Category Archives: Judge Wilkins (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.

Judge Beryl Howell CREATES A SPLIT in the DC Court.

There is a balancing act in this post as to how to make it NOT deathly boring, and how do I convey the information you need to understand what you have in front of you. Here we go.

Judge Beryl Howell once again issued a scathing opinion favoring copyright trolls and ruling against John Doe Defendants, their ISPs, the EFF, and everyone in favor of making these cases go away once and for all. However, there is a twist here in her decision, so read on.

In the AF Holdings LLC v. DOES 1-1,058 case (Case No. 1:12-cv-00048-BAH, Doc. 46) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Howell wrote a 42 page opinion essentially regurgitating all of her opinions of “judicial economy,” “personal jurisdiction,” “joinder,” whether an ISP has standing to file a MOTION TO QUASH on behalf of their subscribers’ arguments, and whether a subscriber’s MOTION TO QUASH is “ripe” for adjudication.

I want to be clear that this order is not written to the John Doe Defendants filing motions to quash, but to the ISPs who filed motions to quash on behalf of their subscribers.  To put it into context, this order is written to the ISPs telling them why they must comply with the subpoenas requesting their subscribers’ information.  However, her opinion has clear implications as to what a John Doe Defendant needs to be aware of if he decides to file a motion to quash in her court.

Restating her opinion of these cases, Judge Howell believes the following:

1) Copyright trolls have a right to sue defendants for sharing content over the bittorrent network.

PERSONAL JURISDICTION
2) “Personal jurisdiction” over a John Doe Defendant is IRRELEVANT before that defendant is “named and served” as a defendant in a lawsuit.

3) The proper place for a NAMED defendant to assert a lack of personal jurisdiction is in a responsive pleading (e.g., the “answer”) under a FRCP Rule 12(b)(2) motion.

4) A motion to quash by an unnamed defendant is NOT the proper place to assert improper jurisdiction.

JOINDER
5) “Joinder” — the question of whether the various John Doe Defendants are properly sued together (e.g., based on the “bittorrent swarm” theory) is IRRELEVANT before those defendants are “named and served” as defendants in a lawsuit.

6) Only NAMED defendants (not ISPs, not John Doe Defendants) may assert improper joinder.

7) A motion to quash by an unnamed defendant is NOT the proper place to assert improper joinder.

“JUDICIAL ECONOMY” (CONVENIENCE OF THE COURT)
8) It is more economical to deal with 1,000+ defendants in one lawsuit rather than dealing with the identical issues in 1,000 lawsuits.

Now essentially, as much as Paul Duffy, John Steele, and everyone at Prenda Law Inc. are overly excited about their wonderful order, there is not much that is new in this order that we didn’t know from Judge Howell’s previous orders.

Her breakdown of WHY MOTIONS TO QUASH DO NOT WORK, however, was astounding.

In her opinion, she states that NOWHERE IN THE FEDERAL RULES OF CIVIL PROCEDURE DOES IT SAY THAT A THIRD-PARTY MAY FILE A MOTION TO QUASH BASED ON IMPROPER JURISDICTION OR IMPROPER JOINDER.

Her words: “The plaintiff is correct that lack of personal jurisdiction and misjoinder are not delineated under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure [“FRCP” Rule] 45 as bases to quash a subpoena issued to a third-party [e.g., an ISP]. Indeed, third-parties cannot assert these defenses as a basis to dismiss the underlying action because, if either of these flaws did exist in the underlying action, they must be raised, and may be waived, by named defendants.  See FRCP Rule 12(b)(2) (lack of jurisdiction must be asserted in a responsive pleading [e.g., in the “answer”]); FRCP Rule 21 (“Misjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action…)” (emphasis added)

You can find a link to the actual order here.

MY OPINION:
This ruling is just another one of Judge Howell’s many opinions essentially saying the same thing.  The issues that inherently plague these cases (“jurisdiction,” “joinder,”) are unimportant to her, because as far as she is concerned, the copyright trolls have done everything properly according to the letter of the law.  Further, as far as she is concerned, there is no need for these smaller “John Doe 1-5” cases that we see Lipscomb & Eisenberg filing on behalf of Malibu Media, LLC, Patrick Collins, Inc., K-Beech, Inc., and the like.  Rather, just sue hundreds or thousands IN ONE CASE in HER DC COURT and she’ll let it go on indefinitely while the copyright trolls extort thousands of dollars from each defendant.

Further, as I have said before, JUDGE HOWELL (A FORMER COPYRIGHT LOBBYIST) DOES NOT CARE IF COPYRIGHT TROLLS EXTORT MONEY FROM JOHN DOE DEFENDANTS.  She even clearly states it here:

“At this stage, the plaintiff is attempting to identify those infringing… That the plaintiff chooses, after obtaining identifying information, to pursue settlement or to drop its claims altogether is of no consequence to the Court.

