New Florida Rule: CABLE OPERATORS WHO ARE ALSO ISPs ARE BOUND BY THE CABLE ACT.

Umm… Did Judge Wilson just suggest that ISPs fall under the CABLE ACT??

I was just reading DieTrollDie’s article, and looking at Judge Wilson’s ruling [in the Malibu Media, LLC v. John Does 1-18 (Case No. 8:12-cv-01419) case in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida], it appears as if he just suggested that ISPs fall under the CABLE ACT (See Order, Doc 14, p. 5 of 7).

ORDER: …3. Each of the ISPs that qualify as a “cable operator” under 47 U.S.C. 522(5) shall comply with 47 U.S.C. 551(c)(2)(B), which provides that:

A cable operator may disclose [personally identifiable information] if the disclosure is … made pursuant to a court order authorizing such disclosure, if the subscriber is notified of such order by the person to whom the order is directed.”

Now many of you know that I have wrapped my head around the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (a.k.a., “the Cable Act”) so many times, and it surprises me that now TWO judges have suggested that a law written in 1984 applies to the internet (which was not even in existence at the time the Cable Act was written).

As we discussed on Monday in the “Judge Facciola opens up a can of worms with the Cable Act” article, 1) DC Judge Facciola argued whether an ISP would violate the Cable Act by sharing subscriber information. He concluded that assuming arguendo that the Cable Act did apply [noting that DC has not yet ruled on the issue of whether the Cable Act applies to ISPs], that Cablevision would not violate the statute if it complied with the copyright troll’s subpoena. Now, we have 2) Judge Wilson explicitly ordering “each of the ISPs that qualify as a “cable operator” under the Cable Act to comply with the subpoena.

In its essence, the Florida Middle District just ruled that ISPs WHO ARE ALSO CABLE OPERATORS ARE BOUND BY THE CABLE ACT STATUTES.

This is fascinating to me (especially since these judges would be going against significant case law from other districts stating that the Cable Act does NOT apply to ISPs) because it appears as if Judges are trying to corner the ISPs into the confines of the Cable Act (which makes my May 5, 2011 argument of how to sue ISPs for violating the Cable Act possibly viable). I have not even considered the MANY IMPLICATIONS of what happens if — as a rule — ISPs became bound by the Cable Act provisions? What else would change?

Looking at this logically, it makes sense to me that an Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) can be a “cable operator” bound under the Cable Act. Why? Because cable companies (Cablevision, Comcast, Verizon, etc.) *ALL* have taken a HUGE SHARE of the internet subscriber business. Cable companies today offer internet services to their subscribers. Thus, it makes sense that an ISP can be a “cable operator,” and thus they can be bound by the Cable Act.

After all, if hypothetically a huge oil company such as Exxon started selling their Esso Tiger toy dolls (remember these?), wouldn’t they also be obligated to the laws that govern child safety laws regarding lead paint? How can an ISP say “we’re no longer a cable operator, we’re an ISP” when the same customer who pays for their internet connection pays them for their cable service?

In other words, I am starting to form the opinion that CABLE COMPANIES SOLICITED INTERNET BUSINESS AND BECAME ISPs. THEY ARE STILL CABLE COMPANIES AND THEIR SERVICES SHOULD STILL BE BOUND BY THE CABLE ACT WHICH GOVERNS CABLE COMPANIES.

Wow, this is a can of worms.


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.

Judge Facciola opens up a can of worms with the Cable Act.

These old cases keep creeping back up on us, and I am quite frankly dumbfounded that they are still alive so many months later. In the Openmind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-565 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01883) case in the District of Columbia, Judge Facciola brought back to life what was a stale, dormant case by answering an unanswered question of whether it would violate the Cable Act if Cablevision complied with the subpoenas and shared subscriber information with the copyright trolls.

Cablevision’s argument resembled a failed argument which I posted on my blog in May, 2011 for literally a day before puling it from the website.

[FOR PURPOSES OF CLARITY, I was writing two years ago about whether you can sue an ISP based on the Cable Act.  Then, I was referring to subsection (f) of the statute; here, Cablevision is referring to subsection (c) of the statute, asserting that the “checklist” of requirements under the Cable Act was not met and thus the subpoena was defective and they didn’t have to comply.]

