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Posts Tagged ‘Voltage Pictures’

When representing a client, in my eyes I am representing the internet users against the “bad guys.” Copyright holders who use the federal court subpoena power to unclothe the identity of the internet subscriber with the intent of extorting that internet user out of thousands of dollars (regardless of whether the internet user did the download or not) is an abuse of the federal court system.  To offset the very high cost of hiring an attorney to defend a copyright infringement claim in federal court, copyright law provides the “winner” of the lawsuit attorney fees (see, 17 U.S. Code § 505).

That way, when an accused internet user is forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to properly defend him or herself against claims of copyright infringement (which often include appearing for multiple court hearings, allowing the household’s computers and electronic devices to be inspected by a forensics expert, being questioned under oath [or having to answer written interrogatories under oath]), *IF* at the end of the investigation (e.g., at the end of “discovery”), the claim of copyright infringement ends up being unfounded and the claim of copyright infringement against the internet user is dismissed, the law gives that internet user the right to collect from his accuser all the fees he paid to his attorney.

Beware, however.  Just because a defendant is entitled to attorney fees does not mean that they will get them.  There are three scenarios which can stop a defendant from obtaining their fees back from a copyright holder plaintiff:

1) The “cut and run” scenario, where a copyright holder dismisses the defendant before a judge can rule that there was no infringement, and

2) the “limited liability company” plaintiff, where the movie company has created smaller independent “shell” companies, and they use those companies to sue defendants in copyright infringement actions (knowing that if those companies incur liability, that liability will not trickle up to the owner or to the other corporate entity), and

3) the “underfunded shell company” scenario, where the copyright holder might not have the funds to pay the attorney fees to the defendant (for example, when the settlement funds have been siphoned off to another entity, or paid out to the copyright troll attorneys).

SCENARIO 1: THE “CUT AND RUN” SITUATION

In a “cut and run” situation, the accused internet user (a.k.a., the “named” John Doe Defendant) mounts a sufficient defense to demonstrate either that the plaintiff copyright holder does not have sufficient evidence to find him guilty of copyright infringement, or he is able to prove that it was not him “at the keyboard” at the time the download took place (because suing the account holder based on an ISP demonstrating that the account holder was assigned a particular IP address [which was used to participate in the downloading or copying of a copyrighted video] has been held in various jurisdictions to be insufficient to prove that it was the account holder who did the download).

In this first scenario, the account holder “fights back,” and hires and pays an attorney to file an answer to the complaint once named and served.  That attorney shows up to the court hearings, he cooperates with the discovery requests (the attorney sits with his client as he answers questions under oath, objects to questions, speaks to the judge in the middle to clarify issues that arise, etc.), and after what ends up being hundreds of hours, the copyright holder dismisses the defendant proactively before the court can rule on a summary judgement hearing that there was never a case against the client in the first place.   I saw this over and over with the Malibu Media, LLC cases.

SCENARIOS 2 & 3: THE “LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY (LLC)” PLAINTIFF, AND THE “UNDERFUNDED” SHELL COMPANY:

The second scenario in which a defendant could be deprived of attorney fees is when the movie studio sets up multiple limited liability “shell” entities (as seen by the “LLC” designation behind the name), and then that “shell” entity is used to file a lawsuit, but it does not have the funds to pay an award of attorney fees should it lose the copyright infringement claim against the “named” defendant.  This could be either because the “shell” entity was not properly funded in the first place, or because the plaintiff lawyers or the owners of the entity are siphoning the settlement funds out of the entity so that it would not be able to pay attorney fees if it was ordered to do so.

This is what bugs me about the limited liability entities which are set up and used to sue defendants — there is no accountability to the accused copyright defendant for the misuse of those entities.  Using Voltage Pictures, Inc. as an example (and by no means am I insinuating that their “shell” entities are misused or underfunded), Voltage Pictures, Inc. is a big name movie company that has sued thousands of defendants over the years.  Since our firm started in 2010, I have been seeing Voltage Pictures, Inc. as a copyright troll who has sued defendants, who has hired not-so-ethical attorneys to enforce their copyrights against bittorrent users, and I do not think one year has past where I have not seen one lawsuit or another where Voltage was behind the scenes as the copyright holder.

