Category Archives: Judge Beryl Howell (DC)

Prenda Appellate Saga Comes To An End

Congratulation to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants who will soon be dismissed from the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,058 (Case No. 1:12-cv-00048) case filed TWO YEARS AGO in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Seeing that the appellate (circuit) court came out with a ruling this afternoon, I read the circuit court’s ruling with fervor thinking that I was about to write an article entitled “the jig is up, no more copyright trolling lawsuits.” Well, I am underwhelmed.

If you remember the Judge Beryl Howell CREATES A SPLIT in the DC Court article I wrote back in August, 2012, at the time, thousands of “John Doe” Defendants from across the U.S. were being sued in the US District Court in DC, and Judge Beryl Howell was in favor of allowing the mass bittorrent lawsuits to continue in DC, even though other district court judges [not former copyright lobbyists for the Recording Industry Association of America] (notably, Judge Wilkins, now a United States Circuit Judge) wrote opinions questioning the validity of mass bittorrent lawsuits. As a result of this, now almost two year later, we have a circuit court ruling resolving the question of whether “personal jurisdiction” and/or “joinder” are relevant questions for a court to investigate before it signs an order invoking the “machinery of the courts” to force a non-party ISP to comply with a subpoena [asking for them to turn over the private contact information of each subscriber implicated as a “John Doe”].

Judge David Tatel [writing for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit] wrote a few pointers that we already knew, and in my opinion, the circuit court’s ruling is two years, too late. The ruling is essentially that a court may justifiably force a plaintiff “copyright troll” to establish that it has PERSONAL JURISDICTION over the John Doe Defendants who are implicated in the lawsuit BEFORE it allows that copyright troll to obtain [through discovery] the list of names and addresses belonging to the internet subscribers. His opinion, however, resolves ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the hundreds of smaller John Doe (e.g., v. Does 1-20) lawsuits filling the courts’ dockets across the U.S., where the “copyright troll” plaintiffs have figured out that “you sue a defendant where a defendant lives.”

Next point. When requesting the subscribers’ contact information from an ISP, the plaintiffs purpose must be to gather this information for use in THIS LAWSUIT, and not for other proceedings or other lawsuits. Good luck enforcing this one. I have no doubt that we will still see defendants dismissed from one “v. Does 1-20” lawsuit, only to be named and served in his own “v. John Doe” lawsuit. This happens every day. Also, good luck stopping a copyright troll from calling up dismissed defendants and saying, “unless you settle with us, we will name and serve you in your own lawsuit.”

Then after glossing over the “you must sue a defendant in the state in which he lives” rule, thirteen pages later, Judge Tatel discusses joinder (who can be sued together as co-defendants in a lawsuit).

I thought the joinder discussion would be juicy, but it was vague and vanilla, and it lacked explanation. The ruling was essentially that “you can only sue John Doe Defendants together in one lawsuit as long as they were part of the same bittorrent swarm.” This precludes plaintiffs who often sue defendants who did the same “crime” of downloading copyrighted films using bittorrent, but they did so days or weeks apart. In mentioning what is considered the “same bittorrent swarm,” the judge mentioned ABSOLUTELY NOTHING as to what the scope of a bittorrent swarm is, and how long one lasts — whether a swarm continues for minutes, days, or weeks at a time — and who is properly connected in a bittorrent swarm to be sued together in a lawsuit.

All I pulled from his discussion is that “if Tom and Dick were downloading at the same time, they can be sued together in a lawsuit; joinder here would be proper.” However, if Tom finished downloading and logged off five minutes before Dick logged on, would this be considered the “same transaction or occurrence” to allow the two of them to be sued together? What happens if Tom finishes downloading and logs off, and by the time Dick logged on to the bittorrent swarm, everyone who was part of that swarm [e.g., all 10 or 20 people] also logged off and new people logged on. If Dick is downloading from a completely different group of downloaders than the group who was online when Tom was downloading, but they downloaded five minutes apart, is this the same bittorrent swarm or a different bittorrent swarm? The judge provided ABSOLUTELY NO ANSWER as to the scope of a bittorrent swarm, so we are still left with uncertainty.

…So you see why I am underwhelmed. The ruling was essentially, “personal jurisdiction, bla bla blah, joinder, blah blah blah.” I learned nothing new from this, and yet the media is jumping all over this as if it is some kind of jewel. NOTHING NEW HAPPENED HERE.

Putting all of this in perspective, if you think about only the issue that Judge Beryl Howell wanted the appellate court to answer, “whether personal jurisdiction and joinder are relevant in a discovery request to obtain information about not-yet-named ‘John Doe’ defendants who are identified merely by their accused IP addresses,” Judge Tatel did exactly what he needed to. He correctly answered, “yes, personal jurisdiction and joinder are relevant when the plaintiff attorneys ‘attempts to use the machinery of the courts to force a party to comply with its discovery demands.'”

