Maria-Elena James, Judge vs. Ira Siegel, Troll

As many of you have no doubt read on other blogs, some of the smaller cases have gone bust, others have been given permission to move forward.  At the risk of sounding repetitive, when you see a blog entry on this site, that means that something certainly relevant and of note happened in the bittorrent litigation world.

As far as I am concerned, the former Steele | Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law Inc.) firm has started to copy the Patrick Collins, Inc. / K-Beech, Inc. business model (the Lipscomb & Eisenberg / Miami Dade / Florida State lawsuit model) of suing defendants in Florida under that state’s Bill of Discovery statutes, getting the judge there to rubber stamp their request to obtain defendants’ contact information from the ISPs (often without notice to the defendants), and then cold calling defendants and threatening to sue in that defendant’s home state unless they settle.  Ira Siegel’s firm has done the same thing with their Mike Meier attorney pretending to defend accused defendants and then switching sides only to start suing in federal courts of various states.  Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC has been quiet, naming some defendants and then subsequently dismissing them (presumptively when they settle or the court severs and dismisses their case for improperly suing defendants together in one lawsuit), and their big monster cases of last year have been widdling down into non-existence (bye bye Voltage Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-5,000, etc.).  That means nothing, because now they are playing the same game as everyone else — sending thousands of “scare” letters telling defendants that if they do not settle, they will not only increase the settlement cost, but that they will “name” that defendant in a federal court in their home state.  While this is obviously not the topic of this blog entry, 1) please do not be gullible and give into their demands just because they have made up some arbitrary date and settlement amount, and 2) please do not be cocky as to think that you can outsmart them and take care of this matter on your own.  Both of these approaches have caused much angst for Doe defendants who later realized what they paid for was a second settlement.

The topic of this blog entry is not Ira Siegel or his Copyright Enforcement Group, but it is Judge Maria-Elena James of the US District Court for the Northern District of California.  Prior to John Steele abandoning his cases in Illinois, the judges there started to shut them down as fast as he filed them.  I would posit that the failing of Steele’s business model of suing hundreds of out-of-state defendants in one lawsuit should have been a lesson to Ira Siegel who has not been paying attention, and now his cases are in trouble.  California’s Judge Maria Elena James — once a friend to Ira and his methods, has started to turn a fierce eye of judgement towards his cases.  It is for this reason that I suspect a bunch of his cases are about to go bust.

Until 12/1/2011, all seemed to be good for Ira Siegel.  Sure he suffered a few setbacks, dismissed a few cases, but these — New Sensations, Inc. v. Does 1-1,474 (3:11-cv-02770) and Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-2590 (Case No. 3:11-cv-02766) — his milk and honey — were moving forward flawlessly… until Judge James figured out that Ira Siegel was filing suits against thousands of defendants, extorting settlement agreements, and all this without naming even one defendant in any of his cases.  This angered her, and she ordered Siegel in both cases (identical orders) to disclose to the court all the details he could about all the Doe defendants, along with why she should not dismiss the case because he has failed to name and serve defendants within the 120 day limit given to him in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4(m) (the reason a number of Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC’s (“DGW”) cases went bust in DC).  Essentially, this should have served as a warning sign that his case is about to be dismissed, but instead of fighting back or dismissing a smaller group of defendants (a tactic which DGW did in the West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does case which kept their case alive for many months), Ira kept silent.

One week later, by 12/7/2011, Judge James utilized simple and free programs known as “geolocation tools” to isolate the location of where a random sample of the putative defendants lived.  When she saw that none of them lived in California, she filed an orders in both cases questioning Ira’s “good faith” in filing this case in the first place.  She also indicated that had she known then what she knows now, she would have never given the order to allow Ira to subpoena the ISPs to determine who the John Doe Defendants were.  As a result, she ordered Ira to run the geolocation tools himself and dismiss everybody who did not live in California (coming soon).  She also ORDERED that Ira Siegel MAY NO LONGER SEND ANY SETTLEMENT DEMAND LETTERS.  Even better, to any Doe Defendants to whom he sent letters, he must send them a second letter telling them that they do not need to comply with his demand letter.  Lastly, she nullified any settlement reached on or after the date of her order.  Ira asked her to change her order, and on 12/8, she denied his request.  Thus, to those of you who received settlement letters, expect to get a second letter explaining everything that I have written here.

