Judge: Using The Copyright System To Force People To Pay Up Is Unconstitutional

from the well-that'll-be-effective dept

In yet another case of odd legal choices by copyright troll lawyers, apparently a lawyer named Ira Siegel has been avoiding complying with a court order that he reveal how much money he's been making from demanding settlement fees based on accusations (and the threat of court) of copyright infringement. It's no surprise that he would avoid doing so, but there are two interesting points related to this. First, he filed the response two days after the judge's deadline. That's not a way to win points with a judge. Second, he spent much of the filing complaining about an anonymous blogger who has nothing to do with the case. I'm not quite sure what the strategy is here other than to look foolish and lose the case. Of course, there's been conspiracy theories that perhaps he wants this case dismissed to avoid having to reveal how much money he's raking in.

Thankfully, rather than dismiss the entire case, the judge has followed the precedent of many other courts dealing with such copyright trolls, and dismissed all but one defendant, effectively ruining the legal strategy of the trolling operation. The judge goes through in great detail why joining so many different people in one lawsuit makes no sense. And you sense that the judge is annoyed that Siegel wasted his time with such a bad case. The judge clearly saw through the whole scheme, and flat out says that abusing the court system to force people to pay up is unconstitutional. It's too bad this part is hidden in a footnote, but the judge clearly states:
The Court’s concerns are heightened by plaintiff’s refusal to file under seal a copy of its settlement letter and related information about its settlement practices. The film sells for $19.95 on plaintiff’s website. According to public reports, plaintiffs in other BitTorrent cases, rather than prosecuting their lawsuits after learning the identities of Does, are demanding thousands of dollars from each Doe defendant in settlement. If all this is correct, it raises questions of whether this film was produced for commercial purposes or for purposes of generating litigation and settlements. Put another way, Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution authorizes Congress to enact copyright laws ‘to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts’. If all the concerns about these mass Doe lawsuits are true, it appears that the copyright laws are being used as part of a massive collection scheme and not to promote useful arts.
That's quite a statement. It's so rare to see a court look at the actual purpose of copyright law to see if it's being met by a plaintiff...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 7:40am

    Hallelujah! A non bought off judge! Am now taking bets on how long it takes the MAFFIA to send a Guy to meet with this judge( the Maffia rrpresentitive will leave without his suitcase) and coincidently the judge will put out another piece retroactively resending this because 'dirty pirate hackers wrote that piece of piracy apologia'

    Bets starting at 1:1 for Friday

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 7:44am

    So what the judge is saying is that any lawyer in any civil case who offers a "settlement before going to court" is somehow a money grubber?

    Wow.

    I would say that the judge needs to look at the other side, and see that massive copyright infringement is taking away millions of dollars from the useful arts. Perhaps a little balance might clear up the judge's clearly clouded vision.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 7:47am

    Re:

    "So what the judge is saying is that any lawyer in any civil case who offers a "settlement before going to court" is somehow a money grubber?"

    Er, no. He's saying that joining so many defendents in a single case of this nature makes him a moneygrubber. BTW, normally setllements are of a dollar amount less than the value of the work, not more. Are you just willfully misconstruing what was said here?

    "I would say that the judge needs to look at the other side, and see that massive copyright infringement is taking away millions of dollars from the useful arts. Perhaps a little balance might clear up the judge's clearly clouded vision."

    Uh, why? The judge didn't say mass copyright infringement is okay. He said this method for tackling is wrong and against the US Constitution.

    Honestly....have you been sniffing paint again?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 7:54am

    Re:

    "I would say that the judge needs to look at the other side, and see that massive copyright infringement is taking away millions of dollars from the useful arts"

    Got citations for that? Anything? Please? I honestly, truly, really would like to see something that supports that idea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    deane (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:02am

    Re:

    "So what the judge is saying is that any lawyer in any civil case who offers a "settlement before going to court" is somehow a money grubber?"

    actually I believe its more the fact that the court should not be a "Collection Agency" for the lawyers and others. ask yourself this, What is the purpose of the court?

    Wow.

    "I would say that the judge needs to look at the other side, and see that massive copyright infringement is taking away millions of dollars from the useful arts.(citation needed, WHERE is this loss of million of dollars coming from; the public sure would LOVE to know) Perhaps a little balance might clear up the judge's clearly clouded vision."

    and by balance what do you mean? the fact that he should proceed to just give the IP address info? or the fact that joining together separate parties and creating a class action lawsuit would be best? the court is in the business of justice and that usually means giving the parties a chance to actually get justice. if the court believes each individual should be tried separately then others that's fine by me since actual justice happens.

    peace

    Deane

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    xenomancer (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:04am

    Re: Re:

    "Honestly....have you been sniffing paint again?"

