Judge Facciola opens up a can of worms with the Cable Act.

These old cases keep creeping back up on us, and I am quite frankly dumbfounded that they are still alive so many months later. In the Openmind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-565 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01883) case in the District of Columbia, Judge Facciola brought back to life what was a stale, dormant case by answering an unanswered question of whether it would violate the Cable Act if Cablevision complied with the subpoenas and shared subscriber information with the copyright trolls.

Cablevision’s argument resembled a failed argument which I posted on my blog in May, 2011 for literally a day before puling it from the website.

[FOR PURPOSES OF CLARITY, I was writing two years ago about whether you can sue an ISP based on the Cable Act.  Then, I was referring to subsection (f) of the statute; here, Cablevision is referring to subsection (c) of the statute, asserting that the “checklist” of requirements under the Cable Act was not met and thus the subpoena was defective and they didn’t have to comply.]

More than two years ago, I wrote an article entitled “How an attorney can sue an ISP for disclosing a subscriber’s information“. In that article, I stated that a John Doe Defendant could possibly sue his ISP for violating the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 (better known as the “Cable Act”). Shortly after writing the article, however, I did further research into the matter and I found that there was a significant amount of case law which held that this statute DID NOT APPLY TO ISPs. Apparently, however, I am not the only attorney who stumbled upon this statute.

In the Openmind Solutions, Inc. v. Does 1-565 case, Cablevision asserted that according to the Cable Act (47 U.S.C. §551(c)(2)(B)), they would violate the statute if they complied with the subpoena issued to it (which makes me wonder why they have been complying in other cases since). On Friday, Judge Facciola disagreed simply because regardless of what the Cable Act says, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) simply gives the court the power to force the ISPs to comply with the subpoenas, and the Cable Act is irrelevant to the issue. (Personal note: A judge can’t throw away a statute that conflicts with the rules! They must address the law and explain why it DOES or DOES NOT apply to the circumstances. They can’t ignore it and pretend the statute is not there!)

In short, the last time I took a look at this argument, I came to the conclusion that it was a very muddy issue. Anyone who wants to have a crack at this, please feel free to comment. I’m merely posting this article so that you understand what argument Cablevision was trying to assert, and why Judge Facciola ruled against it.

Once again, I feel that Judge Facciola didn’t properly address the issue of whether the Cable Act applied to copyright infringement statutes (and particularly to these bittorrent cases where his court has been ruling that John Doe defendants do not have standing to file motions to quash until they are “named” as defendants). In my opinion, Cablevision brought before the court the Cable Act statute, specifically, “47 USC §551 – Protection of subscriber privacy,” subsection “(c) Disclosure of personally identifiable information.” I keep asking myself, “how in the world does this NOT apply to our cases?!? (and if this does not apply, what statute does apply?)” EVEN THE CABLEVISION ISP ITSELF (a cable company) THOUGHT IT APPLIED TO THEM!

In sum, Cablevision brought before the court an issue — “how can I comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when this statute prohibits me from doing so?” At the very least, Judge Facciola should have ruled on whether the statute applies to these cases because instead, he said, “assuming it does apply, here’s why your argument is wrong.” My question is immediately, “assuming it does apply?!?WHAT?!? WHAT ABOUT ALL THESE OTHER PARTS OF THE STATUTE? DO THEY APPLY TO ISPs TOO?

As a result of this ruling, Judge Facciola has reopened a copyright troll case that until now was pretty much in a coma.  As far as this Openmind Solutions, Inc. case is concerned, expect now to start getting subpoenas from Prenda Law Inc. because once again, Judge Facciola has sided with the copyright trolls and has let the extortion scheme continue.

…And as far as the Cable Act and 47 USC § 551? Judge Facciola has just opened up a can of worms.

[For those of you who want to read the statute on your own, it can be found at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/551 ]

As far as the two documents which caused this mess, the original motion requesting that the judge rule on Cablevision’s motion applying the Cable Act to bittorrent lawsuits can be found here.

