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Manny Black EyeIt appears to me as if the Manny Film LLC bittorrent piracy lawsuits in Southern Florida have just received their first black eye.

The Federal District Court in Florida has been grappling these past few years with the question of whether geolocation software is sufficient to identify the accused downloader. In short, federal venue rules (according to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1391(c) and 1400(a)) state (in the context of a bittorrent piracy lawsuit) that in order for a copyright holder to file a lawsuit against a John Doe Defendant, the copyright holder must assert that the accused John Doe Defendant a) lives in the federal district in which the lawsuit is filed, and b) that a substantial part of the downloading and/or uploading happened in the federal district. The purpose for this is so that the defendant is sued in the right court.

However, in following the “bouncing ball” of the legal argument at play, the Florida federal court has realized that the plaintiff and all of its complicated geolocation software cannot prove the identity of any defendant. Not even one.

The Manny Film plaintiff can prove an IP address was connected to a bittorrent swarm that was downloading and distributing an unlicensed copy of the copyrighted film. They can prove that the IP address can be traced to a location (e.g., the accused downloader’s house). However, there is a logical gap between knowing the location where the download happened, and knowing that the accused defendant [most frequently, the account holder] was the downloader.

HERE’S THE KICKER… if the geolocation software cannot assert who the downloader is, how can the Manny Film LLC copyright holder assert 1) that the accused downloader was the one who was using the computer to download the copyrighted film (they have not placed him at the keyboard at the time of the download), and 2) if the Manny Film LLC copyright holder cannot bring any proof through their geolocation software — their only source of evidence — to determine who the accused downloader is, how can they competently state for the purposes of satisfying the venue requirement that the the accused downloader (whoever he or she might be) lives in the state in which the lawsuit is filed?

“Judge, I don’t know who the downloader is, but if I did know, he would live in your district!” – Copyright Troll

This brings me back to this nuanced argument where I was trying to frame it in the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Here is an e-mail that I wrote on November 8th, 2012 (remember, our older articles are still relevant even today):

I don’t know how to put this more plainly, and I HATE a “silver-bullet” argument, but I fail to see the weakness in a [Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 12(b)(6)] motion for failure to state a claim where the plaintiffs only know a) that an IP address downloaded the stuff, and b) that the named defendant is the account holder. It’s a fine point [which in my mind can be hammered home in the courts] but I understand the argument to be that assuming everything in the plaintiff’s complaint to be true, there is nothing that implicates the named defendant to be the person who did the download. In other words, there is no conclusive link [perhaps I need to do more research as to how strong the link needs to be to survive a 12(b)(6) motion] between the real defendant as referenced in the complaint [or who this person should be], and the named defendant [the ISP account holder].

Two analogies — 1) someone makes an incriminating phone call; there is no proof that the person who pays the phone bill (subscriber) made the call; 2) someone’s car does damage — [barring the negligence claim, which other attorneys here have done a wonderful job of killing] is the owner liable for torts that are committed with his car if the plaintiff cannot prove that he was in the car when it caused the damage?

In short, an IP address is NOT a person, and proving that an IP address did the download does not prove that the subscriber was the one who did the download. 

So, turning back to the Manny Film LLC (Case No. 9:15-cv-80290) case in the Southern District of Florida, U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman references various Malibu Media LLC films lawsuit orders, and in turn orders the Manny Film LLC plaintiff to answer the same questions which killed the Malibu Media v. John Doe (Case No. 14-cv-20213) case and related cases.  In the Malibu Media, LLC 14-CV-20213 case, (just for completeness,) Judge Ungaro stated “there is nothing that links the IP address location to the identity of the person actually downloading and viewing Plaintiff’s videos, and establishing whether that person lives in this district.”

The plaintiff has until March 31st, 2015 to do so, or else his Manny Film LLC cases filed in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida will all be in jeopardy (remember, a ruling in one case in a particular district is BINDING on other cases in that district).