While the scope of this article is to discuss the recent acts by Judge James, I wanted to point out that on Friday, the Digital Rights Foundation filed an amicus brief with the court urging them that Ira Siegel not only knew about these issues (e.g., filing against Doe defendants knowing the court had no personal jurisdiction over them), but essentially that what he has done amounts to fraud upon the court.

You could end reading the article here, but if you would like to know Ira’s most recent set of acts (and this might actually make you upset) — for some time, he has been hiring local attorneys and has only now started suing John Doe defendants in states OUTSIDE of California — something in the past he never did.  In short, he is copying what Patrick Collins, Inc. has done for months now, and what John Steele (now, Prenda Law, Inc.) are now doing — that is, he is suing smaller groups of defendants in their home states, most recently with his Digital Sin v. Does cases that he is having Mike Meier file on his behalf.  I hate to make the comparison to something sinister, but you stamp him down in one court, and he spreads his tentacles out to other courts.  Obviously there is more to come.  I expect more news starting on Wednesday, 12/14 (or perhaps on the day(s) following this should the judge learn that he has not complied with her orders).

Does dismissed from the New Sensations Bittorrent case.

Allow me to congratulation all the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been dismissed from New Sensations, Inc. v. Does 1-1,745 (Case No. 3:10-cv-05863-WHA) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

As we suspected and discussed on July 18th in our “Judge Alsup takes over “New Sensations, Inc.” case” article, this case is now dead. However, the case died on Ira Siegel’s own sword, so to speak, rather than by the hands of Judge Alsup.

To help you understand my understanding of the reasons behind the dismissal, your plaintiff attorney, Ira Siegel was scheduled to stand in front of Judge Alsup tomorrow, 10/6. In short, I was expecting that the recent events with Judge Zimmerman in the dismissal of the Tru Filth case (see here) would be eclipsed by a more zealous Judge Alsup, and I understood that Siegel was not in the mood for another embarrassing experience. In short, Judge Alsup is a prolific judge who has a reputation for having little patience for attorneys who do not have their cases in order. I understand that in light of the recent events, instead of facing Judge Alsup, Siegel decided to back away and dismiss all defendants. To those of you who were defendants in this case, please allow me to congratulate you on your victory!

Which will be the bittorrent lawsuits of tomorrow?

With the larger cases from Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC heading off into the bittorrent litigation graveyard, the plaintiff attorneys have not yet learned their lesson about the dangers of filing John Doe lawsuits with thousands of Does sued together. Below are just a few cases filed by the same plaintiff attorneys — newer cases — which thus far have not achieved much traction. No doubt we’ll be seeing more of these in the coming months.

First and foremost, Ira Siegel’s new case, Digital Sin, Inc. v. Does 1-5,698 (Case No. 4:11-cv-04397-LB) filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. Apparently it did not occur to his client that suing 5,698 defendants is the easiest way for a case to achieve scrutiny.

Also by Ira Siegel is his SRO Pictures, Inc v. Does 1-3036 (Case No. 5:11-cv-04220-PSG) case, his Discount Video Center, Inc. v. Does 1-5,041 (Case No. 5:11-cv-02694-PSG) case, his Zero Tolerance Entertainment, Inc. v. Does 1-2,943 (Case No. 3:11-cv-02767-EDL) case, each filed in the same California court as Digital Sin.

We are already hearing from Doe Defendants on Ira Siegel’s Third Degree Films, Inc. v. Does 1-3,577 (Case No. 4:11-cv-02768-LB) and most notorious, his Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-2590 (Case No. 3:11-cv-02766-MEJ) case, also in the same California court.

Next, filed by Thomas Dunlap himself (of Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC) is CineTel Films, Inc. dba Family of the Year Productions, LLC v. Does 1-1,052 (Case No. 8:11-cv-02438-JFM) filed in the US District Court for the District of Maryland. This one should be fun. This same plaintiff has had Dunlap sue in his home US District Court for the District of Columbia, the Cinetel Films Inc. et al v. Does 1-1,951 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01334-RLW) case. Same plaintiff, different jurisdiction. My guess is that Ellis Bennett or Nicholas Kurtz will be the on the paperwork for these since they have to date handled Dunlap Grubb & Weaver’s older cases.

