What is going on in the District of Columbia (DC) with their bittorrent cases?

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Everyone knows by now that DC is not a friendly jurisdiction to be sued in. Like Washington D.C., the judges do not follow one another, and each judge does what he or she feels should be policy. Two examples — Judge Beryl Howell, a copyright lobbyist turned federal judge, and Judge Bates — friendly towards downloaders (but subsequently removed by other judges from the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case).  As far as I am concerned, this court is wrought with as much politics as Washington D.C. is in general.

So let’s go through some case updates, sorted by plaintiff attorney.

I) DUNLAP GRUBB & WEAVER, PLLC

Imperial Enterprises v. Does 1-3,545 (Case No. 1:11-cv-00529) [at one point it was Imperial Enterprises, Inc. v. Does 1-3,145] — dead. On 9/26, Judge Reggie Walton ordered the plaintiffs to name and serve or dismiss defendants or dismiss them [according to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“F.R.C.P.”), Rule 4(m)] by 12/20/2011. Instead of naming defendants, Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC (who sends out settlement demand letters under the name “Media Law Group” or “MLG”) decided to dismiss all defendants. Case dismissed; congratulations to all Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants (and all others) who were Doe Defendants in this case. See order here.

Voltage Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-24,582
, a.k.a., “the Hurt Locker case” (Case No. 1:10-cv-00873) [at one point it was Voltage Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-5,000]dead. This one was actually funny. On 11/4, Judge Beryl Howell got tired of this case being on her docket. So she gave Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC (“DGW”) until 12/5 (extended to 12/12) to name and serve defendants or to dismiss them (again, the judge invoked F.R.C.P. Rule 4(m) to wipe what became a stale case off her docket).  However, DGW missed the deadline, and instead of having the judge dismiss the case, they dismissed it themselves to save themselves the embarrassment of having yet another case dismissed for them failing to move forward against defendants.

Regarding this plaintiff attorney, I received word that they were gearing up to sue individual defendants in their home states. This is nothing new as they have already started “naming” defendants for their older dismissed cases. More recently, I received word that they are hiring local attorneys and following the Patrick Collins, Inc. model of stating to dismissed defendants, “we have hired XYZ attorney in your state — unless you settle with us, we will name you in a lawsuit in your state.” The problem here is I have reason to believe they’ll follow up with the lawsuits.

There are some other “conspiracy” issues regarding this plaintiff, namely that they sent subpoena letters demanding names and contact information for various John Doe Defendants *AFTER* dismissing their IP addresses and releasing them from the case. This was written up by Torrentfreak.com, and you can read up about it here.  (NOTE: After the ISPs refused to hand over subscriber information, they added the IP address back into the lawsuit — something I don’t think they were allowed to do — but these Doe Defendants have since been dismissed as well and now they are receiving “scare” letters now as we speak.)

II) STEELE | HANSMEIER, PLLC (NOW PRENDA LAW INC.)

As we know, a few months back, Steele Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law Inc.) ventured into the DC District doing some “forum shopping” with their Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) and their AF Holdings, Inc. v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274) cases — having been essentially locked out of their own Illinois jurisdiction, they were looking for a few favorable rulings based on DC’s “plaintiff-friendly” reputation in the bittorrent cases of the past year (they have since found a happier home filing suits in the Florida / Miami Dade state courts). In these cases was the first appearance of Paul Duffy who has since taken over Steele’s position in the firm (yes, it appears as if he is out).

AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274) has survived scrutiny without a hiccup as Prenda has been “pretending” to search and see which defendants lived in DC. To make their searches appear valid, they immediately started dismissing a bunch of defendants a few at a time (“NOTICE of Voluntary Dismissal re Does 1-8,” “…Does 9-15,” “…Does 16-35,” “…Does 36-65” — what I do not understand is, “Hasn’t Judge Reggie Walton figured out their game yet?” After all, it appears to me as if none of the defendants [so far] live in DC. And, they filed the complaint in JULY 2011! Did it REALLY take them 5 MONTHS to figure out that the first 65 defendants did not live in DC? I could have done this in just a few minutes using known geolocation tools). In short, Judge Reggie Walton is allowing this to move forward for now, but he is not stupid. My prediction is that he is going to bust this case using FRCP 4(m) any time now.

Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) is the case that is filled with controversy. It was in this case where Judge Bates figured out that most of the defendants did not live within the jurisdiction of the DC court. He invited Doe Defendants to file motions to quash and promised that he would keep their information sealed and private. My first inclination when I saw this was “watch out! — DC does not keep sealed documents as private — as soon as they deny the motions to quash, they expose the defendants’ information when denying the motions.”  Then a few days later, as we wrote about here, whether for political reasons or from pressure from the other judges, Judge Bates was removed from the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does case and he was replaced by Judge Facciola, someone who in my estimation was not friendly towards bittorrent defendants. For weeks, we saw nothing from him — no indication as to whether he would honor Judge Bates’ offer to submit motions to quash anonymously, or whether he would summarily deny them. I suspected he would deny them in line with DC’s past strong stance AGAINST motions to quash.

