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Archive for the ‘Judge Wilkins (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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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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Congratulations to the Texas Millennium TGA, Inc. defendants who (with the assistance of their Comcast ISP) will never have their information shared with Prenda Law Inc., Doug McIntyre (Prenda’s local counsel), or Millennium TGA, Inc. Essentially, you have won your case because the copyright trolls will never know who you are (without great effort).

In short, as we discussed back in our “Forum Shopping” article on 5/16, Millennium TGA, Inc. made the mistake of suing the same “John Doe” defendants in Texas as they did two weeks before in DC. This wasn’t a mistake — the judge that was assigned to their DC case (referred to as “MILLENNIUM TGA I“) — Judge Wilkins — was known to be unfriendly to copyright trolls. As soon as Prenda Law Inc. figured this out, they dismissed MILLENNIUM TGA I, and using their local attorney Doug McIntyre in Texas, they filed “MILLENNIUM TGA II” [Millennium TGA, Inc. v. John Doe (Case No. 4:11-cv-04501)] here in the Southern District of Texas.  When the Texas judge gave the okay for Prenda to demand the names of the subscribers from their ISPs, Comcast recognized the similarities of the John Doe Defendants to the DC case just dismissed, and they refused to comply with the rubber stampped subpoena given to Millennium TGA, Inc. by the Texas judge. Millennium TGA, Inc. (through Prenda Law Inc., their attorneys) filed a lawsuit against Comcast in DC (MILLENNIUM TGA, INC. v. JOHN DOE (Case no. 1:12-mc-00150), also referred to as “MILLENNIUM III“) asking the court to force Comcast to comply with the Texas judge’s subpoena and hand over the names, addresses, and contact information for the subscribers implicated in the MILLENNIUM TGA II Texas case.

Then, after an adverse ruling by the DC court which [in its order by Judge Alan Kay, order now overturned] forced Comcast to comply with the subpoena, John Seiver (Comcast’s attorney) wrote an amazing appeal which resulted in the DC case being transferred back to Judge Wilkins — the enemy of the copyright trolls. We wrote about this in our “Comcast wins battle against Millennium TGA & Prenda. Subscribers lose.” article on 5/29.

Now, almost one month later, I am happy to share that Judge Wilkins issued the order we have been looking for all along. In his ruling this Monday, he DENIED Millennium TGA, Inc.’s motion to compel Comcast to comply with the subpoenas (and hand out the subscribers’ information). In other words, congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been entangled in this mess — your plaintiff attorneys Prenda Law Inc. and their local counsel Doug McIntyre will likely NEVER know who you are. In addition, congratulations on your victory in your Texas case, because without knowing who you are, they cannot name you as a defendant, and they cannot move forward against you. Score!

Food For Thought Moving Forward:
Okay, here is the silver lining. For those of you who do not have Comcast as your ISP, your Texas case is moving forward as usual. Similarly, for those of you who do not live in Texas, Judge Wilkins has ordered that Comcast turn over to Prenda Law Inc. ONLY the CITY AND STATE which is linked to your accused IP address. That way, if Prenda wishes to file a follow-up lawsuit against you, they can sue you in your home state’s federal court… or not. Here is my thinking.

Remember the “two-strike rule” in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) Rule 41?? — a dismissal in the Texas court in a number of John Does’ cases would be the second dismissal [which is deemed to be "on the merits."] This could preclude your copyright trolls from filing suit against you a THIRD time in your home state’s federal court. See DieTrollDie’s “Two Strikes and You’re “Out!” – FRCP 41 & Copyright Trolls” article, and for more discussion on the topic, see Sophisticated Jane Doe’s “A Trolling Lawsuit Ends With Style” article here.

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It is always nice when one judge reaches into another judge’s docket and removes a case from his docket.