Over the years, I have seen Voltage shift from suing thousands of defendants using their their own Voltage name in the lawsuits to setting up smaller “shell” entities which are then used to sue John Doe Defendants.  It is not always obvious that a company suing for copyright infringement is a Voltage copyright troll, but there are tip offs in that each time a new copyright troll “shell” entity files a lawsuit, I see the same copyright troll attorney(s) filing the identical complaint as they filed in other lawsuits, and each time, I see the same discredited German forensics company (Guardaley) listed as the “expert” in the lawsuit.  With so many hundreds of lawsuits filed — and I wasn’t sure I was going to go here, but I am — , I ask myself why the judges don’t see that these are the same set of entities filing the lawsuits, and I shake my head in disgust that the copyright troll scam is still going on.  It boggles my mind that companies as large as Voltage Pictures, Inc. are still taking part in this kind of legal militarism and butchery.

Dallas Buyers Club, LLC was one such shell company that was set up and used to sue defendants, which I later learned was a Voltage Pictures, Inc. shell company.  More recently, Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC appears to be another such shell company.  These companies are all “limited liability companies,” which means that unless the company was structured improperly when it was formed, or unless the principals of the company did something stupid (e.g., intermingling company funds with another shell company’s funds), it is very difficult to “break the veil” to hold the owner of the company personally liable for the company’s mistakes.

This got me thinking.  A defendant does not immediately know whether a copyright troll corporate “shell” entity is properly funded or not, and before hiring an attorney and spending tens of thousands of dollars on a defense, the first thing that defendant should do (or have his lawyer do) is have the “shell” company demonstrate that they have the funds to pay the defendant’s attorney fees should it be demonstrated a) that the account holder “named” and served as the defendant was not the one who did the download in the first place, or b) that the plaintiff’s experts cannot provide sufficient evidence to prove that the copyright infringement actually happened.

Why? Because if the plaintiff does not have the funds to proceed, why spend the time and money defending the lawsuit?  Rather, hit them early on with a bond request to demonstrate that 1) they have the funds to proceed, and to demonstrate 2) that they have the intent to move forward, all the way to trial (if necessary).  This is not a cheap proposition for the copyright holders, as lawsuits such as these could easily run into the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in fees.

 

Anyway, my point in this article is simply caveat emptor.  Before you go ahead throwing out all of your money paying an attorney for a defense, make sure the plaintiff can pay your fees if you win. Have them post a bond, or do something to demonstrate that they have the funds to proceed if the case goes in that direction.  If they cannot demonstrate this, then maybe there is no need to defend your case in the first place.

In sum, the copyright laws as they are practiced is lopsided.  Copyright owners are given their remedy — the ability to sue for “statutory damages” of $150,000 per instance of infringement.  And, the accused defendant apparently has his remedy — the ability to retrieve his paid attorney fees when he successfully defends his case against the copyright holder.  Why shouldn’t an accused defendant take a few steps to preserve his rights and check to make sure the plaintiff can pay his attorney fees if he wins?

NOW A NOTE FOR THE JUDGES:

Accused internet users are thrown around, threatened, extorted for thousands of dollars in cash, and the law does little to protect their rights. Defendants have the remedy to have their funds returned to them if they fight and win, but what individual internet user defendant has the ability to pay for a lawyer to defend him in court?  What use is it for the law to award attorney fees and costs to a defendant who prevails “on the merits” when that defendant cannot afford to hire a lawyer to get to that point in the legal process?

Rather, the duty to protect the public in circumstances such as these (suing internet users for the download of copyrighted materials) is on the judges themselves.

Judges know (or their clerks can easily discover) when a particular copyright holder is a “copyright troll” and they know if the same parties have filed serial lawsuits in one state, or if they have filed multiple lawsuits in multiple states, or whether that same entity has sued defendants using multiple shell companies.  Judges also know that most accused defendants cannot pay a lawyer even for the most basic defense.