More than two years ago, I wrote an article entitled “How an attorney can sue an ISP for disclosing a subscriber’s information“. In that article, I stated that a John Doe Defendant could possibly sue his ISP for violating the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (better known as the “Cable Act”). Shortly after writing the article, however, I did further research into the matter and I found that there was a significant amount of case law which held that this statute DID NOT APPLY TO ISPs. Apparently, however, I am not the only attorney who stumbled upon this statute.

In the Openmind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-565 case, Cablevision asserted that according to the Cable Act (47 U.S.C. §551(c)(2)(B)), they would violate the statute if they complied with the subpoena issued to it (which makes me wonder why they have been complying in other cases since). On Friday, Judge Facciola disagreed simply because regardless of what the Cable Act says, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) simply gives the court the power to force the ISPs to comply with the subpoenas, and the Cable Act is irrelevant to the issue. (Personal note: A judge can’t throw away a statute that conflicts with the rules! They must address the law and explain why it DOES or DOES NOT apply to the circumstances. They can’t ignore it and pretend the statute is not there!)

In short, the last time I took a look at this argument, I came to the conclusion that it was a very muddy issue. Anyone who wants to have a crack at this, please feel free to comment. I’m merely posting this article so that you understand what argument Cablevision was trying to assert, and why Judge Facciola ruled against it.

Once again, I feel that Judge Facciola didn’t properly address the issue of whether the Cable Act applied to copyright infringement statutes (and particularly to these bittorrent cases where his court has been ruling that John Doe defendants do not have standing to file motions to quash until they are “named” as defendants). In my opinion, Cablevision brought before the court the Cable Act statute, specifically, “47 USC §551 – Protection of subscriber privacy,” subsection “(c) Disclosure of personally identifiable information.” I keep asking myself, “how in the world does this NOT apply to our cases?!? (and if this does not apply, what statute does apply?)” EVEN THE CABLEVISION ISP ITSELF (a cable company) THOUGHT IT APPLIED TO THEM!

In sum, Cablevision brought before the court an issue — “how can I comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when this statute prohibits me from doing so?” At the very least, Judge Facciola should have ruled on whether the statute applies to these cases because instead, he said, “assuming it does apply, here’s why your argument is wrong.” My question is immediately, “assuming it does apply?!?WHAT?!? WHAT ABOUT ALL THESE OTHER PARTS OF THE STATUTE? DO THEY APPLY TO ISPs TOO?

As a result of this ruling, Judge Facciola has reopened a copyright troll case that until now was pretty much in a coma.  As far as this Openmind Solutions, Inc. case is concerned, expect now to start getting subpoenas from Prenda Law Inc. because once again, Judge Facciola has sided with the copyright trolls and has let the extortion scheme continue.

…And as far as the Cable Act and 47 USC § 551? Judge Facciola has just opened up a can of worms.

[For those of you who want to read the statute on your own, it can be found at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/551 ]

As far as the two documents which caused this mess, the original motion requesting that the judge rule on Cablevision’s motion applying the Cable Act to bittorrent lawsuits can be found here.

And, Judge Facciola’s ruling (the subject of this article) can be found here.


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.

There is no honor among thieves. Copyright troll thieves.

This morning I woke up to news that the Third World Media, LLC v. Does 1-4,171 (DC; Case No. 1:11-cv-00059) plaintiff voluntarily dismissed all 4,000+ defendants. “That was disappointing,” I thought. What a waste of a case.

What got me thinking is that it was NOT the DC court (or their copyright-troll-friendly rulings) which prompted this dismissal, as I have a lot to say about Judge Facciola and his recent slew of rulings in a number of copyright infringement cases (more on that in another blog entry).  As far as I am concerned, this dismissal had other reasons which caused it.

Now obviously I’m very happy when a case like this goes bust, but it didn’t go bust. The plaintiff (and their copyright troll attorneys at Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC) simply lost interest and dismissed the case. I’ve been seeing this a few times over the past two weeks, specifically here in Texas with copyright troll Doug McIntryre dismissing his West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-351 (Case No. 4:12-cv-00504) case here in the Southern District of Texas — some copyright trolls are simply losing interest in their cases and giving up and dismissing all defendants.

