I have always been saying that one day these John Doe copyright infringement lawsuits will end and we all will need to go back to being what we were before these John Doe mass copyright infringement lawsuits started being filed. Well my friends, we may have just seen the order that may end all future John Doe lawsuits.
In what appeared to be a mere denial of a court allowing new copyright infringement plaintiff VPR Internationale (a Montreal, Quebec-based adult film producer) expedited discovery in a reverse class action John Doe lawsuit, we may have just witnessed the shift from Judge Howell’s carte blanche approach of letting the plaintiff attorneys do whatever they please (e.g., extort as many settlement offers from unsuspecting defendants under threats of being sued individually) to United States District Judge Harold A. Baker’s approach denying the plaintiffs access to subpoena the internet service providers in order to obtain the contact information of the John Doe accused subscribers.
In short, the way the plaintiff attorneys have started their lawsuits is that they would request permission from the court to send a subpoena to various ISPs and demand that they hand over their accused subscribers’ information so that they can conduct “expedited discovery.” Once they obtain the subscribers’ information, they would begin a morass of phone calls, threatening letters, and tactics in order to scare John Doe defendants into paying thousands of dollars a piece in order to ‘settle’ their case. In other words, they are paying the plaintiffs so that they do not sue them individually.
In Judge Baker’s opinion in an interlocutory appeal from the VPR Internationale v. Does 1-1,017 case (Case No. 2:11-cv-02068) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois, he quoted Orin Kerr, a George Washington University Law School professor in saying that if one who is sued in these cases, “whether you’re guilty or not, ‘you look like a suspect.’”
In questioning whether expedited discovery could be used to extort quick settlements, even from people who have done nothing wrong, Judge Baker states that “[t]he embarrassment of public exposure might be too great, the legal system too daunting and expensive, for some to ask whether the plaintiff VPR has competent evidence to prove its case.” (emphasis added).
The underlying court from which interlocutory appeal was sought stated that “until at least one person is served, the court lacks personal jurisdiction over anyone. The court has no jurisdiction over any of the Does at this time; the imprimatur of this court will not be used to advance a “fishing expedition by means of a perversion of the purpose and intent” of class actions.
I have always been saying that one day the courts will start catching on to what is going on in these cases. One day, the judges will find a way to put a stop to these John Doe cases once and for all. I have no doubt this ruling is the first of many to come, where the judges stop the plaintiff in their tracks by denying them access to the ISPs’ subscriber records before a single subpoena is issued.
Note to self and to my attorney peers — these cases are about to get a lot more complicated. I have no doubt the plaintiff attorneys will try to find other ways to sue defendants. This will be fun.