Some Good Court Rulings Against Copyright Trolls... And One Bad Ruling

from the trololololo dept

The EFF has some news about more judges seeing through copyright trolls misuse of the court system to try to shake people down for money. In the first ruling they mention (embedded below), the judge doesn't just say that the lumping together of so many distinct individuals was improper, but also scolds the lawyers bringing the cases for clearly abusing the system:
The Court currently has three similar cases before it, all brought by the same attorney. The suits are virtually identical in their terms, but filed on behalf of different film production companies. In all three, the plaintiffs sought, and the Court granted, expedited discovery allowing the plaintiffs to subpoena information from ISPs to identify the Doe defendants. According to some of the defendants, the plaintiffs then contacted the John Does, alerting them to this lawsuit and their potential liability. Some defendants have indicated that the plaintiff has contacted them directly with harassing telephone calls, demanding $2,900 in compensation to end the litigation. When any of the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or sever themselves from the litigation, however, the plaintiffs have immediately voluntarily dismissed them as parties to prevent the defendants from bringing their motions before the Court for resolution.

This course of conduct indicates that the plaintiffs have used the offices of the Court as an inexpensive means to gain the Doe defendants' personal information and coerce payment from them. The plaintiffs seemingly have no interest in actually litigating the cases, but rather simply have used the Court and its subpoena powers to obtain sufficient information to shake down the John Does. Whenever the suggestion of a ruling on the merits of the claims appears on the horizon, the plaintiffs drop the John Doe threatening to litigate the matter in order to avoid the actual cost of litigation and an actual decision on the merits.

The plaintiffs' conduct in these cases indicates an improper purpose for the suits. In addition, the joinder of unrelated defendants does not seem to be warranted by existing law or a non-frivolous extension of existing law.
Unfortunately, not all judges have recognized this abuse of the system yet. In a new ruling in the Northern District of California, a judge ruled that its not just okay to join totally separate defendants together in such a lawsuit, but it's fine to make them "jointly and severally liable" for the damages. The full ruling is embedded below. It's a "default judgment," meaning that the two defendants didn't bother to respond to the lawsuit or show up. Thus, no one presented the other side of the story. Such things happen and not responding to a lawsuit is almost always going to lead to a default judgment and trouble. But, there's simply no reason that the court should have then taken the further step of assuming that the two parties were linked and that they should be jointly and severally liable for the damages. Unfortunately, even as a default judgment, this ruling can and will be used by lawyers to suggest that joinder is proper.

Of course, the one oddity with finding the defendants to be jointly and severally liable is that it actually could act as disincentive in a small way for these lawsuits with tons of defendants. That's because only a single damages award is being put forth. So, for example, in this case, it's $20,000. But that $20,000 is due combined from the defendants. Now, imagine a suit with... say.... 5,000 defendants, and a similar $20,000 award. Then if each paid $4 they'd satisfy the judgment. Of course, that's a really minor point, because as the first judge's ruling above notes, the folks filing these lawsuits never really want to go to court with them. They just want to pressure people into paying up.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    DH's Love Child (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 2:32pm

    Let this be a lesson boys and girls

    You must respond when sued.

     

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

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 2:35pm

    Stare them down until they blink first. I like it.

    PS: Why does the RSS address keep changing back and forth between http://feeds.feedburner.com/techdirt/feed and http://feeds.techdirt.com/techdirt/feed ? Firefox will say one failed to load. So I change it to other which works once, then fails on the next attempt to reload. In order to update your feed, I have to constantly change the address back and forth.

     

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

  3.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 2:35pm

    Wow Mike, you get the news in real-time. The last document was filed just hours ago. I thought I was first to report.

    I'm joking - I'm not seeking neither fame or money, and I'm happy that these cases receive so much needed publicity - TechDirt has a bit wider audience than my blog :)

     

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

  4.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 2:37pm

    Re:

    Also - visit my blog later today - I have very interesting things to say about this particular ruling....

     

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

  5.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 2:39pm

    Re: Re:

    IF it doesn't involve Intellectual torches and pitchforks, I'm not interested. :)

     

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

  6.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 2:40pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I'll try to add one specifically for you :)

     

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

  7.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 2:49pm

    Re:

    The reason why I'm so interested in this case - I was a defendant on it and was the only one fighting. The entire docket can be found here (my motions are 16, 25 and 38).

