“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.

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    Congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients dismissed from the Century Media, Ltd. & Baseprotect UG, Ltd. NJ cases!

    Congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who have been dismissed from the BASEPROTECT UG, LTD. v. JOHN DOES 1-X (Case No. 2:11-cv-03621) and the CENTURY MEDIA, LTD. v. SWARM AND JOHN DOES 1-944 (Case No. 2:12-cv-03868) cases in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

    The politics leading to the dismissal of these cases is quite simple. Each of these cases lagged on for almost TWO YEARS with little progress being made against the hundreds of John Doe Defendants implicated in the lawsuits. After 178 documents were filed with the court in the Baseprotect case (whether they be motions to dismiss defendants who have settled, motions to quash, or administrative motions and/or hearing notes), eventually the case got stale.

    On 2/26, Judge Joseph Dickson issued an ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE (which is usually indicative of a soon-to-be-dead case) as to why the court should not SEVER AND DISMISS all defendants except for John Doe 1.

    In other words, Judge Dickson figured out that the John Doe Defendants in this case — the alleged co-defendants of the “same” bittorrent swarm — had download dates which were spaced so far apart that it was very unlikely that each of the hundreds of defendants participated in the “same swarm and the same time.” In other words, joinder was obviously deficient and the judge was about to break apart the case into a few hundred pieces telling plaintiff attorney Jay McDaniel that he better pay the $350 filing fee for each of the John Doe Defendants and file separate actions, or else he’s dismissing everyone except for John Doe #1.  The judge set the hearing date for 4/1.

    In sum, McDaniel decided to cut his losses (which if you look at just how many people settled, you would conclude that this case was very profitable for him since its original filing on 6/23/2011), and without even waiting to attend the 4/1 hearing, he dismissed the case in its entirety.

    Oh, and while he was at it, he also dismissed the Century Media, Ltd. case that same day.

    Once again, congratulations to all who have been dismissed from these cases.


    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.

      shalta book now cta

      New Arizona Rule: You are only properly joined with those you upload to or download from.

      For those bittorrent users accused of copyright infringement in Arizona, there is a new rule which you can use in your defense.

      Traditionally, in order to properly sue multiple bittorrent users together in one lawsuit, they need only to participate in the “same transaction or occurrence.”  In other words, they need to do the same “crime” at the same time.  Not so in California, and NOW, not so in Arizona.  [For the California citation, see Document 26 in the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-188 (Case No. 3:11-cv-01566) case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.]

      In bittorrent language, when you connect to a bittorrent swarm and download copyrighted media, all of you participating in that bittorrent swarm would be sued together.  This is one of the most recent kinds of lawsuits by the more skilled plaintiff attorneys — instead of Plaintiff v. John Does 1-123 (or however many John Doe Defendants there are lumped together [and separated by the state in which they reside] in this lawsuit), smarter plaintiffs are suing participants of the swarm itself (e.g., Plaintiff v. Swarm of Nov. 3rd, 2011 [and participants thereof]).  No longer in in Arizona.

      NEW RULE: Now in Arizona, in order to be sued with other John Doe Defendants, you must have either UPLOADED TO or DOWNLOADED FROM each one of the other defendants.  If not, the defendants are not properly joined and defendants can be severed and dismissed from the case for improper joinder.

      TODAY in the Patrick Collins, Inc. v. John Does 1-54 (Case No. 2:11-cv-01602) case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, in U.S. District Judge G. Murray Snow’s own words:

      Plaintiff alleges that the two remaining Defendants “participat[ed] in the BitTorrent swarm with other infringers” but does not claim that John Doe 6 provided data to the former John Doe 12 or vice versa. (Doc. 26 ¶ 56). …

      … Plaintiff alleges no facts that these two particular Defendants shared data with each other, and provides data instead that they were logged on to BitTorrent weeks apart. “The bare fact that a Doe clicked on a command to participate in the BitTorrent Protocol does not mean that they were part of the downloading by unknown hundreds or thousands of individuals across the country or across the world.” Hard Drive Prods., Inc. v. Does 1–188, 11 No. CV-11-01566, 2011 WL 3740473, at *13 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 23, 2011)

      (emphasis added).

      Personal Note: While this ruling is not immediately relevant if you do not live in Arizona, it is still good news because it indicates that judges are starting to understand how rules (here, the rules of “joinder”) apply in the bittorrent context.  No doubt, this order will be recognized and used in other cases in other jurisdictions as being persuasive as to how a judge should understand who can be sued together with whom.  Soon it will no longer be permitted for an enterprising plaintiff (e.g., “copyright troll”) to sue tens or hundreds of defendants in one lawsuit, lumping them together by the state in which they live (this lumping-together-by-state was the result of the dismissals last year over personal jurisdiction issues).  I look forward to other judges in other states soon to adopt this ruling.  It is a well thought-out understanding of the joinder issue.