And, Judge Facciola’s ruling (the subject of this article) can be found here.


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    Judge Facciola new ruling could kill Hard Drive Productions, AF Holdings, and West Coast Productions all at once.

    Today I received a bunch of what are commonly known as “scare” letters from Prenda Law Inc.  What is interesting is that all the letters I received were for the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274) case. While at first I thought the timing to an order by Judge Facciola was too much of a coincidence (read on), it turns out that something is going on with this case which has gotten the law firm sending out letters.  In my experience this usually coincides with a dismissal.

    When I looked into it, I found what appeared to be my answer in a judge’s order in the West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,434 (Case No. 1:11-cv-00055) case filed in the District of Columbia District Court, where the judge refused to allow Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC to add new accused IP addresses to the case and then get the subscribers’ contact information from their ISPs.  Even better, for the FIRST TIME, this DC judge ruled in line with the other district courts that a defendant who does not live in the District of Columbia cannot be sued in the DC court because the DC court lacks jurisdiction over those defendants.  The exciting piece of this news is that DC has been notorious for allowing cases to proceed against thousands of John Does who lived outside of DC.  Any motions to quash summarily fail.

    Even better, the judge who made this order was Judge Facciola, the judge in the controversial Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) case.

    No doubt this has gotten the Steeles, the Hansmeiers, and the Duffys nervous because their cases are in the District of Columbia.  As far as I am concerned, this order — even though the West Coast Productions, Inc. order has nothing to do with Prenda Law Inc., I suspect it will be a death nail in all three cases — West Coast Productions, AF Holdings, and Hard Drive Productions.

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    EFF takes on Judge Facciola in the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 case.

    Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) has been a controversial case from the beginning.  Judge Bates immediately noticed the faults with the case and he stayed the subpoenas.  Magistrate Judge Facciola (who has since taken over the case) is now facing scrutiny for every step he makes — not only in this case, but also in the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274) case. 

    In short, Judge Bates told putative defendants that they could file their motions under seal (meaning the defendants’ identities would remain anonymous), the Doe Defendants relied upon Bates’ order and following his instructions, they filed their motions under seal, and Judge Facciola reversed Judge Bates’ order.  [Facciola’s order essentially stated that motions to quash that were filed under seal will be filed publicly on February 1, 2012, revealing the anonymous defendants’ identities to the world (and consequently to Prenda Law Inc., where we all now know what they will do with these).]

    Based on the volume of calls that must be coming into Judge Facciola’s chambers [(202) 354-3130], he is no doubt now stepping on eggshells based on the hundreds of defendants who are actively tracking this case and I’m sure he does not like it.  No judge would.

    To make matters worse for the Judge Facciola, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) filed for its attorney to appear in the case and file an amicus brief, (a “letter to the court informing them of the law and the issues,”) on behalf of the various Doe Defendants. 

    The attorney also requested that the judge “stay” the case (which essentially means to put the case on hold until the issues are resolved).  In short, if EFF is successful, all of the motions to quash which tomorrow are set to become public will be kept private. 

    At the very least, Judge Facciola will be educated as to the issues surrounding this case (first amendment issues, personal jurisdiction, improper joinder), and perhaps it will inspire him to sever and/or dismiss it [and its sister AF Holdings case].

    My favorite part about EFF getting involved in the case is the technology-based declaration which every bittorrent user accused in these cases should be aware of.  While the technology-based arguments of non-infringement may be over the head of Judge Facciola, they no doubt in my opinion provide enough information to kill any bittorrent case, if any Doe Defendant is named.

    To hit the nail on the coffin, so to speak, the EFF asked the court to take judicial notice of (meaning, to recognize and hopefully adopt the opinions of) other bittorrent cases which you have been reading about since this blog started back in 2010.  You can read the orders of the other cases in a neatly filed package here.