Too often, judges do not act as the gatekeepers they are, and they let the copyright holders do whatever they want to do while the judges pretend to pressure the copyright holders to move forward and name and serve defendants, or not. This is a charade — one that unnerves me, because it is an open secret that the copyright holders have absolutely no interest in taking a case to trial.

Judges who rubber stamp “expedited discovery” motions: WHY allow copyright holders access to the names of the accused John Doe Defendants when those copyright holders have shown through their past filings that they have absolutely NO INTENTION of proceeding to trial?  And why not make the plaintiff copyright holders demonstrate that they intend to proceed to trial (e.g., by having them post a bond as a matter of course) rather than using your federal court as a weapon to extort settlements from defendants who otherwise do not have the funds to pay for an adequate defense?

Since I mentioned Voltage Pictures, Inc. in this article (since they are the ones behind the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC lawsuits from a few months ago, and more recently, they are the ones behind the Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC lawsuits), below are a list of cases filed across the U.S. (and this is only a small sample of the lawsuits that were filed).  Judges, how can you NOT know that this “Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC” entity is a shell company practicing copyright trolling across the US?!?  Will you now let this “shell” entity do the same thing that every Voltage Pictures, Inc. “shell” entity did before them?  Ask yourself: Have ANY of these Voltage plaintiffs gone to trial?

Current Cases Affected by this Article (I am listing these so that you see how deep the Voltage Picture lawyer network goes — cases are not only filed in Texas, but like the Malibu Media, LLC cases were, they are filed across the US):

Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does (Case No. 4:16-cv-01968, Texas Southern District Court (July 5, 2016))
[Plaintiff Attorney Joshua S. Wyde]

Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does (Case No. 4:16-cv-01315, Texas Southern District Court (May 10, 2016))
[Plaintiff Attorney Joshua S. Wyde]

Fathers & Daughters Nevada LLC v. Unknown Parties (Case No. 2:16-cv-01073, Arizona District Court (April 15, 2016))

Fathers & Daughters Nevada LLC v. Unknown Parties (Case No. 1:16-cv-00362, Michigan Western District Court (April 8, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-13 (Case No. 2:16-cv-10948, Michigan Eastern District Court (March 16, 2016))

Fathers And Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-26 (Case No. 1:16-cv-02452, Illinois Northern District Court (Feb. 22, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-32 (Case No. 1:16-cv-02453, Illinois Northern District Court (Feb. 22, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-17 (Case No. 1:16-cv-02456, Illinois Northern District Court (Feb. 22, 2016))

Fathers And Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-21 (Case No. 1:16-cv-02450, Illinois Northern District Court (Feb. 22, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-15 (Case No. 2:16-cv-10371, Michigan Eastern District Court (Feb. 2, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-15 (Case No. 2:16-cv-10372, Michigan Eastern District Court (Feb. 2, 2016))

Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC v Does 1 Through 12 (Case No. 1:16-cv-00187, Hawaii District Court (April 22, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-13 (Case No. 4:16-cv-10948, Michigan Eastern District Court (March 16, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada LLC v. Unknown Parties (Case No. 2:16-cv-00406, Arizona District Court (Feb. 12, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-14 (Case No. 4:16-cv-10939, Michigan Eastern District Court (March 15, 2016))

Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC v. John Does 1-7 (Case No. 1:16-cv-01318, Colorado District Court (June 1, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-14 (Case No. 2:16-cv-10939, Michigan Eastern District Court (March 15, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-14 (Case No. 4:16-cv-10751, Michigan Eastern District Court (March 3, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-18 (Case No. 4:16-cv-10785, Michigan Eastern District Court (March 4, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-13 (Case No. 4:16-cv-10654, Michigan Eastern District Court (Feb. 23, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-11 (Case No. 2:16-cv-10910, Michigan Eastern District Court (March 14, 2016))

Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC v. John Does 1-15 (Case No. 1:16-cv-00560, Colorado District Court (March 8, 2016))

Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Doe 1 et al (Case No. 1:16-cv-00670, Colorado District Court (March 22, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-11 (Case No. 4:16-cv-10910, Michigan Eastern District Court (March 14, 2016))

Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Doe 1 et al (Case No. 1:16-cv-00747, Colorado District Court (March 31, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does (Case No. 1:16-cv-00278, New Mexico District Court (April 11, 2016))

Fathers and Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Does 1-15 (Case No. 4:16-cv-10372, Michigan Eastern District Court (Feb. 2, 2016))

Fathers & Daughters Nevada, LLC v. Doe 1 et al (Case No. 1:16-cv-00613, Colorado District Court (March 16, 2016))

Need more examples?


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

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I am looking at these new cases, and I want each new John Doe defendant to understand that these new cases that I am about to discuss are child’s play. Most of the new attorneys in these cases are newer copycat trolls who are hopping on the success of the bigger copyright trolls we read about daily in the blogs.

While the purpose of this blog is to discuss copyright cases and attorneys who sue John Doe Defendants en masse, I want to point out that this is no reflection on whether or not the attorneys are nice people.  At least one attorney here (Richard Fee) is described to me as being a nice guy, and in the comments section you’ll read about a particular attorney and his sidekick complaining about why I am making a new copyright troll feel ashamed about being a copyright troll.  My response:  Just because an attorney is a copyright troll doesn’t mean he or she is not a nice guy.  Kevin Harrison is a nice guy.  Doug McIntyre is a nice guy, and to many people’s surprise, Mike Meier is a nice guy too.

Depending on who you ask, I’m a nice guy too.  That being said, as soon as these attorneys decide to start filing copyright infringement lawsuits and they start suing defendants rather than focusing on taking down the infringing content which in my opinion is the remedy given to copyright holders by Congress via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), I leave my “nice guy” hat at the door and discuss the cases and their attorneys for what they are — copyright trolls.

Here are a few new cases to give you a taste (pardon the cynicism):

In the Florida Middle District Court:
Bait Productions Pty. Ltd. v. Does 1-73 (Case No. 8:12-cv-02554)
Bait Productions Pty. Ltd. v. Does 1-41 (Case No. 8:12-cv-02555)
Bait Productions Pty. Ltd. v. Does 1-52 (Case No. 8:12-cv-02556)

Richard Fee of Fee & Jeffries PA (attorney for Bait Productions Pty. Ltd.) — you filed each of these on the same day.  Don’t you think the courts will see that you are copyright trolling and that they will consolidate and dismiss your cases?

Now let’s go to the Georgia Southern District Court: [NEW COURT]
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-80 (Case No. 4:12-cv-00281)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. John Does 1-26 (Case No. 4:12-cv-00282)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. John Does 1-37 (Case No. 4:12-cv-00283)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-45 (Case No. 4:12-cv-00284)

Nathan Belzer (attorney for R & D Film 1, LLC)… Really? Are you really defending your R & D Film 1, LLC client’s interest in stopping piracy? Or in making a quick buck by suing downloaders? Do you even know about R&D Film 1’s other cases? Or did you just take the client thinking that you’ll make a few bucks?

Night of the Templar, LLC v. John Does 1-34 (Case No. 4:12-cv-00285)

Same attorney as above. Nathan Belzer.  I like the name of the plaintiff.

What about the Ohio Northern District Court: [NEW COURT]
Safety Point Productions, LLC et al v. Does 97-177 (Case No. 1:12-cv-02831)

Umm.. what happened to 1-96? Also, the “et al.” in this case includes Voltage Pictures, LLC. Douglas Riddell Jr. (new guy), did you think you would fool us? We have seen Voltage Pictures, LLC cases many times before in D.C.  Do you think you’ll be more successful than Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC was with this SAME PLAINTIFF?

R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 142-162 (Case No. 1:12-cv-02832)

Again, the funny Doe numbering by Riddell. This Douglas Riddell guy is funny. I’m going to enjoy his cases.

