How Judge Beryll Howell’s Decision Affects “John Doe” Defendants.

Over the past few days, as a response to last weeks article where plaintiff attorneys Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver dumped thousands of defendants, Judge Beryl Howell wrote a memorandum indicating which issues the US District Court for the District of Columbia court will hear, and which they will not. In short, as the various articles describe (see here, and here), the judge has opined that any arguments of jurisdiction, joinder, or first amendment defenses are not relevant until a John Doe defendant is named as a defendant in the case.

For the most part, when reading this 42 page memo, I was unimpressed. Her motivations and proclivities in favor of the plaintiff copyright holders were apparent, but her opinion was unmoving. I shrugged my shoulders and thought to myself that this was not a controversial opinion. It wasn’t until I started reading the forums in ArsTechnica.com that the users realized that the judge had some serious bias issues. Some were even of the opinion that the judge should not have heard the case in the first place because of conflicts of interest and violations of rules of recusal.

As for her opinion, plaintiff attorneys and courts for months now have been holding that a defendant does not have standing to contest jurisdiction (e.g., “Dear Court, I was sued in the District of Columbia. I live in New York. Court has no personal jurisdiction.”) until they are named in the lawsuit (e.g., John Doe #123 -> Real Name Defendant). This is the reason defendants have been unsuccessful in filing motions to quash the various subpoenas issues by the courts against the internet service providers ordering them to surrender over their subscribers’ information.

The change in this Judge’s opinion was that while many cases (e.g., the various Larry Flynt Productions cases and the Far Cry lawsuits, just to name a few) over the previous months have been severed and dismissed because of improper joinder issues (e.g., one accused defendant downloading a copyrighted file on Monday should not be joined in a lawsuit with a defendant he does not know who downloaded that same copyrighted file on a Wednesday, or “subsequent acts of copyright infringement by unrelated defendants are not sufficient to justify the joining of the defendants together in one John Doe lawsuit.”), here Judge Howell has stated that she will not even entertain a misjoinder argument from a defendant until that defendant is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

In my opinion, the court is simply ‘kicking the can down the road’ for matters of simplicity. This opinion was nothing fantastic, and it did not affect our clients because none of them have been named in any of these lawsuits.

However, as a result of Judge Howell’s decision, articles on TorrentFreak (“BitTorrent Case Judge Is a Former RIAA Lobbyist and Pirate Chaser“) and ArsTechnica.com (“RIAA lobbyist becomes federal judge, rules on file-sharing cases“) have surfaced pointing out obvious ethical issues regarding her even sitting on the bench for these cases given her past intimate connection with copyright lobbying groups, including past employers, conflicts of interest, issues of bias, and issues of recusal which have raised a flare of users’ objections to her adjudicating these cases.

As far as my clients need to worry, this is simply an opinion by a judge (biased or not) giving the plaintiffs free reign to go after John Doe defendants and to continue to solicit exorbitant settlement fees in the amount of thousands of dollars all while the plaintiff attorneys continue to tell the judges that they are conducting “discovery.” The issues have not changed, and there is no new law with this opinion. For my clients who are defendants in these cases, this opinion simply means that the court will likely not sever the case on its own as it did in the Far Cry case, but rather, it will wait until the plaintiff attorneys begin naming defendants before they consider whether the defendants are properly joined together with the thousands of other defendants.

Illinois copyright attorneys suffer first loss in their home court.

Congratulations to our clients and to all defendants in the “CP Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-300” case (1:10-cv-06255), dismissed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. While at first glance this case appears to be a no-name media company attempting to enforce their copyrights using the mass tort copyright infringement “John Doe” model, there *is* real significance to this case.

This is one of the first cases in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to have been dismissed. It was dismissed by Judge Milton I. Shadur, a Senior United States District Judge. More importantly, this is John Steele’s (of the Steele Law Firm LLC — now Steele Hansmeier, LLC) home court where a majority of his other cases have been filed. Have you heard any of his other cases filed there (just to name a few)?

Millenium TGA, Inc. v. Does 1-100 (1:10-cv-05603)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Does 1-100 (1:10-cv-05604)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1000 (1:10-cv-05606)
First Time Videos LLC v. Does 1-500 (1:10-cv-06254)
Future Blue, Inc. v. Does 1 – 300 (1:10-cv-06256)
MGCIP, LLC v. Does 1-316 (1:10-cv-06677)
MCGIP, LLC v. Does 1-1,164 (1:10-cv-07675) [no misspelling there] – Achte/Neunte Boll Kino Beteiligungs GMBH & Co KG v. Novello (1:11-cv-00898)
Achte/Neunte Boll Kino Beteiligungs GMBH & Co KG v. Famula (1:11-cv-00903)

As you can see, a lot is riding on these cases, and one dismissal creates a ripple effect which will likely affect the others. This is what happened in Evan Stone’s Larry Flynt Productions (LFP Internet Group, LLC) cases and related cases which were all dismissed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas all at once. Here, the judge’s order (which you can either find online or you can e-mail me) was quite explicit in his reasons for dismissing the case. No doubt the other judges for the cases I listed above will take notice of this dismissal.

