Prenda Appellate Saga Comes To An End

Congratulation to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants who will soon be dismissed from the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,058 (Case No. 1:12-cv-00048) case filed TWO YEARS AGO in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Seeing that the appellate (circuit) court came out with a ruling this afternoon, I read the circuit court’s ruling with fervor thinking that I was about to write an article entitled “the jig is up, no more copyright trolling lawsuits.” Well, I am underwhelmed.

If you remember the Judge Beryl Howell CREATES A SPLIT in the DC Court article I wrote back in August, 2012, at the time, thousands of “John Doe” Defendants from across the U.S. were being sued in the US District Court in DC, and Judge Beryl Howell was in favor of allowing the mass bittorrent lawsuits to continue in DC, even though other district court judges [not former copyright lobbyists for the Recording Industry Association of America] (notably, Judge Wilkins, now a United States Circuit Judge) wrote opinions questioning the validity of mass bittorrent lawsuits. As a result of this, now almost two year later, we have a circuit court ruling resolving the question of whether “personal jurisdiction” and/or “joinder” are relevant questions for a court to investigate before it signs an order invoking the “machinery of the courts” to force a non-party ISP to comply with a subpoena [asking for them to turn over the private contact information of each subscriber implicated as a “John Doe”].

Judge David Tatel [writing for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit] wrote a few pointers that we already knew, and in my opinion, the circuit court’s ruling is two years, too late. The ruling is essentially that a court may justifiably force a plaintiff “copyright troll” to establish that it has PERSONAL JURISDICTION over the John Doe Defendants who are implicated in the lawsuit BEFORE it allows that copyright troll to obtain [through discovery] the list of names and addresses belonging to the internet subscribers. His opinion, however, resolves ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the hundreds of smaller John Doe (e.g., v. Does 1-20) lawsuits filling the courts’ dockets across the U.S., where the “copyright troll” plaintiffs have figured out that “you sue a defendant where a defendant lives.”

Next point. When requesting the subscribers’ contact information from an ISP, the plaintiffs purpose must be to gather this information for use in THIS LAWSUIT, and not for other proceedings or other lawsuits. Good luck enforcing this one. I have no doubt that we will still see defendants dismissed from one “v. Does 1-20” lawsuit, only to be named and served in his own “v. John Doe” lawsuit. This happens every day. Also, good luck stopping a copyright troll from calling up dismissed defendants and saying, “unless you settle with us, we will name and serve you in your own lawsuit.”

Then after glossing over the “you must sue a defendant in the state in which he lives” rule, thirteen pages later, Judge Tatel discusses joinder (who can be sued together as co-defendants in a lawsuit).

I thought the joinder discussion would be juicy, but it was vague and vanilla, and it lacked explanation. The ruling was essentially that “you can only sue John Doe Defendants together in one lawsuit as long as they were part of the same bittorrent swarm.” This precludes plaintiffs who often sue defendants who did the same “crime” of downloading copyrighted films using bittorrent, but they did so days or weeks apart. In mentioning what is considered the “same bittorrent swarm,” the judge mentioned ABSOLUTELY NOTHING as to what the scope of a bittorrent swarm is, and how long one lasts — whether a swarm continues for minutes, days, or weeks at a time — and who is properly connected in a bittorrent swarm to be sued together in a lawsuit.

All I pulled from his discussion is that “if Tom and Dick were downloading at the same time, they can be sued together in a lawsuit; joinder here would be proper.” However, if Tom finished downloading and logged off five minutes before Dick logged on, would this be considered the “same transaction or occurrence” to allow the two of them to be sued together? What happens if Tom finishes downloading and logs off, and by the time Dick logged on to the bittorrent swarm, everyone who was part of that swarm [e.g., all 10 or 20 people] also logged off and new people logged on. If Dick is downloading from a completely different group of downloaders than the group who was online when Tom was downloading, but they downloaded five minutes apart, is this the same bittorrent swarm or a different bittorrent swarm? The judge provided ABSOLUTELY NO ANSWER as to the scope of a bittorrent swarm, so we are still left with uncertainty.