      I have pasted the link to the order below for your enjoyment.

      [scribd id=86003821 key=key-2fdfgumg990ug6reuo9a mode=list]

      UPDATE 3: More of Mike Meier bittorrent cases consolidated.

      All of Mike Meier’s Bittorrent cases consolidated by New York Federal Judge Forrest so that she can adjudicate them together.

      *** UPDATE (3/13, 11:45am CST): I might need to backpedal a bit here. I received word from an attorney who had ears in yesterday’s hearing that Judge Forrest is not going to bust these cases as I thought she would. The reason for the consolidations is to treat them as one larger case so that the rulings in each of the cases will be consistent throughout his many cases. I am editing yesterday’s blog posts with cross-outs (example) and underlines (example) so you can see where I am changing the tone of the blog post from overly optimistic to slightly somber. I will obviously post about the judge’s order [UPDATE 3/14: HERE – see comments below for commentary] once it becomes available. ***

      *** UPDATE (3/12): As we initially discussed last week, *new cases* have been handed over to Judge Forrest so that she can adjudicate the smaller bittorrent cases together. I have added them to the list below. They are not yet listed as part of the “consolidated” case list (in Case No. 1:11-cv-09705), but if you look at the case dockets for each case, the notations that Judge Forrest is now handling them should tip you off that these cases too are now in trouble are now under her scrutiny. ***

      New Cases Now Handled By Judge Forrest:

      Combat Zone Corp. v. Does 1-63 (Case No. 1:11-cv-09688)
      Digital Sin, Inc. v. Does 1 – 179 (Case No. 1:11-cv-08172)
      Media Products, Inc. v. Does 1-55 (Case No. 1:11-cv-09550)
      Media Products, Inc. v. Does 1-36 (Case No. 1:12-cv-00129)
      Media Products, Inc. v. Does 1-142 (Case No. 1:12-cv-01099)
      Next Phase Distribution, Inc. v. Does 1-138 (Case No. 1:11-cv-09706)
      Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-115 (Case No. 1:11-cv-09705)
      SBO Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-92 (Case No. 1:11-cv-07999)
      SBO Pictures, Inc. v. Does 1-154 (Case No. 1:12-cv-01169)
      Third Degree Films, Inc. v. Does 1-216 (Case No. 1:11-cv-09618)
      Third Degree Films, Inc. v. Does 1-217 (Case No. 1:11-cv-07564)
      Zero Tolerance Entertainment, Inc. v. Does 1-56 (Case No. 1:11-cv-09703)

      This is obviously relatively good news for the roughly 1,200+ John Doe Defendants who can now breathe a bit more easily knowing that their plaintiff attorney’s cases are in trouble because 1) we now know that the judge is VERY aware of the MANY cases pending against the many Doe Defendants, and 2) rulings across the board will now be consistent — you will no longer have one judge letting one bittorrent case move forward, and another judge dismissing his bittorrent case for lack of joinder or improper jurisdiction. You can read about the judge’s order regarding the original consolidated cases in our “New York Judge consolidates and freezes SMALLER BITTORRENT CASES for plaintiff attorney” article. No doubt similar orders will in time be written for these additional cases.

      On a related note, Judge Forrest is not the only New York District Judge who has figured out what is going on with these copyright infringement (“copyright troll”) cases.

      Judge Colleen McMahon (no doubt these judges talk to each other about their cases) has issued an order in two cases (so far; response due 3/30) demanding that Mike Meier tell the court why his cases should not be dismissed due to the inherent joinder issues in his cases (e.g., how bittorrent users can be sued together under the theory that they committed the “same crime at the same time” theory [when according to the plaintiff’s complaint, the bittorrent users committed the illegal act of downloading and/or seeding the copyrighted materials sometimes weeks if not months apart]).

      What I enjoyed most in the order was that Judge McMahon accused Mike Meier of [essentially] CHEATING the court out of the $350 fees for each of the 138 defendants (e.g., theft from the court of $47,950) who, according to the judge’s opinion should have been sued in SEPARATE cases. In addition, she states that the “misjoinder has resulted in an undercounting of the number of cases filed in this court and a concomitant distortion of the size of the court’s docket.” To make matters laughable, in response to a request from Mike Meier regarding one of the cases, she wrote, “[u]ntil I have decided whether joinder of these 139 defendants is proper-which I very much doubt-there will be no discovery. Motion denied. Get to work on responding to any order to show cause.”

