Much of the bittorrent world is saddened by the leaked news reports of the recent “Bellwether” case in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Malibu Media v. John Does, Case No. 5:12-cv-02088) where at least one defendant is reported to be facing close to $112,500 in damages plus attorney fees for the peer-to-peer downloads he is said to have taken part in. The plaintiff attorneys, along with Keith Lipscomb and others who have a vested interest in seeing bittorrent cases against internet users succeed are drinking champagne and celebrating their victory.
It is both my professional belief and my personal conviction that copyright trolling lawsuits are wrong, and while there is nothing illegal in suing a defendant for copyright infringement, doing so in my opinion is unlawful and morally corrupt. These lawsuits are nothing more than a STAGE SHOW to permit a behind the scenes SHAKEDOWN of accused interent users, whether or not they actually participated in the accused infringement. For G-d’s sake, the “guilty” so-called “criminal” defendant merely clicked on a link, and downloaded a title that was openly shared with thousands of other downloaders. To hit that defendant with a shock lawsuit where they face $150,000 statutory damages for a video that could have been purchased for a few bucks is a disproportionate punishment for the “crime” of downloading copyrighted films. Rather, instead of suing downloaders and letting the piracy continue, why not just end the piracy problem by issuing a DMCA take down notice to the bittorrent tracker? The alternative of sitting in bittorrent swarms and employing tracking software to track the IP addresses of who is downloading to me just seems like an abusive step to what would otherwise be a simple problem of making the torrent files go away so that unsuspecting downloaders couldn’t click on the links.
It is my conviction that copyright infringement lawsuits are wrong because it is simply immoral to shake down EVERY John Doe Defendant (yes, each one) with the threat of having to defend a lawsuit in federal court unless they cough up tens of thousands of dollars for downloads that the John Doe Defendant often did not even take part in. I have personally seen copyright trolls such as Malibu Media, LLC take large sums of money from defendants who did not do the download, but who were pressured into settling simply to avoid being named in a lawsuit. It is no secret that defending a case is sometimes significantly more expensive than settling a case.
Yet even with the pending resolution of this lawsuit, accused defendants across the U.S. in their own lawsuits should understand that this ruling will not be binding on other federal courts in other federal districts. Each federal court makes their own rules as to what constitutes copyright infringement, and what evidence is required to prove a defendant guilty when the so-called infringement happens via a bittorrent download. This is our job as attorneys — to know which districts have rules in favor of bittorrent users, and to know which districts have ruled in favor of the copyright holders. No doubt, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will now become a favored spot to sue internet users accross the U.S. for copyright infringement.
Lastly, on a personal note, this case does not change the way a lawyer handles copyright infringement cases. At least in our Cashman Law Firm, PLLC, there is no silver-bullet approach — some defendants choose to settle, and many do not. Considerations as always involve 1) whether the download actually happened and the circumstances surrounding the accused activities, 2) the accused defendant’s willingness to fight and defend a copyright infringement lawsuit, 3) the accused defendant’s aversion to risk of having their name become public knowledge in a court proceeding, and 4) the accused defendant’s financial ability to take each of the various pathways we suggest.
In sum, not all guilty defendants settle, and not all non-guilty defendants fight. It is simply a calculation and a risk assessment that is based on the client’s desires, the federal district in which the lawsuit is filed (taking into consideration past bittorrent cases filed in that jurisdiction), the judge who assigned to the case (taking into consideration his past rulings), and the plaintiff attorney (or more frequently, the local counsel’s) proclivity towards naming, serving, and taking defendants to trial balanced with their willingness to negotiate an amicable settlement should we decide to go that route.
Bittorrent cases [in their current form] have now been around for three (3) years, and now we have a verdict where a case has been taken to trial — by Malibu Media, LLC surprisingly enough. When we started, there were no cases taken to trial, and now there is one. Before the appearance in 2010 of the bittorrent cases, all we had to go on were the old Napster and Grokster cases, combined with the various lawsuits filed by the RIAA / MPAA and miscellaneous copyright infringement files dealing with the internet. Up until now we have been developing case law surrounding peer-to-peer downloads as each case matures. Now we are starting to get some clarity as to the law surrounding bittorrent use.