Are you guilty if pirates use your internet?

I was very impressed to see TorrentFreak.com write two articles entitled, “Are You Guilty If Pirates Use Your Internet? Lawyer Says NO,” and “Are You Guilty If Pirates Use Your Internet? Lawyer Says YES,” respectively.

Up front, I commend both attorneys Randazza and Ranallo for their contributions to these articles. Too many people are falling prey to these bittorrent lawsuits, and it is about time some on each side voice their opinions.

In short, my take on the two articles. Starting with the “NO” article found here, I thought Ranallo’s brief was well written, but it felt, well, brief. As far as I was concerned, while I certainly commend attorney Ranallo for his well written opinion (and for putting himself out there), the article was significantly lacking as far as what is actually going on in these cases. In addition, he COMPLETELY glossed over discussing DIRECT INFRINGEMENT which is what 99.999% of you are accused of. Unlike the 1932 tugboat case referenced in Randazza’s opposing article (“YES”), there has grown some relevant case law in the various severances and dismissals that have already happened BOTH LAST YEAR AND THIS YEAR.

For example, joinder. Many courts have held that it is improper to sue multiple defendants in the same lawsuit (e.g., Plaintiff v. Does 1-500) who did not take part in the same torrent swarm or who did not download the same torrent file. On top of that, EFF.org has been screaming “personal jurisdiction!” since these cases started showing up, and they are correct. For the most part, many (if not most) defendants who are sued DO NOT LIVE IN THE STATE IN WHICH THE LAWSUIT IS BROUGHT, (and bringing a bit of current law from the 2nd District [not binding on other courts] into the mix,) NOR ARE MANY OF THE LAWSUITS BROUGHT IN THE STATE WHICH IS THE PLAINTIFF’S PRINCIPAL PLACE OF BUSINESS. In short, these cases suffer because plaintiffs sue defendants in the wrong court and thus in a number of cases, there is no personal jurisdiction over the putative defendants.

There was so much more that was missing from Ranallo’s brief, but I suppose he was most concerned about just stating basic copyright law rather than fighting our side of these bittorrent cases. For example, he completely missed the high likelihood of a defendant succeeding if a digital forensics expert (paid for by the plaintiffs and/or their attorneys) examines a defendants computer and finds 1) no infringing file, and 2) no spoliation [formatting/wiping] of evidence after having notice of the lawsuit. People seem to gloss over that one too. In short, if a defendant didn’t do the crime, they shouldn’t do the time (here, paying the plaintiff their settlement amounts). These topics often don’t get discussed in the context of these lawsuits because so far, they have not been going to trial.

Now for the “YES” article found here. In short, Marc Randazza brought forth a well-written viewpoint that internet users who do not lock down their internet connections (e.g., with WEP or WPA2 encryption) are negligent and they deserve what comes to them through their ignorance. In short, the negligence theory as applicable to these cases states that an internet user 1) has a DUTY to lock down their internet connection [so far not true], 2) the internet BREACHED that duty by leaving his wi-fi router “open” (e.g.,without a password), 3) because the internet user did not lock down his connection, he CAUSED the plaintiff’s damage [again, not true], and 4) whether and how much the copyright holder suffered DAMAGES from the internet user’s lack of a secured wi-fi connection.

In short (and in response), the negligence argument assumes there is a DUTY to lock down your wireless access point (as noted). As a side note, as far as a duty is imputed to internet users, I’ve seen a few plaintiff attorneys argue that some ISP TOS agreements now require users to put a password on their wi-fi routers, but I have yet to see any proof of these myself. Plus, as far as I know, there have been NO court cases indicating that there is a DUTY to lock down one’s wi-fi access point.  As far as imposing a duty where none existed in the statutes, citing back to a 1932 tugboat case is a stretch at best, but point taken. We will see whether the courts impose a duty to lock down an internet user’s connection. Then again, if that ever becomes the case, then routers will come with WPA2 encryption active as the default setting with custom passwords, especially since the older forms of encryption can be cracked by anyone knowing how to look up “WEP cracking” on Google. If this ever becomes the case (and it would be a dark world if we were not permitted to share our connections with others, note EFF’s Open Wireless Movement,) we’ll have a fun time joining the ISPs as defendants because last I checked, it is their technicians and not the computer illiterate subscribers who set up routers in the first place.

