Category Archives: Education

The life of a subpoena, and at what point you are no longer anonymous.

TIMELINE: ISP SUBPOENAS AND ANONYMITY

Any “copyright troll” bittorrent-based copyright infringement lawsuit really revolves around the subpoena which moves from the court to the accused John Doe Defendants.  Tracking a subpoena can help an accused defendant understand the timelines of when they can fight, when they can settle, when they can ignore, and whether they are anonymous or not at each step.

A Subpoena is first introduced to the court for approval.

A subpoena is first introduced to the court when the plaintiff attorney files the lawsuit and asks the court for permission to obtain the identities of the various internet users accused of downloading the copyright holder’s movie or copyrighted work.

The Subpoena, once approved by the court, is sent to the ISP.

The federal judge approves the subpoena (usually by rubber stamp), and the subpoenas are then sent to the “abuse” department of the various ISPs (e.g., AT&T U-verse, COX Communications, Comcast, etc.).  These ISPs in receipt of the subpoena are ordered to hand over the accused subscriber’s information to the plaintiff attorney.  They send a notice to the account holder that a subpoena has been received, and that they are under a duty to comply with the subpoena by a certain date unless the account holder files a Motion to Quash the subpoena before the arbitrary deadline they set (usually the deadline is 30 days from the notice sent to the subscriber).

The ISP forwards the Subpoena to the accused account holder giving him a chance to file an objection with the court.

You (the account holder) receive the notice containing the subpoena, and you learn that you are implicated as a “John Doe” (an unnamed defendant) in the Copyright Holder Corporate Entity v. Does lawsuit.  Here, you learn that you can supposedly stop the ISP from handing out your information to the plaintiff attorney by filing an objection with the court, a.k.a. a “Motion to Quash.”  At this point, you are still anonymous.

The ISP complies with the Subpoena and hands over your contact information to the plaintiff attorney.

Assuming you do not file the Motion to Quash (there are many articles on this website explaining why you might not do so), the 30-day deadline set by your ISP will lapse, and your ISP will comply with the subpoena.  They turn over your information to the PLAINTIFF ATTORNEY (but not to the court or anyone else).  You are still anonymous.

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The exact moment your anonymity expires.

At this point, the life of the subpoena is over, as it has served its purpose and the plaintiff attorney is in receipt of your contact information (and whatever other information your ISP was forced to hand over to it).  At this point, you are a “John Doe” defendant in the lawsuit, and only your plaintiff attorney knows your real identity.  YOU ARE STILL ANONYMOUS at this point (as to the court and the world, as the plaintiff attorney is not going to share your information unless he decides to name and serve you as a defendant in the lawsuit).

Your anonymity expires once the plaintiff attorney realizes that he or she cannot get a settlement from you, and based on their evidence that you are the downloader of their client’s copyrighted movie, they file an amended complaint with the court with your name as a defendant, and they serve you with a copy of the complaint.  At this point, you have been “named and served,” and you are no longer anonymous.  At this point, you need to decide whether it makes more sense to stand and defend against the claims against you (consider the attorney fees issue), or to negotiate a settlement and amicably step away from the lawsuit.

NOTE: If you choose to fight, be aware of Prof. Matthew Sag’s paper entitled “Defense Against the Dark Arts of Copyright Trolling,” and the considerations surrounding using what are otherwise “valid” defenses to copyright infringement which likely DO apply to your case.

[CONTACT AN ATTORNEY: If you have a question for an attorney about your lawsuit and options on how to proceed, you can e-mail us at info[at]cashmanlawfirm.com, you can set up a free and confidential phone consultation to speak to us about your case, or you can call us at 713-364-3476 (this is our Cashman Law Firm, PLLC’s number].

ISP Subpoena Timeline & Anonymity Timeline

STRATEGY: Have attorney argue for Minimum Statutory Damages ($750+fees)

Asking for $750 Minimum Statutory Damages is not as scary as you might think.

Minimum statutory damages for copyright infringement is $750. Copyright trolls and their attorneys scare accused downloaders with the $150,000 number in EVERY SINGLE SETTLEMENT DEMAND LETTER. But baked into the copyright laws is that ‘minimum statutory damages’ number, which is $750.

If you think about it, if you are caught drunk driving (a dangerous act where you can kill people), in Texas, you can be fined a few hundred to two thousand dollars and spend between three and 180 days in jail. If you steal something or are caught shoplifting (or you are caught purchasing or accepting stolen property), in Texas you can be charged with larceny and would have to pay a fee as low as $50 or as high as a few thousand dollars depending on the cost of the goods stolen.

Minimum Statutory Damages | Strategy to Admit Guilt
succo / Pixabay

When you “steal” copyrighted content by downloading it via bittorrent or streaming it via some ‘tube’ website or using software such as Kodi, you are depriving the copyright holder of the cost of the movie ticket (~$12) for the movie you did not see in the theater, or the cost of the DVD (~$30) that you did not purchase on Amazon.com because instead you pirated the film. These are what are called “ACTUAL DAMAGES“.

STATUTORY DAMAGES are something else. The law says that the copyright holder does not need to prove actual damages, and can rely on damages that the law thinks he is entitled to under the copyright laws. Baked into statutory damages is the concept of “minimum damages” which easily includes the theft of a video or a movie via a bittorrent download.

