and with a few contradictory rulings, he transitioned over to being Judge Beryl Howell’s sidekick in these cases.

Judge Bates also came in appearing to protect the procedural rights of the accused defendants who lived outside of DC, but once again, after what appeared to be some pressure from the RIAA/MPAA copyright lobby (once again, my educated guess is that Judge Beryl Howell was the force behind what happened), he was removed from the case which Judge Facciola took over.  Then, after some time, it appears as if Judge Bates too eventually caved in to the RIAA/MPAA copyright lobby (some refer to them as the “mafia,” or the copyright police), and on my September 27th, 2012 post, Judge Bates reversed his decision in Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case and let the “extortion” of the John Doe Defendants at the hands of John Steele and Co. (a.k.a., Steele Hansmeier PLLC, a.k.a., Prenda Law Inc., and now a.k.a., the “Anti-Piracy Law Group”) continue.

So.  The story with this dismissal is not necessarily a Hard Drive Productions, Inc. story, but a story of the forces behind the public interest groups and lobbyists who pressure Washington to always rule in favor of the copyright holder, regardless of whether the copyright holder is a pornography company, or whether the copyright holder is involved in making B-movies.  Bottom line, these lobbyists insist that WASHINGTON MUST CONTINUE TO BE PRO-COPYRIGHT AND MUST CONTINUE TO RULE IN FAVOR OF THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS, regardless of who the copyright holder is, or at what cost.

So as things stand in DC, there is still a split as to the rights of unnamed John Doe Defendants between the rulings of Judge Wilkins (relating to the “motion to compel” lawsuit by Prenda Law Inc. against Comcast relating to their Millennium TGA, Inc. cases [BTW, dismissed last week]) and the rulings of Judge Beryl Howell, because as you read, Judge Howell certified an interlocutory appeal to answer questions relevant to these cases, but it appears to me that someone is dragging their feet there in DC and hoping for a dismissal so that they don’t have to decide the issues.

Lastly, there is a lot of activity on Twitter as to the 28 or so defendants who have settled their case, and some anger directed at these anonymous defendants who have settled.  Quite frankly, they are not all anonymous.  What happened with these is that without warning, Prenda Law Inc. turned around and sued one of these defendants (or threatened to imminently sue these defendants) in lawsuits in their home states.  I understand that many, if not most of the defendants in the “Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe” cases which were filed towards the end of 2011 probably settled (I’ve listed a few of the named defendants in the “At What Point Does a Copyright Troll Stop Being a Troll” article.)

In closing, people are asking me whether I think Hard Drive Productions, Inc. is dead, or whether this is just the next logical progression before a slew of defendants being named.  I must note that Hard Drive Productions, Inc. got their butts kicked quite a few times, especially with the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 3:11-cv-05634-JCS (Seth Abrahams) case and the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 4:11-cv-05630-YGR (Liuxia Wong) case, both in California.  If you look at the http://www.rfcexpress.com website, there have been ZERO filings since March, 2012.  A defendant must also understand that with the egos of these copyright troll attorneys, there is the saying, “As the ego of the attorney inflates, so does his hourly rate.

We also know there have been squabbles between Prenda Law Inc.’s local counsel and Steele, and we know that their own attorneys have been jumping ship (and in some cases even testifying against Prenda Law Inc. in their attempts to withdraw as local counsel.)  Thus, there are problems all around, so my best advise is to watch the http://www.rfcexpress.com website and see whether Hard Drive Productions, Inc. starts a flurry of lawsuits across the U.S. or not.  And remember — behind every lawsuit there is a person (joking using the term “person” to mean a human, a fictitious person (who might not exist), or an offshore entity) who needs to pay Steele’s legal fees so that he can pay for his Las Vegas lifestyle of traveling the country “not” representing his clients in these matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) has been a controversial case from the beginning.  Judge Bates immediately noticed the faults with the case and he stayed the subpoenas.  Magistrate Judge Facciola (who has since taken over the case) is now facing scrutiny for every step he makes — not only in this case, but also in the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274) case.  In short, Judge Bates told putative defendants that they could file their motions under seal (meaning the defendants’ identities would remain anonymous), the Doe Defendants relied upon Bates’ order and following his instructions, they filed their motions under seal, and Judge Facciola reversed Judge Bates’ order.  [Facciola’s order essentially stated that motions to quash that were filed under seal will be filed publicly on February 1, 2012, revealing the anonymous defendants’ identities to the world (and consequently to Prenda Law Inc., where we all now know what they will do with these).] Based on the volume of calls that must be coming into Judge Facciola’s chambers [(202) 354-3130], he is no doubt now stepping on eggshells based on the hundreds of defendants who are actively tracking this case and I’m sure he does not like it.  No judge would.