Safety Point Productions, LLC et al v. Does 1-96 (Case No. 1:12-cv-02820)

Finally, Douglas Riddell Jr. learns how to count from “1.” Again, Voltage Pictures, LLC is a plaintiff in this case.

And,
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-141 (Case No. 1:12-cv-02822)

Again, Doug Riddell.

Now, let’s go to Illinois Northern District Court:
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-37 (Case No. 1:12-cv-09036)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-92 (Case No. 1:12-cv-09039)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-103 (Case No. 1:12-cv-09041)
R & D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-66 (Case No. 1:12-cv-09043)

Todd Parkhurst (of Michael A. Hierl of Huges Socol Piers Resnick & Dym Ltd.) must be dym-witted to think that they would succeed with a copyright troll case in the Northern District of Illinois. John Steele killed copyright trolling for this federal district long ago — Todd, did you ask yourself when R&D Film 1, LLC contacted you WHY THEY CONTACTED YOU AND NOT JOHN STEELE (OF PRENDA LAW INC.)? For a copyright troll, Steele would have been a better choice.

Hmmm… Also in Ohio Northern District Court:
Safety Point Productions, LLC et al v. Does 1-14 (Case No. 1:12-cv-02812)

Did you notice how R&D Film 1, LLC and Safety Point Productions, LLC cases are each filed by the SAME SET OF ATTORNEYS IN EACH DISTRICT? I smell a new IP monetization company behind the scenes.

That’s it for tonight. Back to work on some real cases. If I’ve offended anyone, I’m not sorry — new attorneys shouldn’t be taking on copyright trolling cases.  If you are really interested in stopping piracy of your copyrighted content, then there are better ways to police your client’s copyrights than to let the infringement continue and then sue the downloaders.  Try a DMCA take down letter one day.  You might find that it works.

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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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The bittorrent cases are speeding up, both in number of cases filed, and in the issues relating to the cases. Judges are smartening up to what is going on, and I am seeing the smaller “Does 1-23” cases ripped to shreds in the courts. But, because they are so small, the activities in each case are falling below the radar.

These smaller cases are now filed in the multiple courts across the country — the correct courts — with the John Doe Defendants often living in the states in which they are sued. Thus, there are no more motion to quash issues, and there are no more “wrong jurisdiction” arguments.

However, while NEARLY ALL the smaller lawsuits still have “improper joinder” issues (meaning, suing Does together in the same lawsuit who did not participate in the same swarm; thus, they did not take part in the same transaction at the same time), THE CASES ARE SIMPLY NOT GOING TO TRIAL and thus defendants are not getting the chance to contest improper joinder.

The problem with these smaller cases is that 1) the settlement amounts are elevated, and 2) the risk of being named as a defendant goes through the roof because all that is required to name defendants in these smaller cases is that the plaintiff merely needs to amend the complaint against a particular Doe (thus the case will change from Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-30 to Patrick Collins v. “Elliot Hendel” and Does 1-29 [this name is merely fictitious]), and then someone comes knocking at Elliot’s home and serves him a copy of the complaint. At that point if he has not already done so [and he should have hired an attorney immediately upon having notice from his ISP that he was one of the Does in this case], he has to hire an attorney to respond within 20 days with his answer and his counterclaims, or he will default (which means the court can enter a default judgment against him for the full $150,000).

However, the BIG SECRET is that for the most part, these defendants do NOT get named as defendants, and they remain anonymous as far as what is visible from the court’s eyes. Instead, the plaintiff attorneys scare the b’jeebies out of them and cause them in some cases to sign [in many cases] an “I’m guilty, I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again” settlement agreement. The end result is that they end up paying significantly more than they would have if they merely called an attorney and had that attorney negotiate on their behalf. To make matters worse, defendants do not realize that there are really three-tiers of settlement prices (not two) — 1) the plaintiff attorney’s asking price (the “pay us $X by this date or else we’ll name you as a defendant in this case” amount), 2) defendant-negotiated price, and 3) attorney-negotiated price.