So when a plaintiff attorney / copyright troll scares you with that $150,000 number, understand that if you simply hung up the phone with that copyright troll and hired our firm to ‘file an answer with the court admitting guilt and arguing for minimum statutory damages’, there is a strong case for your judge to award minimum statutory damages to the plaintiff attorney.

What an “Argue Minimum Statutory Damages” strategy would cost.

But what exactly would the minimum statutory damages look like? Obviously, add $750 for the minimum statutory damages itself.

+$750 minimum statutory damages

Then, copyright laws give the ‘winner’ of the lawsuit the right to collect their attorney fees from the ‘losing’ side. Since we would quickly and actively file an answer on your behalf admitting guilt, the plaintiff attorney would not have had any out of pocket costs except the $400 filing fee (which in most cases is split between 10-15 defendants), so add another $40.

+$40 filing fees and costs split among the ten ‘John Doe” defendants

Then, the plaintiff attorney spent “a few hours” filing the boilerplate complaint (he has done this probably 100+ times already, so it didn’t take him a long time to file your lawsuit) and providing the court the documents he has already done many times already. Thus, estimate another $750-$1500 for the attorney fees to the ‘prevailing party’ (the ‘winner’).

+$1,500 attorney fees to the prevailing party (assuming that much time was even spent on the case).

———————————————————–
Then add everything up.
———————————————————–

+ $750 minimum statutory damages
+ $40 filing fees split among defendants
+ $1,500 attorney fees (if even that much)
———————————————————–
Total Estimated Cost: $2,290 for having your attorney ‘plead guilty’ on your behalf.

What about the fee to your own lawyer? Here is what you pay for:

STEPS YOUR ATTORNEY WOULD TAKE TO ARGUE “MINIMUM STATUTORY DAMAGES”:

Here are the steps we would take on your behalf in order to implement the minimum statutory damages strategy.

1) We send a letter to your plaintiff attorney and file a notice of representation with the court.
2) We open up discussions with the plaintiff attorney. Discuss evidence. If relevant, discuss settlement.
3) If the attorney is being unreasonable in the settlement negotiations, we cut off settlement negotiations and file an answer with the court admitting guilt. In our answer, we make argument for minimum damages.

Who would benefit from an “argue minimum statutory damages” strategy?

Now obviously the “argue minimum statutory damages” strategy is best used with an accused downloader who has actually done the download and does not wish to defend against a copyright infringement lawsuit (e.g., he does not have a ‘clean’ hard drive, and/or the infringing file is still on his hard drive).  This strategy is also best used in the situation where the plaintiff attorney / copyright troll is being greedy, unreasonable, or abusive in the settlement negotiations.  There is no need to argue with an uncooperative copyright troll if you can get a comparable result by simply admitting guilt and arguing for minimum statutory damages.

Is this an effective strategy even if you did not do the download?

NO.  1) There is no reason to settle if you did not do the download.  2) This strategy involves admitting guilt.  The purpose of this strategy is simply to take the settlement negotiations out of the hands of the plaintiff attorney / copyright troll.

If you did NOT do the download, there are other less expensive strategies, such as the “no settlement” representation strategy or the “ignore” route.  Alternatively, your attorney can file a motion to dismiss and dispense of the lawsuit quickly based on the inherent weaknesses of the case.

Why would someone guilty of copyright infringement use the “argue minimum statutory damages” strategy?

Plaintiff attorneys / copyright trolls seem to have their own calculus as to who they ‘let off’ and who they ‘nail’ in a settlement negotiation.  In other words, if they like you (or your Cashman Law Firm, PLLC attorney has leverage over them), they’ll give you a good settlement deal.  If they don’t like you, or if you fit into a category which copyright trolls believe that you have a vulnerability exposed, they can and often *WILL* take advantage of you (e.g., if you are elderly, or if you are a war veteran, or if they believe you can pay a higher settlement, etc.).

The strategy of having your attorney argue for minimum statutory damages is a good way to take the power away from the copyright troll.  If the plaintiff attorney is taking advantage of your situation, you can take the settlement negotiations away from him.  In essence, it is forcing the copyright troll to accept a lower settlement amount than he would have proposed in a settlement negotiation.

To embarrass a troll.

Arguing for minimum statutory damages is the reason someone who did the bittorrent download would employ this strategy.  However, there is the additional nudge or motivation in doing this strategy — to expose the tactics of the copyright troll.  If a plaintiff attorney is using abusive tactics, or he is hiding his tactics behind a “FRE 408” header on his e-mail, you can use this strategy to expose his conduct to the judge.

Under the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE 408), settlement negotiations are not admissible in court, unless they are brought into evidence to show bias, prejudice, or some other valid reason (e.g., abusive conduct or harassment in the context of settlement negotiations).  There is a lot of latitude for an attorney who is filing an answer admitting guilt and asking the court to grant him his wishes to quickly and efficiently terminate the proceedings.  Within this latitude is the ability for the attorney to share with the judge the contents of the settlement negotiations prior to filing the answer in order to help the judge understand that the plaintiff attorney was employing abusive settlement tactics in order to resolve his $12 lost movie ticket / $30 lost DVD sale claim.

Would our firm also argue the other inherent weaknesses of the plaintiff’s case in an “argue minimum statutory damages” strategy?