    It is my professional opinion that paint alone is not sufficient to cause this level of brain damage. Blunt trauma to the head (with a red stapler?) on the other hand...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:10am

    "Thankfully, rather than dismiss the entire case"

    Why "thankfully"? Why it it would be bad in your opinion, Mike, to dismiss the entire case outright?

    Now a single Doe feels the pressure that was evenly distributed over 5000 before. Given the "quality" of the evidence gathering methods, this Doe could be a bystander (I have an educated guess that likelihood of error is around 15%)... I'm a collaterally damaged myself, and believe me, it is not fun.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:12am

    Re: Re:

    No,I don't think the judge should give charity to either side. My point isn't about anything other than realizing that "settlement before court" or "settlement before judgement" is extremely common in civil litigation, and that crapping on content producers (who are obviously having their legal rights infringed) smacks of the judge ignoring reality.

    There is widespread infringement. There is widespread "settlement before court" actions in all sorts of cases note related to copyright. Why ignore both just to crap on the content producers?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:17am

    Re: Re: Re:

    That's really fuckin' neat-o. My point is that you're a fucking tool.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:19am

    Re:

    It's not 'somehow' the court spelled out exactly how in its opinion. Maybe you should read it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:20am

    Re: Re: Re:

    You probably did not read the order.

    "This Court does not condone copyright infringement and incourages settlement of genuine disputes. However, plaintiff's desire to to enforce its copyright..."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:21am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "...and that crapping on content producers (who are obviously having their legal rights infringed) smacks of the judge ignoring reality"

    What reality? So far, from what we've seen, all these cases amount to is some guy pulling IP addresses out of his ass and suing those IP addresses, in hopes that he can scare some suckers into settling and paying up. If that fails, they drop the ball and run away.

    What's funny is why nobody questions the methodology used to acquire these IP addresses. How do we guarantee that they were not pulled out of someone's ass? And if they were, how do you prove that you are innocent?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Zot-Sindi, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    tool? he's not even a tool shed, he's the whole tool factory

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Germans questioned this methodology, and I'm sure this question will surface on the court level soon.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Zot-Sindi, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:24am

    copyright laws are being used as part of a massive collection scheme and not to promote useful arts.

    copyright laws are being used as part of a massive collection scheme


    my fucking GOD, i have waited my whole life to this date just to hear someone just come out say this... i finally have hope for humanity regarding these stupid laws

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:36am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Having an increased bar for evidence of infringement, and determining that joining defendants together is retarded, does not equal crapping on the content producers.
    In any of these other pre-settled civil cases you are referencing, do any of them join together thousands of people from across the country, identifying them as Doe's because the only evidence available is a number which is not permanently assigned nor necessarily exclusively used by the individual.

    I hope the practice is closer to barratry than commonplace.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Another AC, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:41am

    Re:

    I can't speak for Mike, but I believe he meant that if the case were just dismissed the layer would move on and keep doing what he's doing and the problem would not get solved. By shrinking the case the payout is no longer worth the expense, so hopefully they will stop.

    "Now a single Doe feels the pressure that was evenly distributed over 5000 before."

    You're assuming that 5000 defendants would feel less pressure than 1 defendant while being sued... while not the crux of your point I don't think that's a true statement.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    fogbugzd (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:52am

    I think it is refreshing to see a judge actually consider the constitutional basis of the copyright law. I hope there is more of that with all IP issues.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:54am

    Re: Re: Re:

    There is also widespread greed from people that are not looking for justice but to make a profit out of the judicial system and use the law as a lever and not as an instrument for justice.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    A Monkey with Atitude, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 8:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Why let facts get in the the way of paid for shilling?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Lam0rSauce, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:14am

    Copyright Enforcement Group

    This guy already has thousands+ from people he doesn't even know. Don't be sad. Just be glad he has no reputation now. Techdirt posted about this firm over 8 months ago or so. I'm happy to see them hit this roadblock.

    If you have been affected by CEG or Ira Siegal, get your money back. DON'T pay them in the first place. They don't have the resources to do anything to the people they accuse.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:14am

    Re: Re:

    Looks plausible, and I think it was Mike's intention, but if I was the author of this post, I would elaborate, because it may be read differently: "thankfully one guy is left on this case, better than none".