While I cannot tell if this is exactly what happened here, all I can say is that Comcast essentially just won their “forum shopping” case against Prenda Law Inc. relating to their Millennium TGA, Inc. v. John Doe (Case No. 4:11-cv-04501) case in the Southern District of Texas (a.k.a. “MILLENNIUM II”). BUT before you go off celebrating, Comcast is STILL under an obligation to hand out your information. Watch out!

To recap, if you remember from my “Forum Shopping” article on 5/16, Millennium TGA, Inc. sued 939 John Doe Defendants in DC (“MILLENNIUM TGA I”). When they learned that Judge Robert Wilkins (who killed a prolific bittorrent case) was assigned to the “MILLENNIUM TGA I” case in DC, the Prenda Law Inc. attorneys for Millennium TGA, Inc. dismissed the case and then re-filed it in the Southern District of Texas (Case No. 4:11-cv-04501) (“MILLENNIUM TGA II”) suing essentially the same John Doe Defendants as they did in the “MILLENNIUM TGA I” case in DC which they voluntarily dismissed when they learned that Judge Robert Wilkins was the judge assigned to that case.  The Texas judge rubber-stamped their request to serve the ISPs with subpoenas to obtain the contact information of the 939 John Doe Defendants, and Prenda Law Inc. sent out the subpoenas to the ISPs. Comcast (one of the ISPs) saw the obvious forum shopping (actually, “judge shopping”) issue (among others) and refused to comply with the subpoenas. Prenda Law Inc. sued Comcast in DC (what I called “MILLENNIUM TGA III” in my 5/16 article).

In the MILLENNIUM TGA III case in DC (which is essentially Prenda Law Inc. suing Comcast in order to force them to comply), Magistrate Judge Kay ruled against Comcast telling them that they must comply. Comcast appealed, BUT THE JUDGE’S ORDER FORCING COMCAST TO COMPLY IS STILL VALID AND IS STILL IN EFFECT! So what exactly is going on?? What happened today??

On 3/26, Comcast noticed that Prenda Law Inc. violated the court’s “judge shopping” rules (LCvR 40.5(a)(4)) by not reporting that its new case [assigned to Magistrate Judge Kay] was substantially related to the “MILLENNIUM TGA I” case that it voluntarily dismissed when it was before Judge Wilkins.

According to the DC local rules, to prevent contrary rulings by different judges for the same issues, if two lawsuits are substantially related (here, they are essentially identical), all subsequently filed cases get assigned to the original judge.

Knowing this, on 3/26, Comcast filed a “Request For Judge Reassignment” which was ignored until this morning.

As of this morning, District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle took the case away from Magistrate Judge Kay and reassigned it to Judge Robert Wilkins — the judge it should have gone to originally. Woohoo! Comcast’s victory is palatable at this point, because we can almost predict with certainty that he will rule in Comcast’s favor and will allow them NOT to comply with the subpoenas in the Texas MILLENNIUM TGA II case.

The problem is that all you see on the docket is a granting of the 3/26 motion for reassignment. Comcast appealed Magistrate Judge Kay’s terrible ruling against it, and Prenda Law Inc. filed a response to which Comcast responded to, but THERE WAS NEVER A RULING ON THEIR APPEAL which means that JUDGE KAY’S ORDER IS STILL IN EFFECT! COMCAST IS STILL UNDER AN OBLIGATION TO COMPLY WITH THE SUBPOENAS!

So in short, I have no doubt that Judge Wilkins will side with Comcast. However, I just don’t know if he has enough time to stop what he is doing (judges don’t only spend their days only reading these pornography-based bittorrent cases) and write an order 1) granting Comcast’s appeal and overturning Magistrate Judge Kay’s order [which is still in effect], and 2) granting Comcast’s motion for an extension of time to comply with the subpoena (which for many people, the deadline is today).

So while Comcast has essentially won the battle, they have not yet won the war. Comcast is still under the obligation to comply with the subpoenas.