To make matters worse for the Judge Facciola, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) filed for its attorney to appear in the case and file an amicus brief, (a “letter to the court informing them of the law and the issues,”) on behalf of the various Doe Defendants.  The attorney also requested that the judge “stay” the case (which essentially means to put the case on hold until the issues are resolved).  In short, if EFF is successful, all of the motions to quash which tomorrow are set to become public will be kept private.  At the very least, Judge Facciola will be educated as to the issues surrounding this case (first amendment issues, personal jurisdiction, improper joinder), and perhaps it will inspire him to sever and/or dismiss it [and its sister AF Holdings case].

My favorite part about EFF getting involved in the case is the technology-based declaration which every bittorrent user accused in these cases should be aware of.  While the technology-based arguments of non-infringement may be over the head of Judge Facciola, they no doubt in my opinion provide enough information to kill any bittorrent case, if any Doe Defendant is named.

To hit the nail on the coffin, so to speak, the EFF asked the court to take judicial notice of (meaning, to recognize and hopefully adopt the opinions of) other bittorrent cases which you have been reading about since this blog started back in 2010.  You can read the orders of the other cases in a neatly filed package here.

While this motion as far as I’m concerned should be a “one-two knockout punch” for this case, we must also realize that the character of the judge and his leanings (dare I say bias) also play a factor in whether he’ll allow this motion to move forward.  DC has never been a defendant-friendly state as we saw with the Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC lawsuits last year, and they have historically been known to disclose the identities of Doe Defendants who filed motions to quash filed under seal when they reject them.  This is why I am both optimistic that EFF has gotten involved, but I am also very cautious when it comes to how Judge Facciola will react to yesterday’s motion which is a clear affront to his previous order.  Again, no judge likes it when someone openly disagrees with his order.

[P.S. – Here is the link to Prenda Law Inc.’s response requesting that the court not allow EFF to intercede in the case based on their “anti-intellectual property” nature.  Other websites covered the topic just fine (see, SJD’s article here).]

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DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Everyone knows by now that DC is not a friendly jurisdiction to be sued in. Like Washington D.C., the judges do not follow one another, and each judge does what he or she feels should be policy. Two examples — Judge Beryl Howell, a copyright lobbyist turned federal judge, and Judge Bates — friendly towards downloaders (but subsequently removed by other judges from the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case).  As far as I am concerned, this court is wrought with as much politics as Washington D.C. is in general.

So let’s go through some case updates, sorted by plaintiff attorney.

I) DUNLAP GRUBB & WEAVER, PLLC

Imperial Enterprises v. Does 1-3,545 (Case No. 1:11-cv-00529) [at one point it was Imperial Enterprises, Inc. v. Does 1-3,145] — dead. On 9/26, Judge Reggie Walton ordered the plaintiffs to name and serve or dismiss defendants or dismiss them [according to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("F.R.C.P."), Rule 4(m)] by 12/20/2011. Instead of naming defendants, Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC (who sends out settlement demand letters under the name “Media Law Group” or “MLG”) decided to dismiss all defendants. Case dismissed; congratulations to all Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants (and all others) who were Doe Defendants in this case. See order here.