Honestly, it is not needed.  There are a number of additional strategies that can be employed to protect an accused defendant (especially since the plaintiff attorney likely does not have actual evidence of copyright infringement), but the goal in the “argue minimum statutory damages” strategy is simply to quickly dispose of the lawsuit with the minimal amount of costs to the defendant.

Obviously there *are* inherent weaknesses in the copyright troll’s case which can be addressed in a more comprehensive defense strategy (e.g., by filing a motion to dismiss with the court) and then if that fails, filing an answer admitting guilt and arguing for statutory damages.  However, this is not the purpose of this strategy.  (As to the motion to dismiss because of the other issues inherent to the case, e.g., improper joinder, no evidence, improper pleadings, etc., I will be writing about these weaknesses in coming articles.)

IN SUMMARY, CONSIDER ARGUING FOR MINIMUM STATUTORY DAMAGES (IF YOUR TROLL IS MISBEHAVING).

If your copyright troll is being unreasonable in settlement negotiations, consider having your attorney (us, or whoever you use) file an answer with the court admitting guilt and argue for minimum statutory damages. Even if you were caught doing the download, you don’t need to give in to a ransom settlement. Copyright law has already anticipated your infringement, and there is a strong likelihood that a judge (especially one who sees many ‘copyright troll’ lawsuits from this same plaintiff) knows the scam these copyright holders are running, and they will be sympathetic to a defendant who employs this strategy.  Why?  This is a quick resolution to a copyright troll who is taking advantage of a downloader and asking for more than he should, and judges love ‘judicial economy’.

Obviously if you have any questions about what I have written here, please feel free to SPEAK TO ME and ask me questions about your case. There are many ways to take care of the claims against you without giving in to the settlement demands of the plaintiff copyright troll. Also, each defendant has different circumstances, so this article (or more generally, ANYTHING I write in this blog) is not meant to be legal advice or magical pills for you to get out of this lawsuit scott free. Trust that I have spent literally SEVEN YEARS fighting copyright trolls, and so there are many ways to approach your case. Admitting guilt and making the argument for minimum statutory damages is simply one more tool we have at our disposal to handle a plaintiff attorney who is not ‘playing nice.’

“No Settlement” vs. “Ignore” Route Representation

Tweaking an old strategy for a more effective one.

For those of you who speak to me on Twitter, I am working on implementing a new strategy based on Matthew Sag’s “Defense Against The Dark Arts of Copyright Trolling” paper.  Most relevant to this is finding representation for John Doe Defendants who did not do the download and who rightfully do not want to pay settle the claims against them.

Our Cashman Law Firm, PLLC for years has represented clients in what we called “ignore” route representation, where we would not settle the claims against the John Doe clients (unlike settlement factories who did).  While the “ignore” route representation strategy was very effective for many years, in recent years where plaintiff attorneys name and serve defendants, it has lost some of its effectiveness.

The need for a low-cost strategy to represent innocent defendants.

Come Matthew Sag’s “Defense Against The Dark Arts of Copyright Trolling” paper, where he suggests that attorney provide a low cost service to innocent defendants to “call the copyright troll’s bluff,” so to speak.  Our Cashman Law Firm, PLLC is working on how to implement the strategy, and we are looking to focus it on those who did not do the download.

THE PROPOSED “NO SETTLEMENT” REPRESENTATION STRATEGY

COMPARING IT TO OUR FORMER “IGNORE” ROUTE REPRESENTATION STRATEGY

WE ASK FOR YOUR SUPPORT

A strategy is only as good as those who implement the strategy.  While we may develop the strategy further, we ask for your support in publicizing the existence of this strategy.  We also ask for support from other attorneys to provide their clients a strategy such as this one.

Should you find in our community of attorneys an attorney who is taking clients at a low cost and sending the ‘innocence’ letters as we propose in this strategy, but clients taken are not innocent, this could ruin the credibility of the strategy.  Similarly, we ask attorneys to adhere to the ‘no settlement’ stance, and not to give in to ‘nuisance’ settlement payments.  Although a nuisance settlement can be a few hundred or a few thousand dollars here or there, this is exactly what will perpetuate the copyright troll scheme, and will keep the copyright trolls in business and thriving.

CREDIT GIVEN WHERE CREDIT DUE.

We credit Matthew Sag and his”Defense Against the Dark Arts of Copyright Trolling” paper for exposing to the world the problems with the copyright troll lawsuits, and we look forward to seeing an end to copyright trolling once and for all.

-Rob Cashman, Author of the TorrentLawyer blog, and owner of the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC

When is it too late to hire a lawyer in a John Doe lawsuit?

The best time to hire an attorney in a “John Doe” copyright infringement lawsuit is when you receive a subpoena notice from your ISP.

Even if you are not planning on filing a motion to quash, this is a copyright infringement case, and you need time to prepare for what will happen should you be named and served.

Hiring an attorney while you are still a “John Doe” gives you plenty of thinking time to get your affairs in order (for example, managing your online reputation by adjusting privacy settings on your social networking sites), and it gives you time to get your financial affairs in order.

DO NOT WAIT TO HIRE AN ATTORNEY UNTIL AFTER THE ISP HANDS OVER YOUR INFORMATION TO YOUR PLAINTIFF ATTORNEY.

There are a lot of things that you can accomplish before your ISP hands out your information.  You are anonymous at this point, and you can take advantage of that anonymity.

