Maria-Elena James vs Ira Siegel is a Judge vs. Copyright Troll saga that is unfolding in California.
As many of you have no doubt read on other blogs, some of the smaller cases have gone bust, others have been given permission to move forward. At the risk of sounding repetitive, when you see a blog entry on this site, that means that something certainly relevant and of note happened in the bittorrent litigation world.
As far as I am concerned, the former Steele | Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law Inc.) firm has started to copy the Patrick Collins, Inc. / K-Beech, Inc. business model (the Lipscomb & Eisenberg / Miami Dade / Florida State lawsuit model) of suing defendants in Florida under that state’s Bill of Discovery statutes, getting the judge there to rubber stamp their request to obtain defendants’ contact information from the ISPs (often without notice to the defendants), and then cold calling defendants and threatening to sue in that defendant’s home state unless they settle. Ira Siegel’s firm has done the same thing with their Mike Meier attorney pretending to defend accused defendants and then switching sides only to start suing in federal courts of various states. Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC has been quiet, naming some defendants and then subsequently dismissing them (presumptively when they settle or the court severs and dismisses their case for improperly suing defendants together in one lawsuit), and their big monster cases of last year have been widdling down into non-existence (bye bye Voltage Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-5,000, etc.). That means nothing, because now they are playing the same game as everyone else — sending thousands of “scare” letters telling defendants that if they do not settle, they will not only increase the settlement cost, but that they will “name” that defendant in a federal court in their home state. While this is obviously not the topic of this blog entry, 1) please do not be gullible and give into their demands just because they have made up some arbitrary date and settlement amount, and 2) please do not be cocky as to think that you can outsmart them and take care of this matter on your own. Both of these approaches have caused much angst for Doe defendants who later realized what they paid for was a second settlement.
The topic of this blog entry is not Ira Siegel or his Copyright Enforcement Group, but it is Judge Maria-Elena James of the US District Court for the Northern District of California. Prior to John Steele abandoning his cases in Illinois, the judges there started to shut them down as fast as he filed them. I would posit that the failing of Steele’s business model of suing hundreds of out-of-state defendants in one lawsuit should have been a lesson to Ira Siegel who has not been paying attention, and now his cases are in trouble. California’s Judge Maria Elena James — once a friend to Ira and his methods, has started to turn a fierce eye of judgement towards his cases. It is for this reason that I suspect a bunch of his cases are about to go bust.
Until 12/1/2011, all seemed to be good for Ira Siegel. Sure he suffered a few setbacks, dismissed a few cases, but these — New Sensations, Inc. v. Does 1-1,474 (3:11-cv-02770) and Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-2590 (Case No. 3:11-cv-02766) — his milk and honey — were moving forward flawlessly… until Judge James figured out that Ira Siegel was filing suits against thousands of defendants, extorting settlement agreements, and all this without naming even one defendant in any of his cases. This angered her, and she ordered Siegel in both cases (identical orders) to disclose to the court all the details he could about all the Doe defendants, along with why she should not dismiss the case because he has failed to name and serve defendants within the 120 day limit given to him in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4(m) (the reason a number of Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC’s (“DGW”) cases went bust in DC). Essentially, this should have served as a warning sign that his case is about to be dismissed, but instead of fighting back or dismissing a smaller group of defendants (a tactic which DGW did in the West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does case which kept their case alive for many months), Ira kept silent.
One week later, by 12/7/2011, Judge James utilized simple and free programs known as “geolocation tools” to isolate the location of where a random sample of the putative defendants lived. When she saw that none of them lived in California, she filed an orders in both cases questioning Ira’s “good faith” in filing this case in the first place. She also indicated that had she known then what she knows now, she would have never given the order to allow Ira to subpoena the ISPs to determine who the John Doe Defendants were. As a result, she ordered Ira to run the geolocation tools himself and dismiss everybody who did not live in California (coming soon). She also ORDERED that Ira Siegel MAY NO LONGER SEND ANY SETTLEMENT DEMAND LETTERS. Even better, to any Doe Defendants to whom he sent letters, he must send them a second letter telling them that they do not need to comply with his demand letter. Lastly, she nullified any settlement reached on or after the date of her order. Ira asked her to change her order, and on 12/8, she denied his request. Thus, to those of you who received settlement letters, expect to get a second letter explaining everything that I have written here.
While the scope of this article is to discuss the recent acts by Judge James, I wanted to point out that on Friday, the Digital Rights Foundation filed an amicus brief with the court urging them that Ira Siegel not only knew about these issues (e.g., filing against Doe defendants knowing the court had no personal jurisdiction over them), but essentially that what he has done amounts to fraud upon the court.
You could end reading the article here, but if you would like to know Ira’s most recent set of acts (and this might actually make you upset) — for some time, he has been hiring local attorneys and has only now started suing John Doe defendants in states OUTSIDE of California — something in the past he never did. In short, he is copying what Patrick Collins, Inc. has done for months now, and what John Steele (now, Prenda Law, Inc.) are now doing — that is, he is suing smaller groups of defendants in their home states, most recently with his Digital Sin v. Does cases that he is having Mike Meier file on his behalf. I hate to make the comparison to something sinister, but you stamp him down in one court, and he spreads his tentacles out to other courts. Obviously there is more to come. I expect more news starting on Wednesday, 12/14 (or perhaps on the day(s) following this should the judge learn that he has not complied with her orders).