…So you see why I am underwhelmed. The ruling was essentially, “personal jurisdiction, bla bla blah, joinder, blah blah blah.” I learned nothing new from this, and yet the media is jumping all over this as if it is some kind of jewel. NOTHING NEW HAPPENED HERE.

Putting all of this in perspective, if you think about only the issue that Judge Beryl Howell wanted the appellate court to answer, “whether personal jurisdiction and joinder are relevant in a discovery request to obtain information about not-yet-named ‘John Doe’ defendants who are identified merely by their accused IP addresses,” Judge Tatel did exactly what he needed to. He correctly answered, “yes, personal jurisdiction and joinder are relevant when the plaintiff attorneys ‘attempts to use the machinery of the courts to force a party to comply with its discovery demands.'”

Thus, when a copyright troll files a lawsuit against unnamed John Doe defendants, and they seek discovery to force an ISP to comply with a discovery request (e.g., a subpoena forcing them to hand over the contact information of the accused subscriber affiliated with that accused IP Address), issues such as personal jurisdiction and joinder ARE ripe for inquiry before the court grants the copyright troll permission to subpoena the ISP, forcing them to hand over the contact information of the accused “John Doe” defendants.


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“Swarm joinder theory” & “Judicial Economy” ruling refuted.

Add Missouri to the list of states unfriendly to copyright trolls. And, congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been severed and dismissed from the Purzel Video GMBH v. Does 1-91 (Case No. 4:12-cv-02292) lawsuit!

Now what was exciting about this Purzel Video GMBH case ruling was U.S. District Judge Audrery Fleissig’s 1) refutation of the “judicial economy” justification for joinder, and 2) her clarification of the relationship between bittorrent users for joinder purposes (and similarly, what she left open for future rulings by referring to bittorrent transfers as mere “pieces”).

Courts in other federal jurisdictions which allow multiple defendants to be sued together in bittorrent cases (pro-joinder jurisdictions) allow joinder of non-related defendants based on the fact that it is easier to have one “John Doe 1-500” case with five hundred (500) defendants in it rather than to have five hundred “single John Doe” lawsuits. The defendants in these cases are all accused of violating the same copyright laws; the defendants are all accused of using bittorrent to download the same title; the courts are all deciding the same issues for each defendant — whether the court has “personal jurisdiction” over each defendant (whether the plaintiffs sued defendants in the wrong state, depriving that federal court of personal jurisdiction over each John Doe Defendant), and whether the defendants are properly joined together as co-defendants in the same lawsuit.

I suspect that Judge Flessig caught on to the extortion scheme, and she made her ruling with the understanding that everything in the above justifications for “judicial economy” is true… if the plaintiffs are running a settlement extortion scheme. However, if the plaintiffs indeed intend in good faith to move forward with their case “on the merits,” then as the judge points out, the “judicial economy” approach falls apart.

The rule now in Missouri federal courts (binding on other Missouri cases, persuasive in non-Missouri cases) is that suing multiple defendants in a “John Doe 1-X” lawsuit is improper because of the prejudice to the co-defendants and the confusion that will result *if* the plaintiffs actually have a good faith intent on pursuing their claims (e.g., if they are “not” running a settlement extortion scheme).

For example, a rule in federal courts is that every named defendant needs to be provided copies of all documents for the case in which they are accused. The judge points out that it would prejudice Defendant #2 if he started receiving motions and rulings relating to the depositions and interrogatories for Defendant #1. Multiply the confusion that would occur if there are ten defendants, or one hundred defendants, and so on. Similarly, each defendant will end up having his own lawyer. If the lawyer for Defendant #1 makes a motion and the court orders his client to a case management hearing, Defendant #2 will receive a copy of this order and may think that he has to attend the hearing.