If you want to negotiate a truly anonymous settlement, when you receive your subpoena notice from your ISP is the time to do it.  The plaintiff attorney has done almost no research on your John Doe entity, and thus the settlement amounts will be low because there are no legal fees the attorney will want to add to the settlement amount to be paid for time spent trying to proceed against you.

Also, if your attorney is successful in negotiating an anonymous settlement (this may or may not be a good idea; talk to me and I’ll explain why), the benefit of doing it now when nobody knows who you are is that your plaintiff attorney will cancel the subpoena as to your John Doe entity once the settlement is complete.  That way, even he won’t ever know who you are (and thus you won’t have to worry about follow-up lawsuits, or the ‘copyright troll’ attorney asking you for more money later on, etc.).

ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE NAMED AND SERVED AS A DEFENDANT IN THE LAWSUIT.

Once you are named as a defendant in the lawsuit, your “John Doe” status is over, as is your anonymity.  Not only will the court know who you are, but at this point, the INTERNET will know who you are.  Forever, spiders and crawlers who search and index the legal sites and the lawsuit sites will index your name as being implicated as a defendant in that particular lawsuit.

Even if you settle the case, your reputation will be forever tarnished.

Even if you fight the case AND WIN, your reputation will forever be tarnished.

Once you are named and served, you have a ticking time bomb deadline waiting around the corner, where you will be forced to file an “Answer” with the court, or else you will be in DEFAULT.

Trying to negotiate a settlement after being named and served is like trying to negotiate with a gun to your head.  It is doable (and we have done it many times), but there is NO LEVERAGE.  The plaintiff attorney at this point is emboldened because there is nothing that he needs to do except wait.  He is under no pressure to negotiate at this point, because the law gives his client statutory damages if the infringement is willful.  Even if his client does not get the $150,000 statutory damages jackpot, if the named defendant defaults and the court awards minimum damages ($750), because the plaintiff attorney is the prevailing party, he will be awarded his attorney fees (which in most cases will be over $2,000 — higher than the commission he would have received had he accepted a settlement from you).

THUS, THERE IS A FINANCIAL INCENTIVE FOR THE PLAINTIFF ATTORNEY *NOT* TO SETTLE AFTER NAMING AND SERVING A DEFENDANT

Lastly, if you hire an attorney after you are named and served, practically, the attorney will be under pressure to get everything in order and filed before the deadline.  Please do not do this to your attorney.

We do not do this, but most attorneys will charge a premium or a higher hourly rate if there is a “days to a default” deadline associated with the work to be done.  The reason for this is that the attorney will need to drop whatever he is already working on and throw your case to the front of the pile (usually at the cost of accepting other business).

If you hired an inexperienced attorney after being named and served, the work you will get in return for the money you paid will be lower quality, because the attorney will not have the time to research the best legal strategies, arguments, or defenses available to your case, and in copyright infringement lawsuits, your defenses need to be raised in your answer or else you waive them.

For these reasons, for your own sanity, for your lawyer’s sanity, and for your own benefit — please DO NOT wait until you are named and served before hiring an attorney.  Do it immediately when you learn about the lawsuit from your ISP.


THIS HAS BEEN A LAWSUIT-NEUTRAL ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR THE TORRENTLAWYER UNIVERSITY.

FOR IMMEDIATE CONTACT WITH AN ATTORNEY: To set up a free consultation to speak to an attorney about your matter, click here.  Lastly, please feel free to e-mail me at info@cashmanlawfirm.com, or call 713-364-3476 to speak to me now about your case (I do prefer you read the articles first), or to get your questions answered.

CONTACT FORM: Alternatively, sometimes people just like to contact me using one of these forms.  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.

Launching TorrentLawyer University

Our TorrentLawyer blog has grown to over 200+ articles in 7 years, and it has become difficult for an accused “John Doe” defendant to sift through all of the older cases and articles to understand what to do with the subpoena letter they received from their Internet Provider.  They need quick answers and immediate help, and for this reason, I am launching what I am calling, “TorrentLawyer University“.

To facilitate the organization of the legal topics (and to separate them from other articles written in the context of a copyright holder or lawsuit), I will organize these articles into relevant topics marked in the “Education” section of our TorrentLawyer blog.  I have also written an introductory page which I will do my best to keep up to date.

Of course, continue to read the articles written on the TorrentLawyer blog!  They will obviously be more content rich, relevant, and specific to the ‘copyright troll’ issues and cases as they appear in our Cashman Law Firm, PLLC’s bittorrent law practice.  Plus, we have a good time writing these articles, so there is humor and innuendo, something we will do our best to keep out of the information-based articles written under the TorrentLawyer University ‘Education‘ tag section of the blog.

One thing to note: This will be an evolving project, and keeping the blog itself up to date is an enormous undertaking which requires time, resources, and a lot of research and fact checking.  So over time, I will populate the TorrentLawyer University section of the blog with articles, but this won’t happen immediately.  For the moment, if there is a topic that a reader is looking for help with and you cannot find it on the blog, just e-mail me or message me, and I’ll do my best to get that question answered for you.


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.

Why bittorrent-based copyright infringement lawsuits are questionable.

This will be the first in a number of ‘simple, to the point’ educational topics.  Over the past seven years, our law firm has explained and taught these concepts in the context of discussing one lawsuit or another, but here I am distilling the topic down to the subject alone.  This article will discuss why actual bittorrent evidence (the PCAP file) is missing from the case.

