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Archive for the ‘Judge Beryl Howell (DC)’ Category

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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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 am changing the tone of the blog. The plaintiffs are changing their strategies and so must we. While I am happy advising my clients, not all of you are my clients, and I don’t want those who are not my client to be left without the tools to understand their rights as a defendant.  I’m changing my tone to give named defendants (the number of whom are growing) ammunition to protect themselves and to catch the plaintiff copyright trolls in their missteps.  I call this strategy the “pro-joinder” strategy.

We have always told our clients that a plaintiff cannot sue a defendant for the same thing in two separate federal lawsuits. Yet certain plaintiffs are forgetting that this rule exists, and they are suing a defendant in one lawsuit in one federal court, and then they are “naming” that same defendant in a second lawsuit in another federal court (usually in a different state). In my opinion, blindsiding a defendant with his own personal lawsuit in which he is named can backfire on the plaintiff, and here is how.

There is a rule that if a plaintiff pursues two federal cases against the same party involving the same controversy at the same time, one of the two identical pending cases should be dismissed. (This is true in MANY districts: Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817; Missouri v. Prudential Health Care Plain, Inc., 259 F.3d 949, 953054 (8th Cir.2001); Serlin v. Arthur Andersen & Co., 3 F.3d 221, 223 (7th Cir.1993); Zerilli v. Evening News Ass’n, 628 F.2d 217,222 (D.C.Cir.1980); Walton v. Eaton Corp., 563 F.2d 66,70 (3d Cir.1977).)

There is also what is known as the “first-to-file” rule, which states that when two related cases are pending in two federal courts, the court where the suit was last filed [where the defendant was named] cannot hear the case if the issues substantially overlap. (See Employers Ins. of Wausau v. Fox Entm’t Group, 522 F.3d 271, 274-275 (2d Cir.2008); Manuel v. Convergys Corp., 430 F.3d 1132, 1135 (11th Cir.2005); Cadle Co. v. Whataburger, Inc., 174 F.3d 599, 603 (5th Cir.1999).)

Now as soon as you object to the second “named” case from being filed, I have NO DOUBT that your plaintiff will counter with, “well, so-and-so defendant was never named in the first case, and so he was never a party to that action.” True. You were likely not a party in the first case (you were a “John Doe,” or a “putative defendant”).  However, the plaintiff’s own “scare” letters might suggest otherwise [read them and snicker], because quite frankly, they should have been more careful when they decided to blast the scare letters out to all of you.  However, this isn’t the strategy. Keep reading.

As a response to the plaintiffs response to the court, I would certainly then point out that in the plaintiff’s OWN COMPLAINT in the first lawsuit, he listed your accused IP address as one of the many defendants in the swarm, and he stated in his complaint that “joinder is proper” combining all of these defendants in one lawsuit “…since they all participated in the same bittorrent swarm.” Based on this information (and using the plaintiff’s own filings as exhibits in your motion), I would ask the judge to dismiss the second case against you personally and order the plaintiff to name you in the first mass bittorrent case with all of the other tens or hundreds of defendants (and good luck to the plaintiff litigating that one).  Alternatively — and here is the strategy — I would consider joining all of the John Doe Defendants from the first lawsuit as co-defendants in the lawsuit where you were named. Here’s the logic:

If the plaintiff stated in his complaint that joinder was proper there in the first lawsuit, then this is what is known in evidence as an “admission,” and the plaintiff cannot turn around and object when you want to join those same defendants in the second lawsuit against you personally.  I also want to point out that if you hold that joinder was proper in the first case, then federal joinder rules actually require that you join all relevant parties [e.g., those other John Doe defendants who were "properly joined" in the first lawsuit] as co-defendants in the [second] lawsuit, or else it [the second lawsuit] cannot go forward.

Why join all John Doe Defendants from your first case as co-defendants (you are not the plaintiff here, you are still on their side as a co-defendant) in the second case in which you are named? Because if a John Doe Defendant (the term is properly a “joint tortfeasor”) wasn’t joined in this second lawsuit, well then, his rights might be adversely affected by the outcome of the case of which he did not have a say in the testimony or evidence that lead to the outcome of it. Also, if a defendant was indeed properly joined in the first lawsuit with the bittorrent swarm and he is found guilty of copyright infringement, do you think he wants to pay the entire judgement of $150,000 for each alleged act of infringement on his own? Or, would it be in his best interest to spread out the judgement so that everyone else who was part of the bittorrent swarm pay their “fair share” of the judgement?

Obviously this is probably something that your attorney should be discussing with you, as there are considerations in whether and how to fight this strategy [most important of which is whether the judge believes that joinder is proper (based on his own former rulings)].  Get a pro-defendant judge, and this argument may not work [but then you would likely get a ruling stating that joinder is not proper in the first case].  But, get a judge like Judge Facciola or Judge Beryl Howell (who are hell-bent on asserting that joinder IS proper for bittorrent cases where there are multiple defendants), then you have a very strong argument.

All this being said, now you know about one strategy of many that you can use to defend yourself.  This is obviously not legal advice, but still, do your research and when you prove to yourself that this strategy could hurt bittorrent cases across the U.S., and consider having your attorney join all other defendants from the first lawsuit.  If you are smart enough to do this on your own, then bless you, because you are a pioneer and your efforts should be rewarded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find a link to the actual order here.

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

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

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

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

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

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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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