    For the protocol: I belong to collaterally damaged group thanks to "impeccable" evidence provided by Germans.

     

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

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 4:18pm

    Re: Let this be a lesson boys and girls

    Flipping the opposing counsel counts?

     

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

  9.  
    icon
    f0nZi3 (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 5:04pm

    Figures...

    It would come from California. Time for that f'n state to just split off at the San Andreas fault line and sink into the ocean. Lex Luthor had the right idea...

     

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

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 5:21pm

    There's some interesting language about statutory damages in copyright cases in the second case you embedded:
    Moreover, the statutory rule is designed to discourage wrongful conduct. F. W. Woolworth Co. v. Contemporary Arts, 344 U.S. 228, 233 (1952). “Even for uninjurious and unprofitable invasions of copyright the court may, if it deems it just, impose a liability within statutory limits to sanction and vindicate the statutory policy.” Ibid.
    So the Supreme Court is saying that even if infringement causes no injury to the copyright holder or profit for the infringer, statutory damages are still called for to sanction the infringer and to promote copyright policy.

    That's awesome! Thanks for posting that great language.

     

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

  11.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 5:27pm

    Re:

    PS: Why does the RSS address keep changing back and forth between http://feeds.feedburner.com/techdirt/feed and http://feeds.techdirt.com/techdirt/feed ? Firefox will say one failed to load. So I change it to other which works once, then fails on the next attempt to reload. In order to update your feed, I have to constantly change the address back and forth.

    Something broke in the RSS feed earlier in the week. And then something broke while fixing it... hopefully should be fixed now (or will be very shortly)

     

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

  12.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 8:10pm

    Re: Let this be a lesson boys and girls

    One must get the paperwork to know one needs to respond.

    The rules of providing service seem to include I put it in the mail to the last known address. Of course if they have never responded because they no longer live there, you can just send the letters there... and yay they are in default.

     

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

  13.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 9:42pm

    Re:

    Well, though I promised to post something new on my blog tonight, I will pass, at least till tomorrow. Tired.

    I want to share a couple of observations though.

    Both defaulted defendants did receive the original summons. There is a proof of service: one signature is unreadable, the other clearly states a different name, so it may be a case that Malgorzata Pralat of Greenville, Wisconsin has never received the summons.

    According to the order displayed above, Sperlein mentioned to the judge that one of the two packages he sent to defendants later, this time by first class mail, had bounced. He did not specify which one, but I'm sure it was the one sent to Malgorzata Fraczyk: the other defendant lives in Buffalo Grove IL, and owns property, so it is much less likely that a package sent to his address would bounce. Sperlein said that he talked to her over the phone, but since he was caught lying in the past, I wouldn't take his word for granted.

    So, most likely one of the defaulted defendants, Malgorzata Fraczyk, is not aware about the scam he was involved with.

    Malgorzata lived in an apartment complex with many units, most likely with a roommate(s), thus someone using her network, wired or wireless, is the most likely scenario, and since she is a woman, I don't believe that she knowingly downloaded gay pornography.

    You don't have to be a Sherlock Holmes to come to these conclusions... while Sperlein did not believe that she was sharing his movies, at least intentionally, he went after her just because he could, because she was an easy target. What a slime. Every time I think about Sperlein, I have an acute desire to wash my hands.

    Also I want to remind you an mysterious story about the other victim, Mariusz Pralat.

     

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

  14.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 9:44pm

    Re: Re: Let this be a lesson boys and girls

    It may be the case at least with one of them: see my comment below (in the tree mode) or just above (in chronology).

     

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

  15.  
    icon
    hmm (profile), Oct 8th, 2011 @ 10:29am

    i wanna get sued

    Bleh! no-one will sue me.

    Probably because I know that even if they dropped me from the suit I could then file a counterclaim anyway that they COULDN'T drop and seek punitive damages........

     

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

  16.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Oct 9th, 2011 @ 12:08am

    Re: i wanna get sued

    A majority of the people involved in these John Doe discovery expeditions are never actually named.
    This has been used by Howell to claim that Does have no right to block their business relationship details with an ISP from a court order because they are not a party to the case. She used it to block motions challenging joinder, jurisdiction, and other issues because the unnamed Does are not a party to the case.
    The case where their records were being handed out based on a for profit company using a technology that has NEVER been proven as reliable in a US court. (they were throw out of a German court)

     

    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