Also see: Manny Film LLC bittorrent lawsuits are really a story of defense attorney betrayal.” (3/13/2015)

OTHER AFFECTED MANNY FILM LLC CASES:

In the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida (FLSD)
Plaintiff Attorney: M. Keith Lipscomb of Lipscomb Eisenberg & Baker PLLC

Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 0:15-cv-60454)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 98.242.175.83 (Case No. 0:15-cv-60455)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 98.249.236.20 (Case No. 0:15-cv-60456)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 98.242.147.5 (Case No. 1:15-cv-20923)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 76.26.2.226 (Case No. 9:15-cv-80306)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 9:15-cv-80307)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-20924)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 9:15-cv-80301)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 9:15-cv-80302)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 76.110.177.255 (Case No. 9:15-cv-80303)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 75.74.122.227 (Case No. 1:15-cv-20920)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 76.110.203.201 (Case No. 1:15-cv-20921)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 66.176.226.21 (Case No. 0:15-cv-60444)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 66.176.99.53 (Case No. 0:15-cv-60445)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 66.229.140.101 (Case No. 0:15-cv-60446)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 0:15-cv-60447)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-20905)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 9:15-cv-80298)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 0:15-cv-60448)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-20907)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 9:15-cv-80297)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 0:15-cv-60453)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 0:15-cv-60438)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 0:15-cv-60440)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 0:15-cv-60441)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 0:15-cv-60442)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 174.61.56.69 (Case No. 1:15-cv-20894)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe, subscriber assigned IP address 174.61.157.43 (Case No. 1:15-cv-20895)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-20896)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-20899)

In the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida (FLMD)
Plaintiff Attorney: Daniel F. Tamaroff & David F. Tamaroff of Tamaroff & Tamaroff

Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-00262)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No.3:15-cv-00263 )
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-00265)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-00266)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00366)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00368)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00370)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00371)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00373)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00374)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00377)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00378)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00380)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00381)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00382)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-00264)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00365)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00367)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00369)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00372)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00375)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 6:15-cv-00379)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00506)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00507)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00508)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00509)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00510)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00495)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00496)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00497)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00498)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00499)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00500)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00501)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00502)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-00145)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00503)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00504)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 8:15-cv-00505)

In the U.S. District Court of New Jersey (NJD)
Plaintiff Jordan Rushie sometimes misspelled on the court record as, “Jordan Rusie of Flynn Wirkus Young PC”

Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-01497)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-01498)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-01529)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-01530)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-01531)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-01533)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-01534)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-01539)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-01564)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-01565)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01482)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01483)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01484)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01487)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01488)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01495)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01503)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01504)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01517)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01518)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01520)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01521)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01522)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01523)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01528)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01532)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01535)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01536)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01537)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01538)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01540)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01541)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01542)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-01489)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-01490)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-01545)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-01552)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-01553)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-01554)
Manny Film LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-01557)

In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (PAED)
Plaintiff Attorney: Christopher P. Fiore of Fiore & Barber LLC

Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01157)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01156)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01158)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01159)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01163)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01164)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01165)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01166)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01167)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01168)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01170)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01171)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01172)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01173)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01174)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01175)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01176)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01178)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01179)
Manny Film LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:15-cv-01180)

In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio (OHND)
Plaintiff Attorney: Yousef Faroniya

Manny Film, LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-00465)
Manny Film, LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-00466)
Manny Film, LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-00467)
Manny Film, LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-00463)
Manny Film, LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-00464)
Manny Film, LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-00461)
Manny Film, LLC v. Doe (Case No. 3:15-cv-00462)
Manny Film, LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-00451)
Manny Film, LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-00460)
Manny Film, LLC v. Doe (Case No. 1:15-cv-00444)

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After my “Dallas Buyers Club, LLC is a modern-day Icarus Story (TXSD)” article on August 13th, I called Keith Vogt, the plaintiff attorney for Dallas Buyers Club. In our call, I ascertained his motivations regarding how he plans to approach Judge Hughes here in Texas, and what he plans to do with the other cases (duck and run, or push forward).

As I suspected, he expressed no “duck and run” mentality (not even privately), as we have seen in similar past cases with other past “copyright troll” plaintiff attorneys. In fact, Vogt appeared to be undeterred considering the outcome of the case, mentioning that he has NINE (9) other cases alive and well in the Southern District of Texas, seven of which were in their INFANT STAGES and all current cases are assigned to judges other than Judge Hughes.

Below is a list of those new cases:

Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. John Does 1-25 (Case No. 4:14-cv-02119)
Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. John Does 1-25 (Case No. 4:14-cv-02120)
Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. John Does 1-25 (Case No. 4:14-cv-02121)
Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. John Does 1-25 (Case No. 4:14-cv-02124)
Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. John Does 1-25 (Case No. 4:14-cv-02217)
Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. John Does 1-25 (Case No. 4:14-cv-02219)
Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. John Does 1-25 (Case No. 4:14-cv-02220)

and of course, the two older cases:

Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. John Does 1-31 (Case No. 4:14-cv-00248)
Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. John Does 1-45 (Case No. 4:14-cv-00815)

Each of the newer cases were filed on either 7/24 or 8/2 (before Vogt’s problems with Judge Hughes surfaced). I have been watching these cases, and the judges in most of them have granted permission for Dallas Buyers Club, LLC to send subpoenas to the ISPs to ascertain the identities of the John Doe Defendants. These people will be receiving letters from their Comcast Xfinity Subpoena departments in the coming days and weeks.