      Cases involved:

      Patrick Collins, Inc., d/b/a Elegant Angel v. John Does 1-139 (Case No. 1:12-cv-01098)
      Media Products, Inc. v. Does 1-59 (Case No. 1:12-cv-00125)

      I don’t know about you, but when a judge accuses you of stealing $47,950 from the court, wouldn’t you worry that your cases won’t win? I expect to see more of these in the coming days and weeks with his other cases. More significantly, I’d be surprised if I saw any more filings from Mike Meier in the Southern District of New York. The last thing a copyright troll wants is a judge as an enemy who aggressively goes after his cases.

      West Coast Productions, Inc. Case is DEAD.

      With the flick of a wrist and the power a pen, the West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-5,829 case is dead.

      I don’t know whether I should be saying congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who are now dismissed from the case, whether I should be writing an obituary on what was one of the longest-lasting monster bittorrent cases, or whether I should be skeptical and cautious at such a simple and eloquent end to such a violent case.

      This case had everything wrong with it. Improper joinder, improper jurisdiction, even the content it accused internet users of downloading was distasteful. “I don’t like ugly biker chicks, I’d never download their films,” a Doe Defendant once told me.

      On top of everything wrong with it, this case had baggage, namely West Virginia’s West Coast Productions, Inc. lawsuits with Kenneth Ford at the helm, all of which went bust last year.

      But it wasn’t jurisdiction or joinder which caused to downfall of this case; it was failing to name and serve defendants within the 120 day limits as dictated by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 4(m). Judge Kollar-Kotelly, realizing that the plaintiff attorneys were using the courts to extract settlement agreements, decided to implement and enforce this rule forcing the case to shut down.

      The last stab to the case was a September 1st, 2011 deadline where the plaintiff attorneys were ordered to name and serve defendants, and to report to the court by the end of today who they have named and served.

      I was sure that they would at least name the John Doe Defendants who lived in the District of Columbia, and they would in turn ask the court for more time. But instead, they named NOBODY. They merely packed up their bags, closed up shop, and dismissed the case.

      What does this mean? Could it mean that the plaintiff attorneys do not have the resources, the time, the patience, or the energy to take clients to trial? Or, did West Coast Productions, Inc. say “enough is enough; we’ve made enough money in settlements — let’s close up shop.” It cannot be that easy.

      Here is my take. Before they sue each and every one of the defendants in smaller groups in the correct courts — a tactic that Steele Hansmeier, PLLC and other plaintiff attorneys have caught onto — they had to kill the big bad monster of a case. After all, it would be bad to sue the same defendant in two cases at the same time for the same alleged act of infringement.

      So for now, those of you who were defendants in this case, you are no longer defendants, and I congratulate you on your victory. I would whip out the champagne bottles and celebrate, but be very aware that there is one more West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does case lurking in this same DC court. West Coast Productions, Inc. (1:11-cv-00055), our case’s little brother is still alive and well. While Judge Kollar-Kotelly has taken the sword to slay the extortion machine that was our West Coast Productions, Inc. case, so far, Magistrate Judge John Facciola has been merely pushing paper on the other West Coast Productions, Inc. case.  Really, nothing of substance has been going on there.

      What about the letters and the phone calls you all have been receiving?  Should you ignore them?  Probably not.  For the most part, the plaintiff attorneys at Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC have your contact information, and they plan to use it.  Expect multiple “scare” letters saying, “we plan to sue you unless you pay us $3,500 (or more) by XYZ date.”  Then expect to get additional letters for higher amounts.  As far as whether this is a bluff or not, it is best to be prudent and to watch where they are suing in order to determine where they have hired local counsel.  For example, if you are watching the copyright cases on RFC Express (http://www.rfcexpress.com), and you see that one of Dunlap Grubb & Weaver’s cases — whether West Coast Productions, Maverick Entertainment Group, Call of the Wild, etc. etc. — has been filed in your home court, that should be a red flag that you might be sued yourself.  Lawyering up (e.g., hiring an attorney) at this point if you have not already done so, or even proactively settling might be a wise option.  However, if you see no lawsuits of theirs in your state, my opinion is that there is no need to feed their war chest with your settlement dollars.

      I have attached the dismissal letter below for your viewing pleasure. Simple. Voilà!

      [scribd id=64331514 key=key-215wj3misks3ksdu8ytl mode=list]

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