For more information on the case, Ars Technica website had a nice write-up on it in their “Random defendant outlawyers P2P attorney, gets lawsuit tossed” article. The 99 comments (as of the posting of this article) are also very telling and informative.

News articles claim that attorneys are filing copyright infringement actions against individual defendants for illegal downloads. Should I be scared?

Considering the recent articles online leaked by the attorneys of the Hurt Locker and the Far Cry cases in that they plan on filing against dismissed defendants in their home states, I have been asked whether my opinion regarding the eventual outcome of the cases still in existence has been altered by what is, in my opinion, a public relations media blitz in response to the fall of the Larry Flynt Productions (LFP Internet Group, LLC) lawsuits and similar related suits in the Texas and West Virginia courts.

In short, the mass John Doe copyright download cases have been falling like dominoes — one after the other — and there are too many of them to note. However, as a reaction to these failed cases, there have been a number of “scare” articles leaked to the internet claiming outright lies such as “we were successful in obtaining hundred-thousand dollar judgments against multiple torrent users last year.” This is simply not true. I check the records and filings of many (if not most) of the copyright lawsuits on a regular basis. I have seen many cases get dismissed; I have seen many cases get severed leaving only one John Doe defendant — but I have never seen a judgment against an individual John Doe torrent downloader from these lawsuits.

Of course I must point out that there are a few example cases made by the Recording Industry Association of America (“RIAA”) which I wrote about a few months ago where one woman was handed a $1.5 million dollar judgment for seeding (sharing) over twenty .mp3 music files. In addition, there were the Napster, Grokster, and related cases which lost a few years back. However, as for media companies getting judgments against individual John Doe defendants in these mass copyright infringement lawsuits? I have not seen even one.

However, as per the plaintiff attorneys in these copyright cases, it has always been their position that they intend to go after individuals in their home states. However, if you read my most recent article (towards the bottom), you will see the obstacles they face in going after every one of the individuals dismissed in their previous lawsuits. I have quoted the relevant portion below.

“Now what does this mean for our firm’s clients? In short, all defendants were dismissed and severed. What this means is that if the plaintiff attorneys wish to continue the lawsuit, they will have to file against each of the six thousand defendants individually. They will need to draft complaints specific to each defendant alleging infringement of their client’s copyrights — each one is extremely time consuming. They will have to get admitted (pro hac vice) in the local court in which each defendant lives, or they will have to find local counsel in each state each defendant lives and they will have to hire that local counsel to file the paperwork on their behalf. They will have to learn and follow the local court rules, they will have to pay the filing fees for each defendant (~$350) they sue, and they will have to properly serve each defendant.

Then us attorneys will begin defending the cases, and we will begin conducting discovery and making them attend depositions, answer interrogatories, and prove their case. I would think this would be difficult for them to do with just a few defendants. I can imagine this would be nearly impossible to do with 6,000+ defendants.

But, I’m sure if asked, they will probably post some news article expressing their determination to go after each and every defendant, and I wish them well.” (Emphasis added.)

As a side note the defendants in the above quoted article were not severed, they were outright dismissed. This has ramifications for the plaintiff attorneys and it will affect how they are able to proceed in suing defendants individually.

Lastly, regarding the blitz of articles many of you have been referring to (on arstechnica, on digitalmediawire, etc. — example here) — if you read the news articles carefully, there is no indication that a new wave of individual lawsuits are being filed. (Obviously taking note of a few “test the water” cases, one example described here). These articles, along with their source article on CNET News state that the owner of Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver is “driving to the court right now…” Very exciting and newsworthy, but no proof of a new and pervasive business model of filing against individual defendants.

I have no doubt that in the coming months, we will transition from fighting procedure (no jurisdiction, improper joinder) to fighting actual evidentiary issues, but we are FAR from being there yet. John Steele is still messing around with trying to move forward with a reverse class action suit (article here), and if he succeeds, I’m sure the other law firms and media companies will copy his methodology and will first try their hand at John Steele’s new business model before scaling down what was (and for the time being, still is) their profitable mass copyright lawsuit business model to going after individual defendants. This current business model of joining hundreds, if not thousands of internet downloaders into one lawsuit is failing in the courts because of inherent procedural defects, but the model itself is not yet a failure. From what I hear, there is a huge settlement rate (e.g., I heard that 90% of defendants get scared into settling before even talking to a lawyer), and so for as long as they can continue to scare defendants into settling, their business model will remain a success.