Two interesting items to note: Plaintiff attorney Vogt has roughly 175 potential defendants, each of whom will likely be asked for a settlement of thousands of dollars. He has also not filed any new cases since the August 13th debacle with Judge Hughes, likely understanding that they will be assigned over to him, and this may or may not be a fight he wants to instigate just yet. On a more concerning note, on Thursday, Vogt named and served eight (8) John Doe Defendants in his 4:14-cv-00815 case. This is one of his older cases, and I understand that he needed to do so because Judge Gray Miller was pressuring him to do so before the upcoming hearing. Instead of posting the names of the named and served defendants, I have pasted a screenshot of the docket which lists the named defendants — you can see the named defendants referenced below in Documents 21 & 22.

Named and Served Dallas Buyers Club, LLC defendants

Dallas Buyers Club, LLC attorney Keith Vogt names and serves defendants in the 14-cv-00815 lawsuit.

In sum, on August 13th, I commented to a friend that I did not think the judges in Texas spoke to each other. I am still of the opinion that federal court judges appear to lord over their court as if their court is their own sovereign territory. It would be nice if one judge poked his head into another courtroom once in a while.  If he or she did, they would notice that the proper answer to cases such as these is CONSOLIDATION.

In a perfect world, Judge Hughes would consolidate all of the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC cases into one case, since all of the cases relate to the same common questions of fact.   Doing this would prevent contrary rulings from neighboring judges, and it would create a common rule of how to handle, facilitate, and ideally to dispense with all forms of “copyright trolling” cases in the federal courts.

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Dallas Buyers Club, LLC Texas-based lawsuits in my opinion tell a modern story of Icarus who flew too close to the sun with wings of feathers and wax and got burned. The reason for this is because these cases have caused one Texas federal judge to rule against their fictitious name “John Doe” lawsuits.

There was news today that affects the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC cases filed here in the Southern District of Texas (TXSD). The news is not only a black eye for the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC attorney, but as a result of today’s news, Dallas Buyers Club, LLC might never again file here in Texas.

Dallas Buyers Club, LLC cases have been rather docile here in Texas. Until ten days ago, they only filed two cases:

Dallas Buyers Club LLC v. Does 1-31 (Case No. 4:14-cv-00248), and
Dallas Buyers Club LLC v. Does 1-45 (Case No. 4:14-cv-00815).

Strategically, until now, the plaintiff attorney did not have local counsel, and it was almost certain that he would not fly down to Texas to appear for the hearings, so there was really nothing to talk about with these cases. Yes, of course he could have appeared by telephone, but I’ve been at those hearings, and they almost never end well for the absent attorney.

However, here the plaintiff attorney did hire local counsel and ten days ago, they filed Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. Does 1-25 (Case No. 4:14-cv-02218); the case was assigned to Judge Lynn Hughes.

Now I’ve seen Judge Hughes rule in a number of cases. While many Texas judges typically allow bittorent cases to sit on their dockets for months at a time, I don’t think Judge Hughes had any interest in allowing this case to sit for any length of time. My understanding is that Judge Hughes was very aware of the copyright trolling problem from the previous copyright troll adult film cases we were fighting back in 2011-2013, and the new filings by Dallas Buyers Club, LLC across the U.S. was a problem that threatened to turn into a Malibu Media, LLC problem.

My guess is that Judge Hughes immediately identified the “John Does” copyright infringement case [filed by an out-of-state attorney] on his docket as a cookie-cutter copyright troll lawsuit. The complaint even read almost identical to the pornography cases we tried against Prenda Law Inc. and their local counsel Doug McIntyre just two years before this.  Within four days, Judge Hughes ordered the plaintiff to identify the defendants, I assume because he was not about to tolerate yet another “John Doe” lawsuit against fictional characters and putative defendants on his docket for months while the attorney shook down each putative defendant for thousands of dollars a piece.