When the defendant tries to negotiate his settlement on his own, the likelihood is that he will probably say something incriminating about his case. (For example, not knowing the case law, he may say, “it wasn’t me; it was probably my son — he uses the internet all the time; I keep telling him not to watch that porn,” or “I let my neighbor / son / guest / roommate use my internet,” or “I didn’t realize it was illegal to download — I thought it was only illegal to upload!” etc.) The result is that the plaintiff says, “thank you for telling me you are guilty; the offer is now off the table and I will see you in court <click>,” only to call back shortly afterwards and, in the graces of his heart, he will offer a new settlement amount which is nearly double the asking price of the original settlement amount.

It is not only important to have an attorney negotiate your settlement amount 1) because he can, and 2) he won’t incriminate you while you would likely incriminate yourself, but also, the attorney knows the case law [which is not so obvious], and he knows what to put into a settlement agreement so that the settling defendant does not later get sued for the same claim, attorney fees, etc. It kills me to see so many people turn around and try to settle on their own without reading what they are agreeing to. What burns me more is when attorneys don’t read the contracts they have their clients agree to.

…In short, the plaintiff attorney mops up the floor with the defendants, and many of the defendants (if not most of them) turn over and lay dead while they capitulate and settle their cases. Had they lawyered-up, they would have known how to protect themselves. Better yet, their lawyer would have stepped in their shoes and the plaintiff attorneys would not have even been allowed to contact the defendants in the first place. No letters, no scare tactics; no threats.

Everything being said, one thing that most don’t even bother to find out is who exactly their plaintiff attorneys are. In more cases than not, the plaintiff attorney is merely a guy in a room with a laptop and a phone. Sometimes there is a second lawyer guy in the room making phone calls scaring the defendants into settling — a two-man show. …Do you really think this one or two-man show actually has the ability to sue more than just a few defendants, and if you defendants lawyered-up, do you think the plaintiff attorneys would have the time to name each and every one of you? AND if they named each and every one of you (which is literally impossible because to serve each one of you with service of process would be nearly impossible to track and there are bound to be significant errors), do you think they would have time to respond to each and every one our discovery requests?

As your attorney, when I defend you, I have a duty to properly protect your interests. That means that us attorneys must establish evidence that calls into question their so-called experts’ methods in collecting IP addresses (see here for just a taste). We need to call into question their methods of suing multiple Does in one lawsuit. We need to fight them procedurally with motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgement, and in some cases, motions for sanctions.

Do you think that the one-man show attorney and their underlying plaintiff (too often, the porn production company) can handle the hours of deposition time that EACH OF YOU DEFENDANT would be entitled to? What about their so-called experts? Do you think they have the time to answer all our in-person depositions for each defendant? What about our interrogatories? What about our other discovery motions? Do you really think the one-man show — the attorney guy in the room with a laptop — has the time to spend going after each one of you when he can instead go after the unrepresented defendants who roll over and settle their cases?

To make these cases merely insulting, these plaintiff attorneys have been hiring no-name local-counsel attorneys to file their cases on their behalf (no disrespect to any of them; I understand they are doing it solely so that they can make a commission off of those who settle). As far as I understand, the local counsel often know absolutely NOTHING about these cases, but they talk a big game and then sheepishly refer you to someone else — an “in-house” negotiator, or the attorney behind the curtain — so that they can “close” the deal for them and scare you into settling. If you actually had us attorneys defend your cases rather than merely have us settle them, do you really think the BIG-8 ATTORNEYS (listed below) would have the time and the patience to babysit these local counsel when they ask for assistance after we file our own motions for discovery?

Thus, a client in these smaller Does 1-20 (or 1-50, or 1-80) cases does not need to settle, especially if they do not live in the jurisdiction in which they are sued. This is true regardless of whether the plaintiff attorney is Dunlap Grubb & Weaver (Nicholas Kurtz or Ellis Bennett), Steele Hansmeier (John Steele or Mark Lutz), Gill Sperlein, Ira Siegel, Keith Lipscomb, or even Marc Randazza.