WHY BITTORRENT-BASED COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT LAWSUITS ARE BASED ON NON-EXISTENT BITTORRENT EVIDENCE

Copyright infringement lawsuits based on bittorrent activity accuses a defendant of a crime without that defendant being there ‘at the scene of the crime.’  The infringement happens at a computer, and the ‘crime’ occurs in cyberspace (over the internet).

Any evidence linking the defendant to the actual downloading is circumstantial.  This means that a plaintiff attorney needs to use technology to prove the bittorrent evidence, namely, that the defendant’s computer or phone connected to a particular server or some virtual ‘room’ where multiple computers got together to share a copyrighted file, AND THAT A WATCHABLE PORTION OF THE FILE WAS DOWNLOADED.

However, simply proving that an accused account holder was “in the room” is NOT SUFFICIENT to prove that copyright infringement (the download) actually happened.

Bittorrent Evidence is in the PCAP file

One method of proving innocence is documenting that the accused defendant was not at the keyboard when the ‘crime’ was committed.  However, there is better evidence to prove one’s innocence — whether or not the download (and thus copyright infringement) actually happened.

What is sufficient bittorrent evidence to prove actual infringement?

Actual bittorrent evidence can be found in what is called the “PCAP file.”  This file lists whether 2% of the movie was transferred, or whether 100% of the movie was transferred.  Surprisingly, instead of producing this PCAP file as bittorrent evidence, plaintiff attorneys rely on circumstantial evidence — namely, “the John Doe Defendant’s IP address was connected to the bittorrent swarm at that date and time, so he must be the infringer.”  However, proving the defendant was ‘in the room’ (that his computer was connected to the bittorrent swarm where infringement happened) does not mean that he copied the file.

Because there is only a murky and circumstantial connection between the ‘scene of the crime’ and the accused defendant, it is easy for an unscrupulous attorney to assert the existence of bittorrent evidence and accuse someone of copyright infringement without having done research to prove that it was the defendant who actually did the download.

HOW CAN A DEFENDANT BE ACCUSED OF COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT WHEN HE DID NOT DO THE INFRINGING ACTIVITY (E.G., HE DID NOT DO THE DOWNLOAD)?

Technology can be misused by savvy internet users to mask their identity, or to make their activity look as if it was being done by another person or another computer connection (e.g., changing the MAC address of a computer, or spoofing the IP address to look as if your computer has someone else’s IP address).  These individuals have more of a proclivity to commit crimes, and often it is the individual having that actual IP address assigned to him that gets accused of the crime committed by the individual who spoofed his IP address.

WHEN ARE SETTLEMENTS ETHICAL, AND WHEN ARE THEY CONSIDERED EXTORTION-BASED COPYRIGHT TROLL ACTIVITIES?

Going back to the plaintiff attorneys, the copyright infringement attorneys know that it will cost them many tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars) to take the lawsuit all the way to a trial.  For this reason, they ask the defendant to settle the claims against them for multiple-thousands of dollars claiming it will also save the defendant multiples of that amount to fight the case.  There is nothing wrong with this, and this sort of settlement activity happens all the time.  A REASONABLE SETTLEMENT is the amount the copyright holder should expect to get if they proceeded with the lawsuit balanced with the time saved by settling without the need or expense of costly litigation.

An attorney becomes called a “copyright troll” when they unethically start eliciting settlements not knowing or caring whether the individual they accused of copyright infringement actually did the ‘crime’ or not.  That attorney will often threaten that he will run up litigation fees and destroy the financial life of the defendant (“I will take your house or force you into bankruptcy”) if they do not pay the exorbitant amount the plaintiff attorney is asking for.

It is also the belief of the author that filing “John Doe” copyright infringement lawsuits against individual bittorrent users is unethical in itself.  The attorney filing the lawsuit is not doing so in order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, nor does that attorney have an intent to bring the lawsuit to trial.  Rather, they file the lawsuits to ‘monetize’ the copyrights (meaning, they take money from the bittorrent users as a model of rewarding the copyright holders).

This would be fair if the accused downloader were asked for the ACTUAL DAMAGES they caused the copyright holder (ACTUAL DAMAGES is the measurement of the actual loss to the copyright holder based on the defendant’s unlawful activities, for example, the loss of a sale of a movie ticket or DVD, plus the costs of the copyright holder in recovering the lost sale, e.g., the $400 filing fee for the lawsuit plus the attorney fees involved in recouping the losses), but this is not what copyright holders ask for.  Instead, they ask for exorbitant settlement amounts — sometimes thousands or tens of thousands of dollars — under the threat of pursuing the downloader for the full $150,000 statutory damages it is entitled to ask for in a lawsuit. (STATUTORY DAMAGES are damages determined by law which are awarded to copyright owner who proves copyright infringement, regardless whether actual damages occurred).

This activity is commonly called “copyright trolling,” and consequently, attorneys who file serial copyright infringement lawsuits and their copyright holder movie companies are called “copyright trolls.”


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.

Force a copyright troll to fight the WHOLE BITTORRENT SWARM every time he names someone.