The problem is that the plaintiff did not yet have the names of the putative defendants from the ISPs, and so when ordered to remove the fictional “John Doe” character names, he could only identify them as “Internet User (IU) subscribers having a particular IP address” thinking that would satisfy the judge. It didn’t.

For the rest of the story details, I invite you to read Sophisticated Jane Doe’s article on the case. What I can contribute, however, is that as a result of this case, any Dallas Buyers Club, LLC case filed in this district is ordered to be assigned to Judge Hughes, which suggests that it will die upon arrival. Similarly, moving forward, I suspect that the plaintiff attorney will likely be dismissing all cases which are assigned to Judge Hughes, which will no doubt raise suspicions of not “forum shopping,” but rather, “judge shopping,” a tactic that Prenda Law Inc. got in trouble for exploiting years back.

In sum, starting in 2010 with the Larry Flynt Production (LFP Internet Group, LLP) cases in the Northern District of Texas, and now ending with the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC cases in the Southern District of Texas, it is becoming apparent that Texas judges no longer tolerate copyright troll bittorrent-related cases.

On a personal note, I understand that this most recent Dallas Buyers Club, LLC filing was supposed to be one of many more cases to be filed here in Texas. And, just as Icarus flew too close to the sun, it was inevitable that this copyright holder would stumble upon a judge who dealt with the predatory bittorrent pornography cases we dealt with a few years ago. It was just a matter of time.

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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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Add Missouri to the list of states unfriendly to copyright trolls. And, congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been severed and dismissed from the Purzel Video GMBH v. Does 1-91 (Case No. 4:12-cv-02292) lawsuit!

Now what was exciting about this Purzel Video GMBH case ruling was U.S. District Judge Audrery Fleissig’s 1) refutation of the “judicial economy” justification for joinder, and 2) her clarification of the relationship between bittorrent users for joinder purposes (and similarly, what she left open for future rulings by referring to bittorrent transfers as mere “pieces”).

Courts in other federal jursidictions which allow multiple defendants to be sued together in bittorrent cases (pro-joinder jurisdictions) allow joinder of non-related defendants based on the fact that it is easier to have one “John Doe 1-500″ case with five hundred (500) defendants in it rather than to have five hundred “single John Doe” lawsuits. The defendants in these cases are all accused of violating the same copyright laws; the defendants are all accused of using bittorrent to download the same title; the courts are all deciding the same issues for each defendant — whether the court has “personal jurisdiction” over each defendant (whether the plaintiffs sued defendants in the wrong state, depriving that federal court of personal jurisdiction over each John Doe Defendant), and whether the defendants are properly joined together as co-defendants in the same lawsuit.

I suspect that Judge Flessig caught on to the extortion scheme, and she made her ruling with the understanding that everything in the above justifications for “judicial economy” is true… if the plaintiffs are running a settlement extortion scheme. However, if the plaintiffs indeed intend in good faith to move forward with their case “on the merits,” then as the judge points out, the “judicial economy” approach falls apart.

The rule now in Missouri federal courts (binding on other Missouri cases, persuasive in non-Missouri cases) is that suing multiple defendants in a “John Doe 1-X” lawsuit is improper because of the prejudice to the co-defendants and the confusion that will result *if* the plaintiffs actually have a good faith intent on pursuing their claims (e.g., if they are “not” running a settlement extortion scheme).

For example, a rule in federal courts is that every named defendant needs to be provided copies of all documents for the case in which they are accused. The judge points out that it would prejudice Defendant #2 if he started receiving motions and rulings relating to the depositions and interrogatories for Defendant #1. Multiply the confusion that would occur if there are ten defendants, or one hundred defendants, and so on. Similarly, each defendant will end up having his own lawyer. If the lawyer for Defendant #1 makes a motion and the court orders his client to a case management hearing, Defendant #2 will receive a copy of this order and may think that he has to attend the hearing.

This gets even more burdensome as soon as defendants are named and discovery begins to take place. Judge Fleissig points out that every defendant has the right to attend the depositions of the other co-defendants. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if every John Doe Defendant crowds into a small office to hear the other defendants’ depositions. My own addition — imagine if all the accused defendants and each of their lawyers try to crowd into one small courtroom for a hearing.

Lastly, we all know that the justifications for joinder in a federal lawsuit is the “same transaction or occurrence” standard. In other words, courts have ruled that defendants can be joined together in one lawsuit if they were participating in the same bittorrent swarm at the same time — this is known as the “swarm joinder theory” asserted by the plaintiffs in every bittorrent lawsuit complaint.