In sum, two good and well written articles.  Do either cover the topics which relate directly to the copyright infringement lawsuits currently pending?  Not really.  Copyright infringement has more of a dry way of looking at whether an internet user is guilty of copyright infringement, and neither side addressed those issues.  That being said, it was still fun reading the articles and no doubt they will attract a lot of attention over the coming weeks.

Being accused of file sharing is NO LAUGHING MATTER.

To my readers:

A few days ago, Wall Street Journal reported that a Minneapolis federal court found Jammie Thomas-Rasset guilty of violating copyright law.  Jammie is a single mother.  The court ordered that she pay $1.5 million for sharing 24 songs over the internet.  The plaintiff was the Recording Industry Association of America (“RIAA”).

I’m posting this piece of information to impress upon those contacting our law firm — the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC — that contrary to what you’ll read on the forums, the threat of being sued is real.  This is just one example of a case where the accused internet user likely read about low settlement amounts, and when the RIAA offered her a $25,000 settlement [where the proceeds of that settlement would go to a music-related charity fund], she rejected that offer because she didn’t believe such a lawsuit could happen to her.

I want to point out that judgement is for sharing a number of SONGS.  Our potential clients are looking to defend against downloading MOVIES.  Think for a moment about the seriousness of this.  Lucas Entertainment, Far Cry, and the Hurt Locker subpoena requests are all claiming the same violation of the same copyright law that was enforced against Jammie Thomas-Rasset just last week.

When someone calls me and balks at the prospect of paying a few thousand dollars to settle a MOVIE copyright violation, I scratch my head and wonder if they realize what they are up against.

With the representation the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC provides our clients, before we suggest that our client consider paying anything, we insist that the media company demonstrate that they have evidence linking our clients to the accused infringing download.

It also goes without saying that simply informing the media companies that their accused potential defendant is represented by an attorney, the media company is put on notice to only contact the attorney and not the client.  By doing this, they are forced to adhere to the state and federal debt collection statutes, and the consumer statutes protecting the accused from any deceptive statements that might be given to an unrepresented accused internet user.  Lastly, when writing the settlement, we make sure the release that accompanies the settlement contains language that prevents the media company from using the settlement as an admission of guilt and turning around and suing the internet downloader for the SAME DOWNLOAD they just paid to settle.  It sounds unthinkable, but remember, it is the internet service provider (the ISP) who is served with a subpoena request demanding that they turn over their subscribers’ records.  Once the media companies have this information, they immediately contact the to-be defendants and solicit a settlement.  Remember, they do this without naming the defendant in the lawsuit.  The settlement does not stop the company from coming after the defendant again in a formal lawsuit (using the settlement agreement as an admission of illegal activity).

In short, as twisted as this might sound, this is the reality of what is going on.  Be careful out there.  Hire an attorney and properly defend yourself.  Play their negotiation game, and hope that they either drop the charges or offer an amicable settlement.  When they do, be reasonable.  Many would-be clients are kicking themselves for not spending $12 at the theater, or paying a Netflix membership when they had the chance.  Now they must deal with this, and it is unfortunate.

However, ALWAYS REMEMBER that the goal is to avoid the lawsuit being filed against you.  Because if a lawsuit is filed in your jurisdiction accusing a copyright violation, it is no laughing matter.

Warm regards,
Rob Cashman

Hurt Locker Prosecution Team Suing Internet Downloaders… Again.

…I’ve been hearing through the grapevine that the Hurt Locker copyright prosecution team has begun their next wave of lawsuits.  Internet users will be shortly receiving a subpoena from their attorneys accusing them of downloading this movie.

Nothing to do yet, at this point, the prosecution only wants your information so that they can contact you to elicit a settlement to deprive you of your hard-earned cash without a trial.  Again remember — they haven’t named you in their lawsuit, nor is the settlement they are proposing a settlement to a lawsuit they have filed against you.  They are trying to circumvent that step in the legal process and skip to where you pay them to go away.  Has anyone heard another term for this sort of activity?  It starts with an e.