Introducing the Swarm Joinder Defense Strategy

I am investigating a new strategy for clients who are named and served as part of a bittorrent swarm.  This swarm joinder defense strategy states that if the plaintiff claims that you were part of a bittorrent swarm, then each downloader from that swarm needs to be joined as a necessary party in your lawsuit.  Here is the article:

I am changing the tone of the blog. The plaintiffs are changing their strategies and so must we. While I am happy advising my clients, not all of you are my clients, and I don’t want those who are not my client to be left without the tools to understand their rights as a defendant.  I’m changing my tone to give named defendants (the number of whom are growing) ammunition to protect themselves and to catch the plaintiff copyright trolls in their missteps.  I call this strategy the “pro-joinder” strategy.

Copyright trolls are suing the same defendant in two lawsuits.

We have always told our clients that a plaintiff cannot sue a defendant for the same thing in two separate federal lawsuits. Yet certain plaintiffs are forgetting that this rule exists, and they are suing a defendant in one lawsuit in one federal court, and then they are “naming” that same defendant in a second lawsuit in another federal court (usually in a different state). In my opinion, blindsiding a defendant with his own personal lawsuit in which he is named can backfire on the plaintiff, and here is how.

There is a rule that if a plaintiff pursues two federal cases against the same party involving the same controversy at the same time, one of the two identical pending cases should be dismissed. (This is true in MANY districts: Colorado River, 424 U.S. at 817; Missouri v. Prudential Health Care Plain, Inc., 259 F.3d 949, 953054 (8th Cir.2001); Serlin v. Arthur Andersen & Co., 3 F.3d 221, 223 (7th Cir.1993); Zerilli v. Evening News Ass’n, 628 F.2d 217,222 (D.C.Cir.1980); Walton v. Eaton Corp., 563 F.2d 66,70 (3d Cir.1977).)

There is also what is known as the “first-to-file” rule, which states that when two related cases are pending in two federal courts, the court where the suit was last filed [where the defendant was named] cannot hear the case if the issues substantially overlap.(See Employers Ins. of Wausau v. Fox Entm’t Group, 522 F.3d 271, 274-275 (2d Cir.2008); Manuel v. Convergys Corp., 430 F.3d 1132, 1135 (11th Cir.2005); Cadle Co. v. Whataburger, Inc., 174 F.3d 599, 603 (5th Cir.1999).)

Using the troll’s own pleadings to establish standing in the first case.

Now as soon as you object to the second “named” case from being filed, I have NO DOUBT that your plaintiff will counter with, “well, so-and-so defendant was never named in the first case, and so he was never a party to that action.” True. You were likely not a party in the first case (you were a “John Doe,” or a “putative defendant”).  However, the plaintiff’s own “scare” letters might suggest otherwise [read them and snicker], because quite frankly, they should have been more careful when they decided to blast the scare letters out to all of you.  However, this isn’t the strategy. Keep reading.

As a response to the plaintiffs response to the court, I would certainly then point out that in the plaintiff’s OWN COMPLAINT in the first lawsuit, he listed your accused IP address as one of the many defendants in the swarm, and he stated in his complaint that “joinder is proper” combining all of these defendants in one lawsuit “…since they all participated in the same bittorrent swarm.” Based on this information (and using the plaintiff’s own filings as exhibits in your motion), I would ask the judge to dismiss the second case against you personally and order the plaintiff to name you in the first mass bittorrent case with all of the other tens or hundreds of defendants (and good luck to the plaintiff litigating that one).

If served, consider joining all of the Doe Defendants from the first lawsuit as co-defendants in your lawsuit.

Alternatively — and here is the bittorrent swarm joinder theory — I would consider joining all of the John Doe Defendants from the first lawsuit as co-defendants in the lawsuit where you were named. Here’s the logic:

If the plaintiff stated in his complaint under the theory of swarm joinder that joinder was proper there in the first lawsuit, then this is what is known in evidence as an “admission,” and the plaintiff cannot turn around and object when you want to join those same defendants in the second lawsuit against you personally.  I also want to point out that if you hold that swarm joinder was proper in the first case, then federal joinder rules actually require that you join all relevant parties [e.g., those other John Doe defendants who were “properly joined” in the first lawsuit] as co-defendants in the [second] lawsuit, or else it [the second lawsuit] cannot go forward.

The reason this swarm joinder strategy will benefit you if you are served.

Why join all John Doe Defendants from your first case as co-defendants (you are not the plaintiff here, you are still on their side as a co-defendant) in the second case in which you are named? Because if a John Doe Defendant (the term is properly a “joint tortfeasor”) wasn’t joined in this second lawsuit, well then, his rights might be adversely affected by the outcome of the case of which he did not have a say in the testimony or evidence that lead to the outcome of it. Also, if a defendant was indeed properly joined in the first lawsuit with the bittorrent swarm and he is found guilty of copyright infringement, do you think he wants to pay the entire judgement of $150,000 for each alleged act of infringement on his own? Or, would it be in his best interest to spread out the judgement so that everyone else who was part of the bittorrent swarm pay their “fair share” of the judgement?

Success or failure of this strategy is based on the beliefs of your federal judge (and whether swarm joinder is proper).

Obviously this swarm joinder theory is probably something that your attorney should be discussing with you, as there are considerations in whether and how to fight this strategy [most important of which is whether the judge believes that swarm joinder is proper (based on his own former rulings)].  Get a pro-defendant judge, and this argument may not work [but then you would likely get a ruling stating that swarm joinder is not proper in the first case].  But, get a judge like Judge Facciola or Judge Beryl Howell (who are hell-bent on asserting that swarm joinder IS proper for bittorrent cases where there are multiple defendants), then you have a very strong argument.