    While this motion as far as I’m concerned should be a “one-two knockout punch” for this case, we must also realize that the character of the judge and his leanings (dare I say bias) also play a factor in whether he’ll allow this motion to move forward.  DC has never been a defendant-friendly state as we saw with the Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC lawsuits last year, and they have historically been known to disclose the identities of Doe Defendants who filed motions to quash filed under seal when they reject them. 

    This is why I am both optimistic that EFF has gotten involved, but I am also very cautious when it comes to how Judge Facciola will react to yesterday’s motion which is a clear affront to his previous order.  Again, no judge likes it when someone openly disagrees with his order.

    [P.S. – Here is the link to Prenda Law Inc.’s response requesting that the court not allow EFF to intercede in the case based on their “anti-intellectual property” nature.  Other websites covered the topic just fine (see, SJD’s article here).]

    Judge Bates “removed” from Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 case. Potentially bad news for defendants.

    Like most of you, we here at the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC have been watching the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (1:11-cv-01741) case in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

    To our surprise and against the 1+ year trend of the DC Court, earlier this month, Judge Bates went against the trend to remain silent about the validity of these cases and inquired about whether or not John Doe Defendants in the case actually lived in DC. In short, we understand that if the judge came to the conclusion that this is yet one more of John Steele’s mass bittorrent cases (but filed in DC as a result of forum shopping), then the judge would have likely come to the conclusion that the DC court did not have jurisdiction to try the case. As a result, he would have likely SEVERED AND DISMISSED the case, giving Steele|Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law, Inc., a story in itself) the opportunity to file against defendants in their home states. As you have read in previous posts, as a result of such a dismissal, Steele would have three years from the alleged date of infringement to file these lawsuits in defendants’ home states.

    What no doubt concerned Steele (and what caused an overflow of conversations on the various bittorrent forums) is that six days ago, Judge Bates took the extra step and invited Doe Defendants to file motions to quash with the Clerk’s office, stating that they would be put under seal (meaning, hidden from view).

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    However, in spite of the judge’s invitation, I have not been advising people as to whether they should or should not file the motion to quash — and in fact I have been overly cautious about his invitation to do so — because historically, the District of Columbia Court has typically UNSEALED motions to quash when they deny them, leaving all the formerly sealed motions unsealed and naked for everyone to see.

    The DC court has historically been AGAINST accused internet downloaders. Yes, we have certainly had our fair share of victories, but then again, many of the original cases are still alive (and because of this, plaintiffs have added perhaps thousands of new defendants to various DC cases, hence the new subpoena letters for older cases). I do not see why Judge Bates would be bold enough to go against former judges’ orders for essentially identical cases [See, Stare decisis (Anglo-Latin pronunciation: /ˈstɛəri dɨˈsaɪsɨs]) is a legal principle by which judges are obliged to respect the precedents established by prior decisions.], and the fact that Judge Bates was willing to go against Judge Beryl Howell and the others made me optimistic, but still cautious.

    As much as this invitation to file appeared to signal a victory for the accused internet users, for whatever reason — political pressure, angry judges, etc. — today Judge Bates has essentially stepped down presiding over the case and he has handed the case over to Judge Facciola. This magistrate judge has seen bittorrent cases before, and in my opinion this could be a sad moment for the accused Does. To be clear, I understand that this transfer might not have been done with the permission or consent of Judge Bates. In fact, his order explicitly states, “Consent of the District Judge [him] is not necessary.” So perhaps we can piece together what has happened behind closed doors.

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    While it remains my opinion that this case suffers from issues of improper jurisdiction and improper joinder, Judge Bates is no longer making the decisions as to whether the case will be dismissed or not. Similarly, it is no longer clear whether it is in Does’ best interests to file the motions to quash, or whether they will suffer the same fate as all the other motions to quash filed in the DC court over the past year.

    As for what defendants should do — I would probably wait and see what Judge Facciola does. Will he continue in Bates’ footsteps and kill the case? Or will he deny the motions to quash and move forward? We can only wait and see.

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