MOVING FORWARD FROM THIS CASE:
Luckily, however, Judge Howell is just one judge in one small federal court, and her opinions ARE NOT BINDING on other federal courts outside D.C.  And, even in D.C., we have a clearly an opposing opinion by Judge Wilkins, who has killed a number of bittorrent cases.  In short, Judge Howell has created a CLEAR SPLIT IN THE D.C. COURT which she has certified for interlocutory appeal.

What this means is that D.C. now has two opposing sets of case law, each which says the law is something opposite from what the other says it is.  For this reason, Judge Howell has authorized an immediate interlocutory appeal to a higher court so that these issues of jurisdiction, joinder, and the other issues discussed in the case (not discussed here) can be decided once and for all by a higher court.


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.

Comcast Fights Prenda… Victory for its subscribers!

Congratulations to the Texas Millennium TGA, Inc. defendants who (with the assistance of their Comcast ISP) will never have their information shared with Prenda Law Inc., Doug McIntyre (Prenda’s local counsel), or Millennium TGA, Inc. Essentially, you have won your case because the copyright trolls will never know who you are (without great effort).

In short, as we discussed back in our “Forum Shopping” article on 5/16, Millennium TGA, Inc. made the mistake of suing the same “John Doe” defendants in Texas as they did two weeks before in DC. This wasn’t a mistake — the judge that was assigned to their DC case (referred to as “MILLENNIUM TGA I“) — Judge Wilkins — was known to be unfriendly to copyright trolls. As soon as Prenda Law Inc. figured this out, they dismissed MILLENNIUM TGA I, and using their local attorney Doug McIntyre in Texas, they filed “MILLENNIUM TGA II” [Millennium TGA, Inc. v. John Doe (Case No. 4:11-cv-04501)] here in the Southern District of Texas.  When the Texas judge gave the okay for Prenda to demand the names of the subscribers from their ISPs, Comcast recognized the similarities of the John Doe Defendants to the DC case just dismissed, and they refused to comply with the rubber stamped subpoena given to Millennium TGA, Inc. by the Texas judge. Millennium TGA, Inc. (through Prenda Law Inc., their attorneys) filed a lawsuit against Comcast in DC (MILLENNIUM TGA, INC. v. JOHN DOE (Case no. 1:12-mc-00150), also referred to as “MILLENNIUM III“) asking the court to force Comcast to comply with the Texas judge’s subpoena and hand over the names, addresses, and contact information for the subscribers implicated in the MILLENNIUM TGA II Texas case.

Then, after an adverse ruling by the DC court which [in its order by Judge Alan Kay, order now overturned] forced Comcast to comply with the subpoena, John Seiver (Comcast’s attorney) wrote an amazing appeal which resulted in the DC case being transferred back to Judge Wilkins — the enemy of the copyright trolls. We wrote about this in our “Comcast wins battle against Millennium TGA & Prenda. Subscribers lose.” article on 5/29.

Now, almost one month later, I am happy to share that Judge Wilkins issued the order we have been looking for all along. In his ruling this Monday, he DENIED Millennium TGA, Inc.’s motion to compel Comcast to comply with the subpoenas (and hand out the subscribers’ information). In other words, congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been entangled in this mess — your plaintiff attorneys Prenda Law Inc. and their local counsel Doug McIntyre will likely NEVER know who you are. In addition, congratulations on your victory in your Texas case, because without knowing who you are, they cannot name you as a defendant, and they cannot move forward against you. Score!

Food For Thought Moving Forward:
Okay, here is the silver lining. For those of you who do not have Comcast as your ISP, your Texas case is moving forward as usual. Similarly, for those of you who do not live in Texas, Judge Wilkins has ordered that Comcast turn over to Prenda Law Inc. ONLY the CITY AND STATE which is linked to your accused IP address. That way, if Prenda wishes to file a follow-up lawsuit against you, they can sue you in your home state’s federal court… or not. Here is my thinking.

Remember the “two-strike rule” in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) Rule 41?? — a dismissal in the Texas court in a number of John Does’ cases would be the second dismissal [which is deemed to be “on the merits.”] This could preclude your copyright trolls from filing suit against you a THIRD time in your home state’s federal court. See DieTrollDie’s “Two Strikes and You’re “Out!” – FRCP 41 & Copyright Trolls” article, and for more discussion on the topic, see Sophisticated Jane Doe’s “A Trolling Lawsuit Ends With Style” article here.