All this being said, now you know about one strategy of many that you can use to defend yourself.  This is obviously not legal advice, but still, do your research and when you prove to yourself that this swarm joinder strategy could hurt bittorrent cases across the U.S., and consider having your attorney join all other defendants from the first lawsuit.  If you are smart enough to do this on your own, then bless you, because you are a pioneer and your efforts should be rewarded.


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.

Contact us about implementing the swarm joinder defense in your case.

NAMED AND SERVED | When a Defendant Stops Being a John Doe

When is a bittorrent user “named and served”?

QUESTIONS ASKED ON BEING NAMED AND SERVED:

  • At what point is an accused torrent user ‘named and served’ in a lawsuit? Is it once the ISP turns over his information to the attorneys?
  • What do I do if I am ‘named and served’ in such a lawsuit?
  • Can your firm still represent me if I am ‘named and served’ in a lawsuit?
  • What if I am named and served in a jurisdiction in which you are not licensed?

ANSWER:
All of the proceedings that have been taking place with these copyright infringement cases have been in the pretrial stages while the defendant is still a John Doe represented merely by his accused IP address. Even after the internet service provider hands over the defendant’s identifying information, he or she remains a John Doe Defendant until the plaintiff attorney decides whether to name and serve the defendant or dismiss him or her.

2017 UPDATE: I am including this article as part of the TorrentLawyer University set of fundamental topics which are relevant to bittorrent-based copyright infringement lawsuits.

Am I ‘Named and Served’ when the ISP complies with the subpoena asking for my information?

No.  The ISP was under a duty signed by a federal judge to hand over your information.  If your attorney did not file a motion to quash the subpoena, then your ISP likely complied with the judge’s order.  This means that they forwarded over your account information, along with the account information of the other “John Doe” Defendants in your case.  It is easiest to think about this as if the ISP sent over a spreadsheet with a bunch of lines on it — your account information was included in one of those lines.

You are not named and served when your ISP complies with the subpoena.  You remain a “John Doe” defendant — anonymous to the world, but only known to you, the ISP, and now, your plaintiff attorney (and his copyright troll client).

Being ‘Named and Served’ Happens When the Complaint is Amended

Amending the Complaint (“Named”)

A plaintiff attorney ‘names’ a bittorrent defendant when he amends the copyright infringement complaint, replacing the John Doe placeholder with the real defendant’s name.  In a bittorrent-based copyright infringement case, the plaintiff attorney names a defendant when he changes the name of the accused defendants from “John Does 1-200” (or however many “John Doe” putative defendants there are) to “John Does 1-199, and Jim Smith” (Jim Smith being the named defendant).

Service of Process (“Served”)

Upon naming a defendant, the plaintiff attorney then must ‘serve’ a defendant with a copy of the complaint.  The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) gives him a few ways to do this.  The easiest (and costliest method) is to hire a process server to stop at the defendant’s house and serve him with a copy of the complaint.  Other methods include using the U.S. mail (asking the defendant to waive service of process in return for receiving a longer time period to file an answer with the court), etc.  The complaint must conform to both the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the court’s local rules (more on this in a future post).

Status of the former “John Doe” Defendant upon being Named and Served

If the plaintiff attorney names and serves the defendant, the named defendant ceases to be a John Doe and must immediately file any motions (e.g., motions to quash if still relevant, motions to dismiss, etc.) with the court. The defendant is advised if he has not already done so to hire local counsel (or if he is already represented by an attorney, to have his attorney hire local counsel to file motions on his behalf) to defend the case.

In short, upon being named and served, the defendant’s attorney (or local counsel) must file an answer to the complaint with the court, send a copy to the plaintiff, and must start evidentiary proceedings (e.g., discovery) if he is to properly defend his client.

Can your firm still represent me if I am ‘named and served’ in a lawsuit?

Absolutely.  A bittorrent lawsuit is simply a copyright infringement lawsuit.  It is filed in one of the many federal courts spread across the country, and any attorney who knows how to navigate the federal courts can represent you in your case.  Our Cashman Law Firm, PLLC practice focuses in federal court practice, so we can represent you in any federal court, even if we are not licensed to practice in that state.

What if I am named and served in a jurisdiction in which you are not licensed?

Not a problem.  Copyright law is exclusively federal law.  Thus, copyright infringement lawsuits belong exclusively in the federal courts.  Now obviously some courts will require that we hire local counsel in that state, but we already know which courts require this and are prepared to defend you in your case.

Where the cases are (as of writing this article).

Our firm has been gearing up for full-fledged copyright infringement lawsuits since September of 2010, but as of writing this article (Feb., 2011), so far the cases have not moved past the John Doe stages of the lawsuits. It just seems to me as if the plaintiffs are nervous that if they start suing, then we will start defending the cases diligently and we will start creating bad case law for them (which is exactly what they have been trying to avoid). If they move the case down this road of naming and serving defendants and we start winning on the merits of the case rather than having them dismissed based on procedural defects (as has been the case in most of the dismissals to date), we will shut down their operations and will make it almost impossible for them to continue their cash machine of suing John Doe Defendants without naming and serving the underlying defendants and scaring them into settling, only to dismiss and repeat with a whole new set of defendants.