Now I can obviously give an educated guess as to why this is. Local attorneys who work for copyright trolls don’t get paid by the copyright trolls.  As much as I villianize the local attorneys here on the blogs, local attorneys who file lawsuits on behalf of copyright trolls usually get cheated by their copyright troll bosses. I have heard many stories of clearly oblivious local attorneys making statements such as “well, nobody is settling my cases,” when I regretfully know the opposite is true. I once read a motion by a prolific copyright troll who wrote, “there is no honor among thieves” (referring to the bittorrent users who he was suing in his cases). Quite frankly, it is my opinion that this is probably the case between the copyright “trolls” themselves.

Then again, I have heard stories that the copyright trolls themselves often have trouble with the production companies (their clients, the porn companies) who have retained them to sue John Doe Defendants in the various lawsuits. I have often heard stories that behind each of the lawsuits is a imbecilic man with a short temper and a small brain who screams and yells at the copyright trolls to sue everybody on the planet. The problem is that these clients don’t want to pay the legal bills or commissions that they legitimately owe to the copyright trolls, as if they expect them to work for free.  Again, “there is no honor among thieves.”

And then again, (I have to note this,) I believe that there are instances where the copyright troll lawyers cheat their clients as well, binding them to settlement agreements and accepting money from defendants for infringements of their copyrighted works WITHOUT EVER TELLING THEIR CLIENT that this money was received.  The strategy: Sue on behalf of one production company, accuse the defendant of also infringing another production company’s copyrighted works, collect settlements for both infringements.  So I believe it goes both ways.  Production companies (clients) cheat their attorneys out of commissions and fees, and the attorneys accept settlements and never tell the production companies about it.  Again, “there is no honor among thieves.”

In short, while I do not know the politics of why a plaintiff attorney drops a case without explanation such as what you see here, it is my expectation that the reason for both of these cases is that there is conflict between the copyright troll attorneys, and the production companies in which they represent. Whether it is that the copyright troll attorneys are asking for too much money from the production companies (greed), or whether it is that the production companies who are not paying the copyright trolls, I don’t know or care. As far as I am concerned, my clients are being dismissed from the cases against them, and conflict between copyright troll attorneys who sue defendants and their clients can only be good for the world.

Side thought: As far as the copyright trolls cheating the local attorneys who they hire to file lawsuits on their behalf? While it frustrates me when I hear stories about the copyright troll bosses cheating their local counsel, part of me also thinks that there is also justice in the world. At the end of the day, these local counsel made a conscious decision to try to profit off of extorting thousands of dollars from each internet user (legal or not, we’ll see), and even if an internet user did download the title(s) he or she was accused of, there is no reason for them to pay thousands of dollars (often their life savings, or more accurately, their parents’ life savings) for what often ends up being a porn video where they could have purchased the DVD title for $34.99.  Obviously the distinction here is “actual damages” ($34.99) versus “statutory damages” (up to $150,000 for each infringement), and quite frankly, it is the copyright law that is broken [or that is being misapplied to downloaders], and not the lawsuits themselves which are inherently blind, or at least they are supposed to be — purposefully ignoring bias from certain DC judges.  That being said, only a piece of work would capitalize on this misapplication of the law and extort thousands of dollars from a defendant.  I really think the courts (and the law) needs to make a distinction as to who is a “pirate” and who is really just an innocent infringer.


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.

How to make bittorrent cases go away once and for all…

I am very excited to see that judges are starting to get involved in the discussion of whether it is proper to sue tens, hundreds, or thousands of John Doe Defendants accused of downloading copyrighted films (usually pornographic in character, and using bittorrent to do so) in one lawsuit.

Just a few days ago, I wrote about Judge Beryl Howell’s opinion in D.C. where she ruled that joinder of any number of defendants in a bittorrent lawsuit is OKAY. Her reasoning centered around the fact that the defendants are unnamed, and [ignoring the mass extortion scheme that is causing many families to hand over their life’s savings to the copyright trolls] that it is more “convenient” for the court to manage one lawsuit with thousands of UNNAMED Doe Defendants rather than trying to manage thousands of lawsuits with one defendant in each lawsuit.

This evening, I read an article from Sophicticated Jane Doe’s “Fight Copyright Trolls” (kudos to Raul) entitled “Judge Marrero: Pornography may not be entitled to copyright protection.

Quite frankly, the article is not only one of the best articles I have read yet, but it teaches and describes the issues in a very methodical order and in a way that cannot be replicated in any blog post of mine, and for this reason, I highly suggest that you read 1) that article, and 2) the actual order (which is equally a good read for those interested in the topic).