I cannot see, however, the profitability of going after an individual for any other reason than to attempt to secure a few example cases in their favor. I have no doubt that even if they were successful in suing individual downloaders (an outcome which I doubt would be the case if the defendants hired competent attorneys to fight their case rather than going pro se), the media companies would never collect a penny from the defendants because in all likelihood, any defendant hit with a $150,000 judgment will immediately be hiring a taxi to drive them to the nearest bankruptcy court, followed by dinner at an expensive restaurant.

In short, beware of what you read online. Check your information from all sites against the simple facts, filings, and pleadings of the case which are publicly available to those who want to do their homework.

4,437 FAR CRY LAWSUIT DEFENDANTS DISMISSED.

I had a number of clients who were sued by the DGW attorneys for the Far Cry lawsuit. As of today, they are no longer defendants.

Today is a victory that belongs to you, the internet community. You fought against those who used the legal system as a tool to solicit and elicit settlement payments from you without providing evidence to support their claims against you. Today you won.

I anticipate that other cases will have similar results, and that the plaintiff attorneys will regroup and will strategize a new and cost-effective means of moving forward against you. Perhaps they will go after each one of you individually in your own courts. This would be costly for them, and would require that they reach into jurisdictions in which they are not admitted to practice law. Perhaps they will find ways to group future lawsuits into smaller numbers or classes and proceed that way.

However they move forward, we will be there for you.

Warm regards,
Rob Cashman
Cashman Law Firm, PLLC

The irony of sharing pleadings of current copyright infringement cases… by torrent.

[7/22/2011 UPDATE: As services such as PACER, RECAP The Law, and RFC Express have become widely available, tracking cases and viewing filings online have become available for everyone to do.  Thus, I am no longer uploading case documents to the bittorrent networks.]

It has been disturbing to me that a number of websites have been misreporting the success rates of motions to quash in copyright violation cases. I’ve seen more than a few make references to “David versus Goliath” when it comes to the massive copyright enforcement law firms trying to make examples of one or more attorneys who assist their clients in filing motions to quash subpoenas served on their internet service providers. These web sites talk about the successes achieved in “clogging” the court system with filings, with the intent that the court will be unable to function — and they put all the blame on the plaintiff lawfirms who have been filing complaints naming hundreds and often thousands of defendants at a time.

I decided to correct the record and share my understanding how MOTIONS TO QUASH have not been working. After receiving around fifty pieces of hate mail being called all sorts of names, one level-headed reader asked if I would be willing to “prove it” by showing that people have not been achieving success with their motion filings.

When I suggested sharing with them the very case dockets for the Hurt Locker lawsuit and the Far Cry lawsuit, one very brilliant 2600 user suggested that I upload a torrent with the case dockets and the individual filings. Since there is nothing illegal about making proper use of a torrent, and since the filings I’d be putting together are public documents and are already available online on various web sites, I thought, “why not?”

So, I put together and seeded a torrent containing most of the 143 pleadings of the Far Cry lawsuit and almost all of the pleadings in the Hurt Locker lawsuit (surprisingly there were far fewer of them), and I published them on bittorrent sites such as KickAssTorrents.com, BTJunkie.com, Monova.com, and MiniNova.com (now one of the “legitimate” sources of bittorrent downloads). I even made mention of which pleadings included the motions for sanctions against attorney Graham Syfert, a Jacksonville attorney who sold self-help forms and I included the new class action lawsuit in Massachusetts where the copyright enforcement plaintiff and the originator of so many thousands of internet users evening woes is named as a defendant in a very awe inspiring lawsuit that caused a jaw-dropping effect when I read their complaint.

All this can be found in the following torrent links:
http://btjunkie.org/torrent/Cashman-Law-Firm-Hurt-Locker-Far-Cry-Copyright-Infringement-Lawsuit-Dockets-as-of-11-29-2010/4432fb4442c1b62918eec591b31594220f8766ce84f1

and

http://www.kickasstorrents.com/cashman-law-firm-hurt-locker-far-cry-copyright-infringement-lawsuit-dockets-as-of-11-29-2010-t4758231.html

There is something ironic about a “legal” torrent which is indeed legal both in its contents and in its legality. I cannot help but to smile thinking about how a torrent listing pleadings from well-known copyright infringement lawsuits is being seeded over the internet by torrent, and it is listed on sites known for containing illegal copyright-infringing torrents. There is justice in the world.

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