    Of course my statement about the pressure was only a metaphor and was not meant to be mathematically correct, yet try to to imagine yourself in this guy's place before and after this ruling. No difference at all?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    MonkeyFracasJr (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:26am

    Re: Content Producers

    and that crapping on content producers (who are obviously having their legal rights infringed) smacks of the judge ignoring reality.
    Content Producers
    This term is key to many of these arguments about Art and Intellectual Property. Through ignorance or mis-information many people confusedly think this means the artists, the creators of the content. It does not, it literally means the producers, as in "Executive Producer" the investor who is trying to monetize the Art or Intellectual Property. My opinion is that these people generally get no sympathy to their dilemma because they have made a risky (vs. intelligent or even thoughtful) investment and lost and many of them are turning to strong arm legal tactics instead of innovation and new and possibly better ideas. And this seems to be where all the discussions break down. One group says 'this is unreasonable', and the other group says 'this is our RIGHT'.
    Well, no, its not a right. You may have legal recourse, but that does not make it A right, and that does not make it right.
    Why does it seem to be impossible to reach an agreement? Supply and Demand will set the price regardless of what the producers want the price to be. As many here have pointed out lately (paraphrasing); When you choose set unreasonable prices content-piracy and infringement WILL be your competition.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:27am

    Re:

    "that massive copyright infringement is taking away millions of dollars from the useful arts"

    From the studies I have put together, it is competition for entertainment dollars, competition for peoples time, music singles, and digital as the final format causing a loss of resales from format upgrades and designed obsolescence, thats destroying the old content industries. They have lost their monopoly status.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    icon
    Atkray (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    If he read it it would be the first time.

    He skims, and does that poorly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I want that job. I have references. I have few morals and my opinion is easily (and comparatively cheaply) purchased.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Krusty, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:38am

    Re:

    Back under your bridge evil troll you have no power here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    ethorad (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:40am

    *useful* arts?

    It's probably a stupid question, but who defines which arts are "useful"?

    After all, to my mind, the definition of art is essentially something that has no practical use and is purely aesthetic in nature.

    [And I'm guessing the answer is: lobbyists]

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:47am

    Re: *useful* arts?

    As used in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the US Constitution, "science" refers to works of authorship as to which copyright law pertains, and "useful arts" refers to inventions as to which patent law pertains.

    It is easy to confuse the two given how they are typically used in this day and age.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:53am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Maybe try reading the opinion, again. Especially where he says:

    According to public reports, plaintiffs in other BitTorrent cases, rather than prosecuting their lawsuits after learning the identities of Does, are demanding thousands of dollars from each Doe defendant in settlement.

    In other words, using the courts to extort money from people who may not be guilty, but can't afford to defend themselves from such actions. The lawyers absolutely have no interest in bringing these cases to court. And THAT is the issue. Using copyright to extort thousands from people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Kb, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 10:22am

    Have you heard the good news!?

    This is a great precedent to set. Hopefully other judges will get on board with this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 10:30am

    I like numbers, not knowing the settlement letter dollar number. I have to take one that is the current average for a movie torrent settlement.

    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/05/biggest-bittorrent-case/

    So $3000.00 for a movie.
    Now 5011 John Doe Defendants.

    Total to the Plaintiffs, $15,033,000.00.

    Now say the lawyer has a 40% recovery fee, that's $6,013,200.00 (I bet it's higher)

    Not to bad a return on at best $99,969.45 worth of fap magic.

    Oh yea, I can see the extortion in the numbers. Good for the Judge for a wise decision.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Teddy_Bear, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 10:58am

    I think that keeping one doe on the case is genius on the judges behalf. This forces Ira to bring one of these sham cases to trial and expose all the bull shit evidence that these trolls have been hiding for so long. Of course that hinges on that one Doe fighting it and not settling.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    MrWilson, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 11:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Not giving the movie producers whatever they want in court despite what they want being unethical and illegal is crapping on them! Their rights are being infringed and they are the true victims in our society! Won't someone think of the movie producers (and their lawyers)?!?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 12:46pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think Mike was maybe saying this because he hopes the lawyer flouting the court order is in for some more roasting if the case continues. Hopefully the judge will press him further to reveal the extent of his extortion money or sanction him for contempt of court. Send out a message that blackmail has consequences.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    icon
    Milton Waddams (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 12:54pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Excuse me, I believe you have my stapler...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 2:23pm

    Re:

    Your number for the lawyers cut is to low, IIRC ACS:Law was getting 80%. They had to pay a portion of that to the firm supplying the imaginary "evidence" (wasn't he using that firm that a German Court threw out their evidence as being crap?).

    Somewhere, I forget where atm, someone contacted one of the porn companies one of these trolls was representing. He was shocked to find out how much they were demanding as he was informed they were only seeking like $50 from each person.

    Lying to your clients, lying to the courts, lying to the victims. Seems to be about right for this business model.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 2:31pm

    I have seen people mention he only collected up to $140k in settlements. That was just in this case. He voluntarily dismissed defendants in four or five other cases.