Warm regards,
Rob Cashman, Owner
Cashman Law Firm, PLLC


THIS HAS BEEN A LAWSUIT-NEUTRAL ARTICLE WRITTEN FOR THE TORRENTLAWYER UNIVERSITY.

FOR IMMEDIATE CONTACT WITH AN ATTORNEY: To set up a free consultation to speak to an attorney about your matter, click here.  Lastly, please feel free to e-mail me at info@cashmanlawfirm.com, or call 713-364-3476 to speak to me now about your case (I do prefer you read the articles first), or to get your questions answered.

CONTACT FORM: Alternatively, sometimes people just like to contact me using one of these forms.  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.

Motion to Quash attempts have not been successful. Learn why.

A Motion to Quash might not be the proper response to a subpoena seeking to disclose your identity.

I have been closely monitoring the procedural side of a number of these copyright violation cases where thousands of internet users have been accused of illegally downloading various movies using the bittorrent protocol.  Upon receipt of a notice that an ISP has been provided a subpoena forcing it to reveal the identity of a subscriber accused of downloading a copyrighted film, a motion to quash (a.k.a., an “objection to the court”) to stop the ISP from handing out the subscriber’s identity appears to be the suggested next step.  But in practice, filing a motion to quash has not achieved the result we would like it to.  Plaintiff attorneys are claiming that the accused John Doe Defendant does not have “standing” to file the motion to quash because they are not yet a defendant in the case.

There is a scam going on in the bittorrent-based copyright infringement cases.  Nobody is named and served.

A number of these internet users have hired the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC to represent them through the “negotiation and settlement phase” of the lawsuit. I put this phase in quotes because in truth what has been happening is that the plaintiff attorneys and the underlying media companies have performed what I consider a “slight of hand” with the legal system by naming each of these defendants in the lawsuit by their IP address or by being one of 1-5000 John Does. For the most part, as of today the plaintiffs have not named any defendants in these cases. Instead, they have issued subpoenas to the internet service providers (the ISPs) forcing them to hand over their subscribers’ information. The plaintiffs claim this is so they can do “discovery.”

What is actually happening is that outside of the legal system, regardless of whether it is the Hurt Locker lawsuit, the Far Cry lawsuit, or any of the other smaller lawsuits, the plaintiff attorneys have been harassing the accused ISP subscribers and taunting them using scare tactics to persuade them to pay thousands of dollars each to make them go away. In my opinion, this is an abuse of the legal process, and I would like to see an attorney general order this activity stopped. Nevertheless, this is what is happening.

Plaintiff “copyright troll” attorneys have asked the court for sanctions against a lawyer who created a “motion to quash” for sale.

On the motion to quash front, a number of people have asked me why I have not been advising a “march into court” approach. So far, attorneys and individuals who file a motion to quash have not been successful. Just two days ago, the plaintiff attorneys in the Voltage Pictures, LLC v. Does 1-5,000 case filed a motion asking the court to sanction an attorney who created forms which internet users purchased and filed with the court.

While I just spent close to an hour e-mailing the attorney against whom sanctions were requested and suggesting ways as to how to properly defend himself against their accusations, the fact that the law firm went after the defense attorney trying to help people out of this situation is notable, but it is not useful to you, the reader.

Motion to Quash has been ineffective. Law truly is blind.
Gellinger / Pixabay

Claim: Filing a motion to quash is inapplicable to a defendant before he is named and served.

What is telling is that in their motion (Case 1:10-cv-00873-RMU, Document 19, filed 11/22/2010, pages 4-6), the plaintiffs state that a motion to quash, motions to dismiss, and motions for protective orders ARE COMPLETELY INAPPLICABLE BECAUSE DEFENDANTS ARE NOT YET NAMED OR SUED AS DEFENDANTS IN THE LAWSUIT. The plaintiffs continue (on page 5) and say, “The subpoenas are issued to the ISPs, and the Doe Defendants do not have to do anything in responding to the subpoenas [because they have not yet been named in the lawsuit].” (Emphasis added.)

There needs to be some motion or filing available to accused defendants, but a motion to quash has not yet been an effective answer.

I must point out that I disagree with the plaintiffs here because in my understanding, being named in a lawsuit (regardless of whether the defendant is named as an IP address or as a Doe Defendant) causes undue harm to the defendant even prior to being named as a defendant. The reason I say this is that each Doe Defendant is sent a threatening letter from their ISPs accusing them of illegal activity. Each Doe is put on notice that he or she has been named in a lawsuit and thus anticipates being sued. Each Doe Defendant is advised to retain an attorney and is told that he or she can be criminally and/or civilly liable for violation of the federal copyright laws. Each Doe Defendant is then ACTIVELY solicited and threatened by the attorney plaintiffs to “pay up or face a real lawsuit” where a judgment can cost a family their home, all their savings, their freedom, and possibly force them into bankruptcy. In my opinion, to say that a plaintiff at this point has no right to file such a motion, and that such a motion is not yet applicable until the defendant is actually named in the lawsuit is simply irresponsible lawyering.

But so far, I have not seen the motions to quash be an effective tool against the media companies looking to enforce their copyrights. I have not seen the judges letting defendants off the hook for simply sending in letters and/or form responses asserting what in my opinion are proper jurisdictional arguments.