Thus, when a copyright troll files a lawsuit against unnamed John Doe defendants, and they seek discovery to force an ISP to comply with a discovery request (e.g., a subpoena forcing them to hand over the contact information of the accused subscriber affiliated with that accused IP Address), issues such as personal jurisdiction and joinder ARE ripe for inquiry before the court grants the copyright troll permission to subpoena the ISP, forcing them to hand over the contact information of the accused “John Doe” defendants.


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.

DING, DONG, THE HARD DRIVE PRODUCTIONS CASE IS DEAD!

I don’t know how to say this other than in my field of work, it is not often that I am shocked.  I often speak to local counsel who get excited that they are handling a “porn” case.  Just a few days ago, I called one of Steele’s (a.k.a., “Anti-Piracy Law Group”) local counsel.  When I introduced myself, he said to me (with a boyish excitement), “Aren’t you the porn lawyer?” to which I responded, “Aren’t YOU the porn lawyer?!?”

Anyway, I cannot help but to generalize these cases into “okay, one more production company suing a college kid or husband for clicking on a link and viewing copyrighted materials.”  What I often forget is that there is usually some guy behind the scenes who has trailed so far into the world of pornography that he has opened up his own company, produced some porn videos, and now is suing defendants for their download.

The motive is usually the same.  Instead of “let’s punish these pirates” as they would like you to believe, their motive is rather, “let’s hit up as many people for thousands of dollars each until we get shut down by the courts.”  In my opinion, this was the motive of the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. lawsuits.

Digressing, the epic news of the day is that the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) case has been dismissed. Congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants who have been released from this case.  

I don’t need to go into details about the case history — it has been riddled with controversy since they started suing internet users 2+ years ago.  As far as the legal issues were concerned, this was a typical copyright infringement lawsuit plagued with the same procedural issues that most of the other cases of its time suffered from — improper joinder (defendants were not part of the same “swarm”), and improper jurisdiction (defendants were sued in a court which did not have personal jurisdiction over them because the DC court’s reach could not decide the case against most of the defendants who were implicated in the lawsuit because they lived outside of the court’s jurisdiction).

What surprised me about the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case was not Hard Drive Productions, Inc., but the District of Columbia judges who made a political mess of these cases.  Judge Beryl Howell came on the scene making pro-copyright troll rulings, such as 1) “you don’t need to decide jurisdiction or joinder until a defendant is named and served in a lawsuit,” 2) an ISP cannot file a motion to quash on behalf of their subscribers, and 3) accused John Doe Defendants cannot file motions to quash until they are named as defendants in the case.  Mind you, she was a copyright lobbyist before she was appointed a federal judge.

Then in February, 2012, Judge Facciola came in with a ruling in the West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,434 (Case No. 1:11-cv-00055) case which I was sure was going to kill the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case and all the other bittorrent cases in DC.  In his order, he ruled that “a defendant who does not live in the District of Columbia cannot be sued in the DC court because the DC court lacks jurisdiction over those defendants.”  However, at some point, it appears to me as if the RIAA/MPAA copyright lobby (probably by using Judge Beryl Howell as their mouthpiece) pressured Judge Facciola into giving into the copyright lobby’s pressure, and with a few contradictory rulings, he transitioned over to being Judge Beryl Howell’s sidekick in these cases.

Judge Bates also came in appearing to protect the procedural rights of the accused defendants who lived outside of DC, but once again, after what appeared to be some pressure from the RIAA/MPAA copyright lobby (once again, my educated guess is that Judge Beryl Howell was the force behind what happened), he was removed from the case which Judge Facciola took over.  Then, after some time, it appears as if Judge Bates too eventually caved in to the RIAA/MPAA copyright lobby (some refer to them as the “mafia,” or the copyright police), and on my September 27th, 2012 post, Judge Bates reversed his decision in Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case and let the “extortion” of the John Doe Defendants at the hands of John Steele and Co. (a.k.a., Steele Hansmeier PLLC, a.k.a., Prenda Law Inc., and now a.k.a., the “Anti-Piracy Law Group”) continue.

So.  The story with this dismissal is not necessarily a Hard Drive Productions, Inc. story, but a story of the forces behind the public interest groups and lobbyists who pressure Washington to always rule in favor of the copyright holder, regardless of whether the copyright holder is a pornography company, or whether the copyright holder is involved in making B-movies.  Bottom line, these lobbyists insist that WASHINGTON MUST CONTINUE TO BE PRO-COPYRIGHT AND MUST CONTINUE TO RULE IN FAVOR OF THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS, regardless of who the copyright holder is, or at what cost.

So as things stand in DC, there is still a split as to the rights of unnamed John Doe Defendants between the rulings of Judge Wilkins (relating to the “motion to compel” lawsuit by Prenda Law Inc. against Comcast relating to their Millennium TGA, Inc. cases [BTW, dismissed last week]) and the rulings of Judge Beryl Howell, because as you read, Judge Howell certified an interlocutory appeal to answer questions relevant to these cases, but it appears to me that someone is dragging their feet there in DC and hoping for a dismissal so that they don’t have to decide the issues.