In the District of Columbia (where most of Dunlap Grubb & Weaver’s cases are filed,) to everyone’s surprise is the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274-RBW) case, apparently using Timothy Anderson of Anderson & Associates, PC as the local counsel. The funny thing about this one is that AF Holdings, LLC is John Steele of Steele Hansmeier PLLC’s clients (where Steele Hansmeier has sued a bunch of AF Holdings, LLC v. Does smaller cases across the country already), so this Tim Anderson guy is probably another one of Steele’s local counsel puppets (sorry Tim).

Then, there is Evan Stone’s FUNimation Entertainment v. Does 1-1,427 (Case No. 2:11-cv-00269-DF) filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. I haven’t heard much about this case yet, but Evan Stone is the attorney who was the plaintiff attorney over the LFP Internet Group, LLC v. Does [LFP a.k.a. “Larry Flint Productions”] lawsuit that had over 6,000 defendants in total dismissed last year. Maybe he’s back in the game with a case that won’t be immediately dismissed.

Last, but not least, there is a set of triplet lawsuits filed by an unknown McDaniel Law Firm plaintiff (probably a copycat attorney who has watched these bittorrent cases develop and now has decided to try his hand and sue) in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey. Both of them go by the same name, Baseprotect UG, Ltd. v. John Does 1-X (Case No. 2:11-cv-03621, Case No. 2:11-cv-02021, and Case No. 2:10-cv-06806 respectively). The deceptive part is that the “Does 1-X” title appears to suggest that there are just a few defendants, so the case is hoped to stay under the radar. Nope. In one case, I believe there are over 300+ John Doe defendants implicated, and in the other case, I believe there are over 1,500 John Doe defendants. Funny enough, I hear that Baseprotect does not even own the Polish copyrights they assert, and that they have merely questionably acquired a limited right to sue on these copyrights. This will be fun to watch.

So in short, with the demise of the famous DC cases (Maverick Entertainment, Call of the Wild, and now West Coast Productions, Inc.), there are a whole new generation of cases who hope to achieve exactly the same purpose as their predecessors. Make a profit before getting dismissed into oblivion.

Tru Filth bittorrent lawsuit trashed for out-of-state defendants.

As we wrote just four days ago, Ira Siegel’s On the Cheap, LLC dba Tru Filth, LLC v. Does 1-5011 case (Case No. 3:10-cv-04472-BZ) in the US District Court for the Northern District of California has been ripped apart.  So, congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been severed and dismissed from the case!

Who is left in this case?  John Doe Defendants who live in the Northern District of California.  All others have been dismissed.  Now to everyone’s surprise, the judge wrote nothing about Siegel’s non-compliance with his demand to see how much his client has made on eliciting settlement payments from John Doe Defendants.  Instead, he focused on the bland arguments of jurisdiction and joinder, essentially telling Ira Siegel that he cannot sue out-of-state defendants in his court if they have not availed themselves to the jurisdiction of the California court.

One thing that I found interesting — and this might be quite boring to everyone else — Judge Zimmerman took the personal jurisdiction argument one step further than I have ever seen in any of these cases when he essentially said, “do not sue Californians WHO DO NOT LIVE IN MY DISTRICT in my district!”.  In his order, the judge told Siegel that he could have spent just a few more dollars to file THREE additional lawsuits in each of California’s federal courts — so that each of the Californian Does were sued in their home district rather than forcing them to defend a lawsuit potentially several hours away.  This delineates a new rule when suing John Doe defendants in a California court — namely that defendants need to be sued not only in a court which has personal jurisdiction over each of the defendants, but that  defendants need to be sued in the PROPER DISTRICT in which they live so that they will not be hauled into a court several hours away.  Here, the judge referred to “principals of fundamental fairness,” a concept each of us learned in law school.

Then the judge moved on to practical humor.  Simply put, how in the world would 5,000 defendants be able to show up for a hearing, (e.g., a FRCP 26(f) pretrial conference or a FRCP 16(b) case management conference) when the largest room in the courthouse only holds 200 people?!?

Last, but not least, the judge finally acknowledged (at the bottom of p.8) that when a $19.95 porn film is produced not for commercial gain, but for purposes of generating litigation and settlements, it no longer falls under the Constitutional protections of “useful arts,” but it amounts to merely a massive collection scheme.  This was never the intent of the copyright laws (…and thus…?).  I’ll leave it to you to finish the thought.

I have attached a copy of the dismissal letter below for your viewing pleasure. To those of you who have been dismissed who are not our clients, please allow me to congratulate you on your victory.