Through the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC, we are telling these thugs to back off and to follow the law.  We are also sending letters to various political operatives attempting to get them to change the law with regard to the way it is being applied (or misused) to charge users of committing crimes without filing suit in a court of law.  There is no such thing as an extrajudicial hearing, and the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” has not changed.

Regardless of whether you obtain an attorney to defend your copyright infringement case (and there are MANY reasons for doing so), remember that the burden of proof is on them to prove their case before you bring one iota of evidence.  At this point, some unrepresented parties are answering their questions and giving them forensic data to their computer and their hard drives to prove they are not guilty of that particular crime.  Forensic computer experts have caught the scent of this game as well and have started up’ing their prices.

Again, at this point, they have only contacted your ISP asking for your  information.  While it is to your benefit to hire an attorney so that you are not “low hanging fruit,” so to speak, remember that there is nothing to defend against and provide evidence for because YOU HAVE NOT BEEN NAMED AS A DEFENDANT AND THUS YOU HAVE NOT YET BEEN SUED.

“What Happens Now That the ISP Subpoena Date Has Passed?” – an update for those accused of downloading illegal movies, music, or software.

One of the interesting niche areas of law that the Cashman Law Firm practices is Cyberlaw, where we protect internet users against companies who accuse them of copyright infringement based on illegally downloaded movies, music, and software.

A few weeks ago, a number of lawsuits have been filed where the plaintiffs (e.g., Lucas Entertainment, Inc.) have filed subpoena requests against a few hundred or in some cases a few thousand potential defendants, amicably called “John Doe #XXX.” Their intent was to have the internet service provider (ISP) turn over their subscribers’ information so that they can contact them directly to elicit a multi-thousand-dollar settlement for the illegal file(s) that were downloaded based on the internet user’s account or IP address.

Many of these subpoena deadlines have since passed, and now internet users who have been caught downloading are asking me what happens now.

Being that a majority of ISPs have clauses since the September, 11th 2001 World Trade Center attacks and the Patriot Act that followed which allow the ISPs to turn over subscriber information to third parties, regardless of the subscriber’s attempts to suppress the subpoena with what is called a motion to quash, it is likely that many ISPs have nevertheless turned over user information to these companies.

The next step is for the movie and music companies to do an analysis of which downloaders are easy targets, e.g., “low hanging fruits,” and which will be more difficult to approach. Because of the high cost in attorney fees in order to track down and contact the accused downloaders, they will likely classify users into groups — those that are unrepresented by an attorney, those that may have a defense (e.g., the download was from a cybercafe or some IP address where they will have difficulty proving that it was that user at that keyboard at that IP address linked to the download of that movie (or music file or piece of software), and last, those that will be difficult to approach [likely because they are represented by an attorney].

Once they are finished with the analysis, the phone calls, letters, and threats will start. They will first call those they believe will not defend themselves and they will collect the maximum settlement amount. Those that pose some threat to them (e.g., they have a defense), they will likely be offered a lower settlement amount (which the attorneys will claim will be significantly cheaper to accept and pay rather than defend themselves in a lawsuit, even if they are found not guilty). Last, but not least, those that are represented by an attorney will likely be contacted last, as the competent cyberlaw attorney will be aware of the law and defenses which would hinder them from collecting a settlement from their clients. Additionally, the attorney will force them to adhere to the law and he will know what acts and statements would be considered deceptive, threatening, or in violation of consumer protection laws. Because the other side knows that they can be quickly and effectively sued by the attorney if they err in attempting to collect a settlement from a potential defendant (and not an actual defendant, because in most cases they will try to extract a settlement without even filing a lawsuit).

This appears to be the state of affairs as they are right now with a number of the copyright infringement cases that are currently in progress. Obviously they could start contacting potential defendants to elicit a settlement as soon as tomorrow, or they could gather evidence and wait until the potential defendant has lost any records of a defense they would have asserted up to the statute of limitations period (this would likely be defendable based on a laches or similar defense). Similarly, they may go after each defendant WITHOUT doing an analysis separating out those that would be difficult to collect from from those who would be easy to collect from. We cannot know what goes on behind closed doors, but this would be bad business for them, so an accused internet user must assume that they will measure his ability to defend himself, and he must assume they will take into consideration whether there is a lawyer defending him or whether he is unprotected.

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