As a quick recap, the Dallas Buyers Club, LLC piracy lawsuits started in Texas and Ohio, and like a cancer, over the past year they have metastasized into the federal courts of Illinois, Florida, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and even Hawaii. Copyright lawyers employed by Dallas Buyers Club have even moved their copyright enforcement activities offshore into Canada, Australia, Finland, Denmark, and Japan.
Regardless of where they go, their business model is the same — Voltage Pictures, LLC or Dallas Buyers Club, LLC files a peer-to-peer lawsuit alleging copyright infringement against multiple John Doe Defendants (generally referred to by plaintiffs as “pirates”), they convince a federal judge to rubber-stamp a subpoena demanding that the ISP turn over the contact information of the accused account holders unless the accused account holders file what is known as a “motion to quash.” The target of the subpoena is almost always the account holder, implying that the account holder is the actual downloader or infringer who downloaded the Dallas Buyers Club (2013) movie. The plaintiff attorney then sends one or multiple settlement demand letters to the accused downloaders in each case threatening that each will be “named and served” as a defendant in the lawsuit unless they pay a settlement of thousands of dollars (settlement requests average $3,500 to $6,500 [and in one case, $14,000, really?] depending on the state in which the lawsuit is filed).
Where the settlement demand letters blur the line of ethics is that many plaintiff attorneys employ scare tactics, making the John Doe Defendant believe that the lawsuit has already been filed against them personally. Various attorneys have sent accused downloaders “waiver of service” forms and questionnaires along with their settlement demand letters suggesting that the not-yet-named-defendants answer these questions voluntarily, or that they waive service effectively negating the need for the plaintiff attorney to name and serve them as a defendant.
What bothers me is that because Dallas Buyers Club is not an “adult film” copyright infringement lawsuit (but rather, a “real” movie with a valid copyright and without the stigma of being an adult film), the federal judges are giving them leeway to move in and out of the federal courts to “enforce” their copyrights. In U.S. copyright law, there is a legal presumption of validity, which means that a judge will initially lean towards favoring the copyright owner until that copyright owner has been shown to be abusing the legal process through a pattern of abuse. Attorneys for copyright holders who represent the plaintiff generally (in our blog and in the eyes of the courts) get increased scrutiny because they have represented other copyright holders in similar lawsuits employing the same strategy of “sue and settle, but try not to name and serve [and if you do, bluff to the judge that you are prepared to go to trial on the merits of the case].”
These lawyers who file Dallas Buyers Club lawsuits (these are those who sue defendants, NOT those who defend defendants) include a growing list of attorneys, such as: Keith Vogt (Texas), Michael Hierl (Illinois), David Stephenson Jr. (Colorado), Eric Osterberg (Connecticut), Richard Fee (Florida), Paul Nicoletti (Michigan), Carl Crowell (Oregon), Leon Bass (Ohio), and Gregory Ferren (Hawaii).
Many of these names are familiar to those who have followed our “copyright troll” / bittorrent lawsuit blogs over the years, and we often see these names representing one copyright holder after another in the same fashion. Regardless of who the lawyer is, be aware of the motivation of the Dallas Buyers Club lawsuits — to create a ‘windfall’ profit for the company by pursuing those who download the movie without authorization, and to scare and intimidate the accused downloaders into paying large settlement amounts to avoid defending the claims against them in court.
Related: Dallas Buyers Club launches post-Oscar copyright salvo, sues 615 Does (ArsTechnica)
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