MY OPINION:
…On a personal note, I feel that it is important that Comcast subscribers take note of the CONFLICT OF INTEREST that is apparent even in cases such as this one.  Comcast has been blindly complying with Prenda Law Inc.’s subpoena requests for almost TWO YEARS now.  They have opened up their own “Subpoena Compliance” division and have hired new staff (twelve new full-time employees, if my memory serves me correct) just to comply with these subpoena requests. They have entered into private agreements where Prenda pays them a certain sum of money for each IP address lookup (~$45 per IP address, give or take), and thus COMCAST RECEIVES A FINANCIAL BENEFIT FROM COMPLYING WITH THE SUBPOENAS.  On top of that, while I have spoken to John Seiver and I believe he is a very skilled attorney (remember the work he did in bringing down the Digiprotect case almost two years ago?), I cannot help but to be suspicious that this whole lawsuit is a PUBLIC RELATIONS STUNT solely to boost the image of Comcast.  After all, I must ask you — where were they until now? Have they filed ONE motion to quash on behalf of their subscribers? Why not? After all, with all the thousands of failed motions to quash filings attempted by their subscribers, Comcast could have SUCCESSFULLY filed motions to quash on behalf of its subscribers [they had standing in each case to object, and judges were dumbfounded why they never got involved], but they never did. Why not?

I also would like to mention that Comcast was one of the first ISPs to sign on to the MPAA/RIAA’s “six strikes” program (now on hold) which will no doubt be wreaking havoc on their subscribers in the near future.  So while I applaud John Seiver and Comcast for fighting and [what will likely be] WINNING the case against Millennium TGA, Inc. and Prenda Law Inc., I still need to ask myself on behalf of my clients, where were they until now? And, “will they still “accidentally” comply and collect their fee?” I would like to remind you that this has happened before.

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As a response to the “You Have Been Shopped” article written by DieTrollDie on forum shopping, I do have some insight to add to this.  In short, there are not two Millennium TGA lawsuits in this forum shopping scandal, but three (if you are counting the “motion to compel” lawsuit in DC which is the key to understanding exactly what is going on — this is the missing link which provides the insight I am sharing).

MILLENNIUM TGA I: In short, on 12/7/2012, Millennium TGA v. Does 1-939 (Case No. 1:11-cv-02176) (hereinafter, “Millennium TGA I”) was filed in DC.  It was assigned to Judge Robert Wilkins, the DC judge who killed the “Expendables” bittorrent lawsuit — this was the Nu Image, Inc. v. Does 1-23,799 lawsuit by Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC which quickly expanded from 6,500 into 23,222 John Doe Defendants before the judge shut down the case.  It took Prenda Law Inc. a week to figure out that their judge was THE Judge Wilkins, and they quickly and voluntarily dismissed the case.

MILLENNIUM TGA II: Four days later, Prenda Law Inc. used their local counsel Doug McIntyre (the same local counsel who was almost fired because he took on the West Coast Productions, Inc. client [remember them in DC and in W.VA with their attorney Kenneth Ford who is now in jail?] in his West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-351 (Case No. 4:12-cv-00504) case which he filed without telling Prenda Law Inc. about it) and on 12/20/2012, Doug McIntyre filed the Millennium TGA, Inc. v. John Doe (Case No. 4:11-cv-04501) case here in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.  This case involves pretty much identical parties, facts and claims as were alleged in the MILLENNIUM TGA I case in DC.  I suppose they thought nobody would notice their overt forum shopping, especially since they changed the name of their lawsuit.

Everything went smoothly for the plaintiff attorneys in the MILLENNIUM TGA II case in Texas …until Prenda Law Inc. served a subpoena on Comcast, who said “no.”

This is where the story gets interesting.  On 2/29/2012, Comcast objected to the subpoena by stating that 1) the court lacked personal jurisdiction over most of the IP addresses listed in the subpoena; 2) there were serious joinder issues in the lawsuit; and 3) the plaintiff was engaging in “a blatant attempt to FORUM SHOP” since they already dismissed MILLENNIUM TGA I to avoid being in front of Judge Wilkins in DC.