This gets even more burdensome as soon as defendants are named and discovery begins to take place. Judge Fleissig points out that every defendant has the right to attend the depositions of the other co-defendants. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if every John Doe Defendant crowds into a small office to hear the other defendants’ depositions. My own addition — imagine if all the accused defendants and each of their lawyers try to crowd into one small courtroom for a hearing.

Lastly, we all know that the justifications for joinder in a federal lawsuit is the “same transaction or occurrence” standard. In other words, courts have ruled that defendants can be joined together in one lawsuit if they were participating in the same bittorrent swarm at the same time — this is known as the “swarm joinder theory” asserted by the plaintiffs in every bittorrent lawsuit complaint.

In plaintiff attorney Paul Lesko’s cases, it is interesting to note that he was trying to extend the definition of a bittorrent swarm to span 18 weeks — from August 5th, 2012 to December 5th, 2012. This would obviously include internet users who never uploaded or downloaded from each other, and it would place them together as being part of the same transaction [big ongoing swarm] or occurrence [the “happening” of the swarm, for as long as “it” stays “alive”].

This secondary swarm theory has no official name, but it could be described as the “temporal swarm theory,” which asserts that defendants who participate in a bittorrent swarm can be sued with all other defendants who ever uploaded or downloaded to that swarm (as opposed to a more legitimate “snapshot swarm theory” which joins bittorrent users together in a lawsuit based on who is uploading and downloads to whom at a particular point in time).

However, Judge Fleissig rejected both the “swarm joinder theory” and the “temporal swarm theory” (“snapshot swarms” were not discussed) because in both cases, the bittorrent users did not download and upload from EACH OF ALL the other bittorrent users in that swarm. In other words, a bittorrent swarm consists of many small “transactions and occurrences” between multiple users, and the judge essentially ruled that association with a “bittorrent swarm” does not properly connect [for joinder purposes] one defendant with another defendant from whom or to whom he did not specifically download or upload.

Food for thought for future Missouri federal cases: I want to also mention that Judge Fleissig refers to the accused bittorrent users as merely transferring “pieces” of the copyrighted files to each other rather than the entire copyrighted title [to be found liable for copyright infringement (under the “substantial similarity” prong), courts have ruled that the entire copyrighted file needs to be transferred; not merely “pieces” of it].

I would love to interpret her words as meaning that ‘because no user transfers a complete copyrighted file to any other user (only data bits and “pieces” of the copyrighted file that the downloader’s bittorrent software pieces together into a file), no user can be found liable for copyright infringement,’ but I do not think this is what she was referring to.

Rather, by mentioning bittorrent transfers from one user to another user as mere “pieces” of a copyrighted file, Judge Fleissig leaves open the question (perhaps to be elaborated in a future ruling) whether transferring bits and “pieces” of a copyrighted file (but not the entire file) can constitute copyright infringement.

NOTE: This ruling directly affects as binding upon the following Missouri bittorrent cases* (sorted by filing date):

reFX Audio Software Inc. v. Does 1-39 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00895)
Georgia Film Fund Four, LLC v. Does 1-75 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00832)
The Bicycle Peddler, LLC v. Does 1-28 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00583)
Elf-Man, LLC v. Does 1-17 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00576)
The Thompsons Film, LLC v. Does 1-23 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00577)
PHE, Inc. v. Does 1-27 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00480)
Purzel Video GMBH v. Does 1-32 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00449)
Purzel Video GMBH v. Does 1-67 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00450)
Riding Films, Inc. v. John Does 1-11 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00430)
Bayou Pictures, LLC v. John Does 1-11 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00433)
The Good Doctor, LLC v. John Does 1-36 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00434)
Maxcon Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-88 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00428)
reFX Audio Software Inc. v. Does 1-97 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00409)
reFX Audio Software Inc. v. Does 1-53 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00408)
Breaking Glass Pictures, LLC v. Does 1-188 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00388)
Vision Films, Inc. v. Does 1-10 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00290)
Vision Films, Inc. v. Does 1-30 (Case No. 4:13-cv-00020)

*some of these may have already been dismissed on other grounds.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.