We do know how to defend these smaller cases.

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In a flick of the wrist and a slight of hand letter to the court, plaintiffs Dunlapp, Grubb, & Weaver (“DGW”) have possibly dismissed more accused John Doe defendants than ever before in the history of these bittorrent lawsuits. In a letter to the court titled a “Consolidated Status Report Pursuant To The Court’s Direction of 3/1/2011,” the plaintiff attorneys have dismissed* almost every defendant in almost every one of their mass copyright infringement lawsuits.

*I will explain below what I mean by dismissed, because I am not using the term in its conventional use. A more proper term for what they have done is that they have “dumped” these defendants rather than having them dismissed and released from the lawsuit.

The cases in which John Doe defendants have been affected are:

Call of the Wild Movie, LLC v. Does 1-1,062 (1:10-cv-004455-BAH)
Maverick Entertainment Group, Inc. v. Does 1-4,350 (1:10-cv-00569-BAH)
Voltage Pictures, LLC v. Does 1-5,000 (1:10-cv-00873-BAH), and
Donkeyball Movie, LLC v. Does 1-171 (1:10-cv-01520-BAH).

– NOTE: the “BAH” at the end of the case names is a recent change in the case names. When checking your case to determine whether this applies to you, just look at the 1:10-cv-“XXXXX” number and compare it to the case number you received from your ISP to determine whether this is your case.

This is a huge victory to our clients and those of the 10,000+ defendants that have been dismissed. No doubt we will be sending letters of congratulations to our clients in these cases in the coming days.

Now a little about these cases. These were what I like to call the initial “monster” cases, filed by DGW. They were the cases where thousands of John Doe defendants were sued, regardless of whether the courts had jurisdiction or not. These cases were also filed prior to the 6,000 Larry Flint Productions (LFP Internet Group, LLC) cases in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas and other cases (e.g., Far Cry) were severed and dismissed for improperly joining defendants in one John Doe lawsuit. In addition, these cases were more famously known as “the Hurt Locker” case, “The Call of the Wild” case, among other more famous titles.

As you can read by the filing, the plaintiff attorneys have determined that there is nobody to name in these cases, and thus they have determined to dump the defendant pool as a whole and rethink their strategy.

If you are a former defendant in this case, firstly we congratulate you. This is a big victory. However, with every victory comes a bit of bitterness. Here, the plaintiffs have determined on their own to not proceed with the current pool of defendants, which means that they have a few years from the alleged date of infringement to sue these defendants individually or as smaller groups in their home states.

On top of this, this is not an explicit dismissal, as a voluntary dismissal of all defendants would be. Here, the plaintiff attorneys have simply mentioned that they are not going to “name” defendants (see our article here to understand what it means to be “named”). In addition, it is not an order of severance by the judge dismissing all defendants. It is simply a “heads up” letting the court know they won’t be going after the various defendants.

This is good, with three caveats:

Firstly. Their note only refers to defendants where the ISP has handed their subscriber information over to the plaintiff attorneys. Defendants whose information has not yet been shared (e.g., my more recent clients in the past few weeks) are likely not included in this declaration of theirs because the ISPs have not yet given over their information to the plaintiff attorneys.

Secondly. The plaintiff attorneys can still sue all of these defendants in the US District Courts for the district where the defendants live. (You can read more about the likelihood of them doing this in this article.)

Thirdly. These cases are still alive! After filing this memo, the plaintiff attorneys proceeded to file a memo why a number of motions to quash the subpoena should be denied. They also filed an opposition motion asking the judge to deny these motions to quash. So the cases themselves are still alive and for the time being, well.

In closing. To those John Doe defendants and the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been sitting around for months, feel free to breathe easy for now. I will continue monitoring these cases for changes, but you should feel comfortable considering yourselves dismissed. The numbers are certainly on your side and while the risk of being sued individually is always present, the likelihood of hearing from the plaintiff attorneys ever again is very low.

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