MILLENNIUM TGA III: As a result, Prenda Law Inc. (Millennium TGA, Inc.’s attorneys) filed a lawsuit against Comcast (it was actually a “motion to compel”) in the MILLENNIUM TGA, INC. v. JOHN DOE (Case no. 1:12-mc-00150) case in DC.

It was in this lawsuit that John Steele “surfaced” from pretending (think, “Prenda”) that he was not associated with Prenda Law Inc. since Paul Duffy allegedly took over the firm.  It is also my understanding that Prenda Law Inc. didn’t realize that John Seiver was the attorney behind the scenes on this case, and what they might not have known was that John Seiver has wreaked havoc on bittorrent cases as long as two years ago with the Digiprotect cases in New York.  Perhaps even Prenda Law Inc.’s predecessor firm Steele|Hansmeier, PLLC was not yet in existence when this happened, and John Steele was still running his divorce practice a la the Steele Law Firm, PLLC.  Either way, I suspect that they filed the motion to compel Comcast to comply with the subpoena in order to bully them, and they didn’t realize that Comcast (through John Seiver) would fight back.

Now advancing forward a bit on the timeline, Magistrate Judge Alan Kay ignored pretty much every point that Comcast brought up and he issued an order on 4/18/2012 ordering Comcast to comply with the subpoena for the MILLENNIUM TGA II Texas case.  They were ordered to reveal 351 of the subscriber identities to Prenda Law Inc.  This is, however, where it gets interesting.

John Seiver, obviously realizing that Magistrate Judge Kay made a dumb ruling, essentially called him a moron in appealing his order.  As an attorney, I would hold my tongue myself here in writing this article, especially because I am interested in seeing John Seiver and Comcast prevail, and I know that sometimes a judge can rule his court by ego rather than adhering to the law, but Magistrate Judge Kay’s ruling against Comcast was so dumb I could not contain myself.

In short, according to Comcast’s appeal, 1) the judge erred by failing to consider any of the legitimate defenses that Comcast raised on behalf of its subscribers. 2) The judge erred by failing to address the fundamental issue of whether any of the unnamed Does would be subject to personal jurisdiction (either in Texas, or in DC per the motion to compel).  3) The judge erred by failing to address the possible misjoinder of the one John Doe defendant (and the many co-conspirators) in the Texas case.  4) The judge erred by failing to realize that “conspiracy” is not a sufficient crime to allow massive discovery on the John Doe Defendants, and 5) Magistrate Judge Kay was not the proper judge to accept this case — according to DC’s own local rules (Local Rule 40.5), the case should have been immediately reassigned to Judge Robert Wilkins, the judge who was previously assigned to the MILLENNIUM TGA I case, since MILLENNIUM TGA I and MILLENNIUM TGA II had identical claims.  As of this evening, I am still waiting to hear a ruling on this appeal.

Now for those of you still in Prenda Law Inc.’s MILLENNIUM TGA II (Millennium TGA, Inc. v. John Doe (Case No. 4:11-cv-04501)) case here in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, if you are a Comcast subscriber, as you can see, there are unresolved questions in the MILLENNIUM TGA III DC case, and your status is uncertain.  Thus, my contribution to the FORUM SHOPPING article by DieTrollDie today is that the DC MILLENNIUM TGA III case holds the key to understanding what is currently going on in the MILLENNIUM TGA II case here in Texas.  Now as for everyone else (e.g., non-Comcast clients who are in the MILLENNIUM TGA II Texas case), understand now that the MILLENNIUM TGA III [motion to compel] DC case directly impacts your Texas case.  Obviously this is something we are watching for our clients.

If you are interested in reading this entertaining appeal by Comcast in order to understand the entire story and its implications, I have attached a copy of Comcast’s motion below.

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