Voltage Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-24,582
, a.k.a., “the Hurt Locker case” (Case No. 1:10-cv-00873) [at one point it was Voltage Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-5,000]dead. This one was actually funny. On 11/4, Judge Beryl Howell got tired of this case being on her docket. So she gave Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC (“DGW”) until 12/5 (extended to 12/12) to name and serve defendants or to dismiss them (again, the judge invoked F.R.C.P. Rule 4(m) to wipe what became a stale case off her docket).  However, DGW missed the deadline, and instead of having the judge dismiss the case, they dismissed it themselves to save themselves the embarrassment of having yet another case dismissed for them failing to move forward against defendants.

Regarding this plaintiff attorney, I received word that they were gearing up to sue individual defendants in their home states. This is nothing new as they have already started “naming” defendants for their older dismissed cases. More recently, I received word that they are hiring local attorneys and following the Patrick Collins, Inc. model of stating to dismissed defendants, “we have hired XYZ attorney in your state — unless you settle with us, we will name you in a lawsuit in your state.” The problem here is I have reason to believe they’ll follow up with the lawsuits.

There are some other “conspiracy” issues regarding this plaintiff, namely that they sent subpoena letters demanding names and contact information for various John Doe Defendants *AFTER* dismissing their IP addresses and releasing them from the case. This was written up by Torrentfreak.com, and you can read up about it here.  (NOTE: After the ISPs refused to hand over subscriber information, they added the IP address back into the lawsuit — something I don’t think they were allowed to do — but these Doe Defendants have since been dismissed as well and now they are receiving “scare” letters now as we speak.)

II) STEELE | HANSMEIER, PLLC (NOW PRENDA LAW INC.)

As we know, a few months back, Steele Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law Inc.) ventured into the DC District doing some “forum shopping” with their Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) and their AF Holdings, Inc. v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274) cases — having been essentially locked out of their own Illinois jurisdiction, they were looking for a few favorable rulings based on DC’s “plaintiff-friendly” reputation in the bittorrent cases of the past year (they have since found a happier home filing suits in the Florida / Miami Dade state courts). In these cases was the first appearance of Paul Duffy who has since taken over Steele’s position in the firm (yes, it appears as if he is out).

AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274) has survived scrutiny without a hiccup as Prenda has been “pretending” to search and see which defendants lived in DC. To make their searches appear valid, they immediately started dismissing a bunch of defendants a few at a time (“NOTICE of Voluntary Dismissal re Does 1-8,” “…Does 9-15,” “…Does 16-35,” “…Does 36-65″ — what I do not understand is, “Hasn’t Judge Reggie Walton figured out their game yet?” After all, it appears to me as if none of the defendants [so far] live in DC. And, they filed the complaint in JULY 2011! Did it REALLY take them 5 MONTHS to figure out that the first 65 defendants did not live in DC? I could have done this in just a few minutes using known geolocation tools). In short, Judge Reggie Walton is allowing this to move forward for now, but he is not stupid. My prediction is that he is going to bust this case using FRCP 4(m) any time now.

Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) is the case that is filled with controversy. It was in this case where Judge Bates figured out that most of the defendants did not live within the jurisdiction of the DC court. He invited Doe Defendants to file motions to quash and promised that he would keep their information sealed and private. My first inclination when I saw this was “watch out! — DC does not keep sealed documents as private — as soon as they deny the motions to quash, they expose the defendants’ information when denying the motions.”  Then a few days later, as we wrote about here, whether for political reasons or from pressure from the other judges, Judge Bates was removed from the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does case and he was replaced by Judge Facciola, someone who in my estimation was not friendly towards bittorrent defendants. For weeks, we saw nothing from him — no indication as to whether he would honor Judge Bates’ offer to submit motions to quash anonymously, or whether he would summarily deny them. I suspected he would deny them in line with DC’s past strong stance AGAINST motions to quash.