[scribd id=64117780 key=key-lgycf4ribjnhtkof19g mode=list]

Ira Siegel’s “On the Cheap” case expected to be ripped apart.

There is a lot to say about Ira Siegel’s On the Cheap, LLC dba Tru Filth, LLC v. Does 1-5011 case (Case No. 3:10-cv-04472-BZ) in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.

Ira Siegel appears to have been involved in enforcing copyright laws against internet users for some time now — his picture can be found among the other plaintiff attorneys in the various bittorrent cases (here). If you look him up online, you’ll probably read about DMCA notices he has sent to various internet users over the years saying, “we see you have downloaded XYZ video. Pay us $900 or else we might sue you.” This is what he has been up to while other copyright attorneys [perhaps unbeknownst to him] (such as John Steele, Nicholas Kurtz of Dunalp Grubb & Weaver, etc.) started suing people asking for $2,900 [these days, they are asking for amounts around $3,400].

I suppose the problem for Ira is that he did come late to filing these bittorrent cases, and by the time he started suing people in the California courts, attorneys such as John Steele, Gill Sperlein and others have already come and gone, and judges were already aware of these cases, and the problems inherent in them. Thus, as a result, it only makes sense that he is getting the brunt of the judges’ hostile inquiries (precipitated by the previous severed and dismissed cases). In my opinion it is no surprise that Siegel is facing various dismissals of his cases coupled with orders to show cause, along with the usual inquiries as to how he could possibly sue various Does in one lawsuit when they have absolutely nothing to do with one another.

To make all of Siegel’s cases more difficult for him (e.g., Evasive Angles, New Sensations, Patrick Collins, etc.), we are thankful that the EFF has interfered in this case to instigate a dismissal. On 8/18, EFF filed an amicus brief asking the court to take judicial notice of (and thus, to adhere to) all of the cases that have been dismissed because plaintiffs sued John Doe Defendants in the wrong courts.

That being said, even before EFF got involved, Judge Bernard Zimmerman already sensed there was something terribly wrong with these bittorrent cases and on 6/24/2011, he issued an “Order to Show Cause” why this case should not be dismissed. Siegel responded, but apparently he was not convinced. Then, on 8/24/2011, Judge Zimmerman held a hearing on his order where Stewart Keller brilliantly live-tweeted (see his twitter feed which was re-posted here). As a result of the hearing, the judge asked Siegel some pretty specific questions and ordered him to answer questions regarding his tactics (including settlement data) which would have been a first in uncovering the activities taken by these bittorrent plaintiff attorneys.

In the meantime, Sophisticated Jane Doe (a former defendant in one of Gill Sperlein’s Io Group, Inc. cases) did a write-up on Ira Siegel which caught his attention (see here).  To everyone’s surprise, instead of submitting the required response on 8/30/2011 as the judge ordered, Siegel missed his deadline.

Today, 9/1/2011, I saw that he filed a response in which did not answer the judge’s pointed questions. Instead, he focused his response on attacking Sophisticated Jane Doe’s articles, and his response as a whole made no attempt to comply with the judge’s order and the content he was instructed to disclose. In addition, Siegel (perhaps correctly) applied the Federal Rules of Evidence (“F.R.E.”) § 408 to shield the court from learning how much he has collected thus far in settlements (remember, for a time, he was asking for $1,900; in his current settlement demand / “scare” letters, he is asking for $2,500). [As a mere side note, the one thing that Siegel might have missed is that even though he is correct that even though F.R.E. § 408 prohibits settlement negotiations from being admitted as evidence, most attorneys know that whenever evidence is prohibited from being admitted as evidence for one reason, that same information may be admitted into evidence for another reason.]

The question I keep asking myself is 1) was the late submission of a reply a purposeful attempt by Ira Siegel to give Judge Zimmerman a pretext to dismiss the case on grounds such as failing to properly respond? And, 2) would Siegel be willing to throw this case and risk it being dismissed in order to shield from the court how much money his client has made from settlements?

In sum, there is a lot that is going on in these cases, and some days it feels more like drama, deception, and posturing rather than discussing the case on its merits. Judge Zimmerman appears to be trying to remedy this.  While we will now wait and see if and how Judge Zimmerman responds to what he will no doubt see as blatant disregard to his order, I expect that Siegel’s latest move will result in a dismissal of his case. Perhaps it will even create some ripples in his other cases as well.

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