Lastly, there is a lot of activity on Twitter as to the 28 or so defendants who have settled their case, and some anger directed at these anonymous defendants who have settled.  Quite frankly, they are not all anonymous.  What happened with these is that without warning, Prenda Law Inc. turned around and sued one of these defendants (or threatened to imminently sue these defendants) in lawsuits in their home states.  I understand that many, if not most of the defendants in the “Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe” cases which were filed towards the end of 2011 probably settled (I’ve listed a few of the named defendants in the “At What Point Does a Copyright Troll Stop Being a Troll” article.)

In closing, people are asking me whether I think Hard Drive Productions, Inc. is dead, or whether this is just the next logical progression before a slew of defendants being named.  I must note that Hard Drive Productions, Inc. got their butts kicked quite a few times, especially with the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 3:11-cv-05634-JCS (Seth Abrahams) case and the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 4:11-cv-05630-YGR (Liuxia Wong) case, both in California.  If you look at the http://www.rfcexpress.com website, there have been ZERO filings since March, 2012.  A defendant must also understand that with the egos of these copyright troll attorneys, there is the saying, “As the ego of the attorney inflates, so does his hourly rate.

We also know there have been squabbles between Prenda Law Inc.’s local counsel and Steele, and we know that their own attorneys have been jumping ship (and in some cases even testifying against Prenda Law Inc. in their attempts to withdraw as local counsel.)  Thus, there are problems all around, so my best advise is to watch the http://www.rfcexpress.com website and see whether Hard Drive Productions, Inc. starts a flurry of lawsuits across the U.S. or not. And remember — behind every lawsuit there is a person (joking using the term “person” to mean a human, a fictitious person (who might not exist), or an offshore entity) who needs to pay Steele’s legal fees so that he can pay for his Las Vegas lifestyle of traveling the country “not” representing his clients in these matters.


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.

Judge Bates reverses his decision in Hard Drive Productions, Inc.’s DC case.

I have always known that “crabs crammed in a crate grab crabs trying to escape,” and this is no doubt true for judges in DC.

In our November 16, 2011 article entitled, “Judge Bates “removed” from Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No.1:11-cv-01741) DC case,” we wrote about how Judge Bates courageously called the copyright troll extortion scheme for what it is, and he halted all subpoena requests for John Doe Defendants. However, it was apparent to us at the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC that as soon as he did so, the other judges (“crabs“) grabbed at him and stopped him from killing the case. If you remember from our post, Judge Bates was immediately removed from the case and Judge Facciola replaced him (almost as if there was a DC conspiracy to promote copyright enforcement efforts by porn production companies such as Hard Drive Productions, Inc.).

As of yesterday, Judge Bates caved in and wrote a scathing order describing in detail how and why Hard Drive Productions, Inc. should be allowed to force the ISPs to hand over the subscriber information for the John Does implicated in this case. In addition, siding with Judge Facciola and Judge Beryl Howell, Judge Bates agreed that internet subscribers have no expectation of privacy for the account information they provide to their ISP.  I wonder if the same thing holds true for my electricity bill.

What I found most offensive, however, was that Judge Bates initially promised John Doe Defendants that if they filed motions to quash anonymously, that they would remain anonymous (even if later denied). We have been advising internet users for almost a year now to be VERY WARY regarding Judge Bates’ promise because he could always go back on his word and unseal the motions to quash thus revealing the identities of those who filed them [and making the John Doe Defendants who filed these motions to quash targets for Prenda Law Inc.’s bloodthirsty desire for revenge (image)]. And I am hurting when I write this (because I hate it when I end up being right, especially when I fight against well-meaning individuals who think they are doing the right thing by following the instructions on the subpoena letters they receive from their ISPs and they file motions to quash), but as we suspected, it turns out that Judge Bates lied to us, and in yesterday’s order, he stated that “all sealed motions to quash will be ordered unsealed.”

In my opinion, I must point out that I have a respect for Judges, and I must believe that most of them (including Judge Bates) are good. In the legal system, just as there are copyright troll attorneys who abuse the legal system, these same “bad apples” plague the legal system because many of these bad apples sit on the bench and render one bad decision after another. Many people have called me “dark and jaded” for my opinions about these cases, and while I am not one to subscribe to a conspiracy theory, I do smell conspiracy here.

Looking over the order many times, I cannot shake the feeling that Judge Bates’ order smells as if it was written by Judge Beryl Howell. If you compare the terminologies used by each of the judges in the past, terms such as “putative defendants” was a term that Judge Howell uses, not Judge Bates, just as the Call of the Wild v. Does case referenced incessantly in the order was Judge Beryl Howell’s. In sum, “crabs grabbing crabs” applies here — it is my opinion that Judge Bates tried to crawl out of the “crab cage” and call this case for what it is; the other “crabs” merely clawed at him until he fell back in line with the others. Welcome to the DC court.

I do not have anything else to say about this case other than that ISPs will start handing out the subscribers’ information, and John Steele and the Prenda Law Inc. gang will start sending out “scare” letters, harassing John Doe Defendants, and will scare too many into settling before they retain someone like me to represent them (or anyone else who fights these cases).