My contribution is that although this order predated Judge Howell’s order, it addressed the split not only in the Southern District of New York, but it also describes the issues surrounding bittorrent copyright infringement cases in which judges have been ruling inconsistently across the federal districts. It demonstrates that the issues are heating up, and that there is a need for consistent application of the joinder rules across the federal districts.

The funny part about this order is that whether or not joinder was proper in this case — “Next Phase Distribution, Inc. v. John Does 1-27” (Case No. 1:12-cv-03755-VM [or 12 Civ. 3755 for those New York attorneys who don’t like federal case law nomenclature], which is being heard by Judge Marrero in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York) — the SDNY Judge Marrero decided to sever and dismiss John Does 2-27 for reasons INDEPENDENT OF THE JOINDER RULES. Read on.

Here are the three reasons [independent of joinder] which Judge Marrero used to sever and dismiss the defendants:

Reason one – “it would be impossible to manage the discovery of 27 different defendants.”

Imagine seizing 27 different sets of computers and dealing with 27 different sets of discovery, where each defendant held their own depositions, interrogatories, and where each defendant answered their complaint with potentially different and incompatible defenses (e.g., it wasn’t me, it was my son, it was my neighbor; I have an open wireless connection, my wifi was hacked, etc.). It would essentially be like holding 27 different trials in one trial. For this reason, the judge decided to sever and dismiss the defendants.

Reason two – “it is conceivable that several of the John Does did not actually download the copyrighted film.”

According to Mike Meier’s own admission, “roughly 30% of names turned over by ISPs are not those who actually shared or downloaded the videos.” Now while this statement can easily be taken out of context, it points to the reasonable doubt as to whether an accused infringer is actually the one who downloaded the copyrighted film. What made me stop and stare at the screen was that I was so excited that the judge explicitly stated that “an IP address does not necessarily correlate to a particular alleged infringer because several people may access the same IP address.”

There is more to this statement than the judge realizes, and while it has application to IP addresses changing and being used by multiple infringers (specifically regarding cases where the plaintiffs track THE IP ADDRESS regardless of whether it was issued to the subscriber at the time the downloads happened), in this case, it has the simple application that the subscriber is akin to the owner of a telephone landline account, and many people come in to use their phone — the account holder is not the one that makes each and every call, and for this reason, the account holder cannot be held liable for something that someone else did on their account. Back to the case.

Reason three – “if the Motion Picture is considered obscene, it may not be eligible for copyright protection.”

I cannot state more clearly that as Raul described in his article, this certainly is a clear shot across the bow that I have been sensing in many cases for quite a while now — that pornographic films are obscene, and that they do not qualify for copyright protection.

All I could say about this is that a number of attorneys and I have discussed this issue, not in the context of whether a “cheating housewife,” a “babysitter,” or any genre is copyrightable in and of itself (see the topic of “Scènes à faire”), but in the context of simply whether an obscene film is copyrightable at all.  For a long time, it wasn’t.  Then NY and some states started to allow it, and now perhaps courts will start reconsidering the topic. For an interesting write-up on the topic, see here.

In short, judges are getting tired of these pornography lawsuits, and I am getting tired of judges granting early discovery to copyright trolls without restrictions.

For this reason, I am happy that judges are starting to smarten up, and hopefully they will all start taking my advise that if they are going to grant early discovery to the copyright trolls, 1) the contact information of the accused John Does should remain private to the copyright trolls — only the CITY AND STATE of each accused Doe Defendant should be provided; 2) if contact information is to be provided, that it be “in camera” meaning that the ISPs should produce the information NOT TO THE COPYRIGHT TROLLS, BUT TO THE COURTS (so that the extortion scheme where plaintiff attorneys scare defendants into settling), and 3) the information provided on each John Doe Defendant only be permitted to be used IN THE INSTANT CASE (and not in a subsequent case where the plaintiff attorney threatens that “unless you settle now, we will ‘name’ you in a lawsuit in your home state.”

Judge Forrest (and now Judge Marrero) has put one more spin on this which is commendable — that the identity of the accused Doe Defendant be kept anonymous on the court’s docket. While this is admirable, it is not enough because defendants don’t only settle out of embarrassment for being associated with a pornography case — they settle because it is cheaper to pay the plaintiff attorneys off than it is to fight them. This is a sad and broken part of the legal system, and putting the protections I outlined above would stop the copyright trolls in their tracks and would make these cases go away once and for all.


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.