Well, I am sad to share that Judge Facciola ended up being exactly who I thought he was. In his 12/21 ruling, he reversed everything Judge Bates was trying to do when he wrote in his order that “I will not consider any motion unless it is publicly filed.” In other words, unless you use your real information in your motion to quash (e.g., your real name, address, phone number, etc. — the exact information the plaintiff attorneys are looking for in order to start sending you “scare” letters and calling you with the effect of scaring you into a settlement), Facciola’s court will not consider your sealed motions to quash as Bates promised they would.  It need not be said that when you file a motion to quash, everybody can see it as the filing is a public document. However, Judge Facciola does not care about your privacy interests, nor does he care if plaintiff attorneys receive your private information, because according to him, “[i]ndividuals who subscribe to the internet through ISPs simply have no expectation of privacy in their subscriber information.” (emphasis added) I wonder when the last time an ISP allowed a subscriber to open an account without the subscriber’s personal information.

In sum, expect this case to move forward like all the others. We appear to have a copyright-troll friendly judge here, so please prepare yourselves to have your private information handed out to your plaintiff attorneys by your ISPs; until now, I expect that they haven’t done so. I would love to give you good news here, but so far there is no indication this is going away any time soon — at least not until Prenda Law Inc. gets its payday.

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Like most of you, we here at the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC have been watching the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (1:11-cv-01741) case in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

To our surprise and against the 1+ year trend of the DC Court, earlier this month, Judge Bates went against the trend to remain silent about the validity of these cases and inquired about whether or not John Doe Defendants in the case actually lived in DC. In short, we understand that if the judge came to the conclusion that this is yet one more of John Steele’s mass bittorrent cases (but filed in DC as a result of forum shopping), then the judge would have likely come to the conclusion that the DC court did not have jurisdiction to try the case. As a result, he would have likely SEVERED AND DISMISSED the case, giving Steele|Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law, Inc., a story in itself) the opportunity to file against defendants in their home states. As you have read in previous posts, as a result of such a dismissal, Steele would have three years from the alleged date of infringement to file these lawsuits in defendants’ home states.

What no doubt concerned Steele (and what caused an overflow of conversations on the various bittorrent forums) is that six days ago, Judge Bates took the extra step and invited Doe Defendants to file motions to quash with the Clerk’s office, stating that they would be put under seal (meaning, hidden from view).

However, in spite of the judge’s invitation, I have not been advising people as to whether they should or should not file the motion to quash — and in fact I have been overly cautious about his invitation to do so — because historically, the District of Columbia Court has typically UNSEALED motions to quash when they deny them, leaving all the formerly sealed motions unsealed and naked for everyone to see.

The DC court has historically been AGAINST accused internet downloaders. Yes, we have certainly had our fair share of victories, but then again, many of the original cases are still alive (and because of this, plaintiffs have added perhaps thousands of new defendants to various DC cases, hence the new subpoena letters for older cases). I do not see why Judge Bates would be bold enough to go against former judges’ orders for essentially identical cases [See, Stare decisis (Anglo-Latin pronunciation: /ˈstɛəri dɨˈsaɪsɨs]) is a legal principle by which judges are obliged to respect the precedents established by prior decisions.], and the fact that Judge Bates was willing to go against Judge Beryl Howell and the others made me optimistic, but still cautious.

As much as this invitation to file appeared to signal a victory for the accused internet users, for whatever reason — political pressure, angry judges, etc. — today Judge Bates has essentially stepped down presiding over the case and he has handed the case over to Judge Facciola. This magistrate judge has seen bittorrent cases before, and in my opinion this could be a sad moment for the accused Does. To be clear, I understand that this transfer might not have been done with the permission or consent of Judge Bates. In fact, his order explicitly states, “Consent of the District Judge [him] is not necessary.” So perhaps we can piece together what has happened behind closed doors.

While it remains my opinion that this case suffers from issues of improper jurisdiction and improper joinder, Judge Bates is no longer making the decisions as to whether the case will be dismissed or not. Similarly, it is no longer clear whether it is in Does’ best interests to file the motions to quash, or whether they will suffer the same fate as all the other motions to quash filed in the DC court over the past year.

As for what defendants should do — I would probably wait and see what Judge Facciola does. Will he continue in Bates’ footsteps and kill the case? Or will he deny the motions to quash and move forward? We can only wait and see.

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