    So, he has probably collected close to $500k

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 2:36pm

    Re:

    It forces him to do nothing actually. The troll will most likely wait until the 120 day limit has been hit and wait for the Doe case to be dismissed with prejudice. Then he can change his threat letter to say we know you who are, and you did it, pay us or we file.

    Its the new adaptive model being used by smaller troll firms.
    There is a small boutique firm in FL who used a STATE court to force ISP record hand overs for multiple films in 1 filing.
    They did an end run around the federal courts saying you can't jam all of your films into 1 mass doe suit.
    They got a state judge to consider allowing them discovery in what has to be a federal level case.
    They had their German tracking firm setup their data collection in FL to create the illusion that FL was the proper venue.
    Oh and there is no US copyright on that porn companies films, which means the damages are capped at actual, because the oldest film they brought the case for was released in 2005.

    This did not stop them from calling people and demanding payments of several thousand dollars. And when people told them to go away, they sent letters threatening a lawsuit in the wrong Federal District to cover their targets.

    No copyright troll will EVER bring a case on just their own "evidence". They will only bring one if they can catch the Doe in a statement showing guilt. This lets them try to bypass the simple fact that IP address gathering techniques are flawed and can be used to point at innocent parties. That they can not prove what they told the courts in the initial filing is remotely true, even with the civil bar of more likely than not.

    If a specific gathering technique is killed in court, the shockwave would severely hurt the copyright trolls. There is one German firm using multiple names who supplies most of the IP "evidence".

    Oh and as for the new super secret methods, John Steele who loves to point out his super system that he spent way to much money building could never we wrong, Sued a 70 yr old woman in SF. Because she went to the press about this "extortion" attempt, Steele and Co. looked at the records... and admitted it was an error. He tried to raise the specter that it was an error on the part of the ISP and they now had the right person targeted. But it took media coverage to get Steele to look up from the settlement letters he was sending out to see that he screwed up.

    It is better for a guilty man to go free than an innocent man to serve one day... unless we can get paid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 8th, 2011 @ 2:42pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Jane you know I love you, but I think it is a very good thing 1 person remains.

    Had the judge kicked the entire case, Ira would then have used troll 2.0 techniques to send letters saying pay me or I will file a case naming you. The Judge would have no ability to keep an eye on Ira and continue to make demands. With there now being 1 Doe, there is also a chance EFF or Public Citizen will step in and begin the challenges.

    The case being alive = good.
    The poor Doe who is still stuck = not so good.
    But hopefully that Doe will find your blog, or us here and find out not all hope is lost.

    I feel sorry for the Doe, but that Doe's discomfort might lead to Ira getting the legal smackdown he so desperately needs. To be all vulcan, sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. I don't like it, but this is the closest we've ever gotten with a Judge doing the right thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    John Nemesh, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 3:37pm

    Re:

    "Taking away from the useful arts"??? You sound JUST like a MAFIAA shill! Its only "taking away" if the infringement results in a lost sale. Since there is no PROOF that simple infringement equals lost revenue, your argument is baseless! Here is an example to make things clearer: A college student gets on his dorm computer and downloads, over the course of a year, 5000 songs. By your logic, the music industry "lost" $5000 (assuming $1/song). BUT, that assumes that the college student would have bought all 5000 songs legally! That is a big assumption, and a flawed one. Just because someone downloads a song or movie does NOT mean that they have the financial means to pay for it. (this does not make it ethical to download illegally, but its simple truth). Would you spend $5000 a year on music? Would most people? Not a chance! But people ROUTINELY illegally download TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars worth of content a year! Even in a "best case" scenario where these infringing people stop illegal downloading completely, they are going to spend a TINY fraction of that amount if they are paying for their content.

    In short, you sir, are stupid, and should be removed from the gene pool.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 8th, 2011 @ 9:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I hope that Doe turns out to be a dog it will be priceless.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Tecnología, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 9:56am

    Wow

    I don't know that. Good info!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    icon
    ethorad (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 11:06am

    Re: Re: *useful* arts?

    Ah, thanks - I learn something new every day.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    icon
    DinDaddy (profile), Sep 9th, 2011 @ 11:16am

    Same everywhere

    "the copyright laws are being used as part of a massive collection scheme and not to promote useful arts."

    Isn't that pretty much what studios and labels are doing as well? Trying to make so all use of their content results in some amount fo collection forever, so they don't ahve to make anything new that costs money?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 9th, 2011 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Re:

    +Rep. Nice read!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Me, Jan 1st, 2014 @ 8:22pm

    I know I'm late, but...

    ...I need to ask: What's considered "useful arts": Jerry Springer or Miley Cyrus?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This