In plaintiff attorney Paul Lesko’s cases, it is interesting to note that he was trying to extend the definition of a bittorrent swarm to span 18 weeks — from August 5th, 2012 to December 5th, 2012. This would obviously include internet users who never uploaded or downloaded from each other, and it would place them together as being part of the same transaction [big ongoing swarm] or occurrence [the “happening” of the swarm, for as long as “it” stays “alive”].

This secondary swarm theory has no official name, but it could be described as the “temporal swarm theory,” which asserts that defendants who participate in a bittorent swarm can be sued with all other defendants who ever uploaded or downloaded to that swarm (as opposed to a more legitimate “snapshot swarm theory” which joins bittorrent users together in a lawsuit based on who is uploading and downloads to whom at a particular point in time).

However, Judge Fleissig rejected both the “swarm joinder theory” and the “temporal swarm theory” (“snapshot swarms” were not discussed) because in both cases, the bittorrent users did not download and upload from EACH OF ALL the other bittorrent users in that swarm. In other words, a bittorrent swarm consists of many small “transactions and occurrences” between multiple users, and the judge essentially ruled that association with a “bittorrent swarm” does not properly connect [for joinder purposes] one defendant with another defendant from whom or to whom he did not specifically download or upload.

Food for thought for future Missouri federal cases: I want to also mention that Judge Fleissig refers to the accused bittorrent users as merely transferring “pieces” of the copyrighted files to each other rather than the entire copyrighted title [to be found liable for copyright infringement (under the “substantial similarity” prong), courts have ruled that the entire copyrighted file needs to be transferred; not merely “pieces” of it].

I would love to interpret her words as meaning that ‘because no user transfers a complete copyrighted file to any other user (only data bits and “pieces” of the copyrighted file that the downloader’s bittorrent software pieces together into a file), no user can be found liable for copyright infringement,’ but I do not think this is what she was referring to.

Rather, by mentioning bittorrent transfers from one user to another user as mere “pieces” of a copyrighted file, Judge Fleissig leaves open the question (perhaps to be elaborated in a future ruling) whether transferring bits and “pieces” of a copyrighted file (but not the entire file) can constitute copyright infringement.

NOTE: This ruling directly affects as binding upon the following Missouri bittorrent cases* (sorted by filing date):

reFX Audio Software Inc. v. Does 1-39 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00895)
Georgia Film Fund Four, LLC v. Does 1-75 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00832)
The Bicycle Peddler, LLC v. Does 1-28 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00583)
Elf-Man, LLC v. Does 1-17 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00576)
The Thompsons Film, LLC v. Does 1-23 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00577)
PHE, Inc. v. Does 1-27 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00480)
Purzel Video GMBH v. Does 1-32 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00449)
Purzel Video GMBH v. Does 1-67 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00450)
Riding Films, Inc. v. John Does 1-11 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00430)
Bayou Pictures, LLC v. John Does 1-11 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00433)
The Good Doctor, LLC v. John Does 1-36 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00434)
Maxcon Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-88 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00428)
reFX Audio Software Inc. v. Does 1-97 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00409)
reFX Audio Software Inc. v. Does 1-53 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00408)
Breaking Glass Pictures, LLC v. Does 1-188 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00388)
Vision Films, Inc. v. Does 1-10 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00290)
Vision Films, Inc. v. Does 1-30 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00020)

*some of these may have already been dismissed on other grounds.

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ID-100157775Image courtesy of @artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

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houstonlawy3r:

Sometimes there are no words other than silence to best express the thoughts I have about Judge Wright’s order essentially referring John Steele and the Prenda Law Inc. gang to the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Division (CID) for all the settlements on which no taxes were paid. There is one police agency that a criminal organization does not want to be contacted by, and that is the CID.

The $81K in sanctions essentially funds the lead attorneys who spent time on this case. And, the referral to the bar associations means that the principals at Prenda Law Inc. may no longer have their law licenses shortly.

In sum, there is not much for me to comment here, except to be silent, because the judge’s order itself says all it needs to. Copyright trolling may seem profitable for the attorneys filing the lawsuits, but no money can compensate for the loss of freedom that one experiences when what was once a multi-million dollar law practice lands the principles in prison for tax evasion. This should be a lesson to all other copyright trolls out there. Judge yourselves accordingly.

Originally posted on Fight Copyright Trolls:

We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Congratulations to everyone involved, especially Morgan and Nick.

Media coverage

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