Well, I am sad to share that Judge Facciola ended up being exactly who I thought he was. In his 12/21 ruling, he reversed everything Judge Bates was trying to do when he wrote in his order that “I will not consider any motion unless it is publicly filed.” In other words, unless you use your real information in your motion to quash (e.g., your real name, address, phone number, etc. — the exact information the plaintiff attorneys are looking for in order to start sending you “scare” letters and calling you with the effect of scaring you into a settlement), Facciola’s court will not consider your sealed motions to quash as Bates promised they would.  It need not be said that when you file a motion to quash, everybody can see it as the filing is a public document. However, Judge Facciola does not care about your privacy interests, nor does he care if plaintiff attorneys receive your private information, because according to him, “[i]ndividuals who subscribe to the internet through ISPs simply have no expectation of privacy in their subscriber information.” (emphasis added) I wonder when the last time an ISP allowed a subscriber to open an account without the subscriber’s personal information.

In sum, expect this case to move forward like all the others. We appear to have a copyright-troll friendly judge here, so please prepare yourselves to have your private information handed out to your plaintiff attorneys by your ISPs; until now, I expect that they haven’t done so. I would love to give you good news here, but so far there is no indication this is going away any time soon — at least not until Prenda Law Inc. gets its payday.

Thousands of John Doe Defendants Quietly Dismissed!

In a flick of the wrist and a slight of hand letter to the court, plaintiffs Dunlapp, Grubb, & Weaver (“DGW”) have possibly dismissed more accused John Doe defendants than ever before in the history of these bittorrent lawsuits. In a letter to the court titled a “Consolidated Status Report Pursuant To The Court’s Direction of 3/1/2011,” the plaintiff attorneys have dismissed* almost every defendant in almost every one of their mass copyright infringement lawsuits.

*I will explain below what I mean by dismissed, because I am not using the term in its conventional use. A more proper term for what they have done is that they have “dumped” these defendants rather than having them dismissed and released from the lawsuit.

The cases in which John Doe defendants have been affected are:

Call of the Wild Movie, LLC v. Does 1-1,062 (1:10-cv-004455-BAH)
Maverick Entertainment Group, Inc. v. Does 1-4,350 (1:10-cv-00569-BAH)
Voltage Pictures, LLC v. Does 1-5,000 (1:10-cv-00873-BAH), and
Donkeyball Movie, LLC v. Does 1-171 (1:10-cv-01520-BAH).

– NOTE: the “BAH” at the end of the case names is a recent change in the case names. When checking your case to determine whether this applies to you, just look at the 1:10-cv-“XXXXX” number and compare it to the case number you received from your ISP to determine whether this is your case.

This is a huge victory to our clients and those of the 10,000+ defendants that have been dismissed. No doubt we will be sending letters of congratulations to our clients in these cases in the coming days.

Now a little about these cases. These were what I like to call the initial “monster” cases, filed by DGW. They were the cases where thousands of John Doe defendants were sued, regardless of whether the courts had jurisdiction or not. These cases were also filed prior to the 6,000 Larry Flint Productions (LFP Internet Group, LLC) cases in the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas and other cases (e.g., Far Cry) were severed and dismissed for improperly joining defendants in one John Doe lawsuit. In addition, these cases were more famously known as “the Hurt Locker” case, “The Call of the Wild” case, among other more famous titles.

As you can read by the filing, the plaintiff attorneys have determined that there is nobody to name in these cases, and thus they have determined to dump the defendant pool as a whole and rethink their strategy.

If you are a former defendant in this case, firstly we congratulate you. This is a big victory. However, with every victory comes a bit of bitterness. Here, the plaintiffs have determined on their own to not proceed with the current pool of defendants, which means that they have a few years from the alleged date of infringement to sue these defendants individually or as smaller groups in their home states.

On top of this, this is not an explicit dismissal, as a voluntary dismissal of all defendants would be. Here, the plaintiff attorneys have simply mentioned that they are not going to “name” defendants (see our article here to understand what it means to be “named”). In addition, it is not an order of severance by the judge dismissing all defendants. It is simply a “heads up” letting the court know they won’t be going after the various defendants.

This is good, with three caveats:

Firstly. Their note only refers to defendants where the ISP has handed their subscriber information over to the plaintiff attorneys. Defendants whose information has not yet been shared (e.g., my more recent clients in the past few weeks) are likely not included in this declaration of theirs because the ISPs have not yet given over their information to the plaintiff attorneys.

Secondly. The plaintiff attorneys can still sue all of these defendants in the US District Courts for the district where the defendants live. (You can read more about the likelihood of them doing this in this article.)

Thirdly. These cases are still alive! After filing this memo, the plaintiff attorneys proceeded to file a memo why a number of motions to quash the subpoena should be denied. They also filed an opposition motion asking the judge to deny these motions to quash. So the cases themselves are still alive and for the time being, well.

In closing. To those John Doe defendants and the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been sitting around for months, feel free to breathe easy for now. I will continue monitoring these cases for changes, but you should feel comfortable considering yourselves dismissed. The numbers are certainly on your side and while the risk of being sued individually is always present, the likelihood of hearing from the plaintiff attorneys ever again is very low.

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.

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