Judge Who Said Lumping Together Unrelated Copyright Cases Is Fine… Is A Former RIAA Lobbyist

from the aren't-you-supposed-to-recuse-yourself? dept

Last week, we noted that judge Beryl Howell seemed to go against numerous other rulings by mass copyright lawsuit filers in saying that it was just fine to lump all the defendants together, despite the fact that each one was totally unrelated to the others. She even went so far as to claim that this benefited the defendants. She also pointed out that this made it easier for the plaintiffs, and seemed particularly concerned that things be as easy as possible for those plaintiffs. As we noted, our legal system isn’t supposed to work that way. The point was making sure that actual due process was allowed, and joining together totally unrelated cases went against that principle.

Of course, perhaps there’s a reason why Howell wanted to make things easier for plaintiffs in mass copyright lawsuits. You see, as TorrentFreak points out, Judge Beryl Howell is a recent appointment to the bench, and prior to that worked as a lawyer for a law firm that did plenty of work for the RIAA, and Howell herself was a lobbyist for the RIAA. It also notes that she helped write the DMCA among other copyright expansion laws from the last decade and a half.

As TorrentFreak notes, this certainly seems like a conflict of interest.

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Companies: riaa

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Comments on “Judge Who Said Lumping Together Unrelated Copyright Cases Is Fine… Is A Former RIAA Lobbyist”

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Hiiragi Kagami (profile) says:

So why didn't she recuse herself?

Surely this judge will realize the issues of her presiding over this case in appeals, right?

I’m not sure how this benefits everyone. Color me skeptical to think routers can make it to court on their own.

This practice should be barred, but it’s unlikely going to happen.

When our own vice president uses a term like “unadulterated theft” when discussing infringement, I’m not confident these appointments were based on the best candidate for the job, but one who clearly can circumvent the very rights they were allowed until they’re in power to take them away.

This story is all over the internet and it’s difficult to believe the EFF won’t have a say in this.

Which reminds me. Time for a renewal on my subscription.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: So why didn't she recuse herself?

When our own vice president uses a term like “unadulterated theft” when discussing infringement

The Supreme Court called it no different than “garden variety theft”. Want to complain about them too?

This story is all over the internet

You mean whiny tech and freetard blogs like this one? What a surprise.

Newsflash: nobody really cares about crybaby lawbreakers.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: So why didn't she recuse herself?

I love that word. I love how it sounds like you are saying people wanting freedom are retarded and it’s supposed to be a derogatory term. I can just picture them using “freetard” to try to demean the slaves that dissented back in the day. Seriously they have got to come up with a better derogatory term. Maybe try playing off a word that doesn’t also mean an ideal that nearly everyone admires and people fight and die for? I almost think that “freetard” has got to be a planted term to sabotage people who use it 🙂

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: Re: So why didn't she recuse herself?

You mean whiny tech and freetard blogs like this one?

Any time you want to go away and find a blog for arrogant, rude, pointless people who whinge about how hard-done-by they are because the goverment doesn’t just automatically tax everyone and give them the money instead of them having to work for a living would be just fine. Send a postcard.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Honestly, how rare is this?

You’d have to think, for instance, that Surpreme Court justices have covered a wide enough variety of the law that they occasionally hear cases on topics they’ve been involved in. Perhaps not so HEAVILY involved as this case, but how many times are you really getting an impartial judge?

It almost seems like our justice system would be better if there were always 3 judges on a case rather than one….

Markus (profile) says:

Re: Honestly, how rare is this?

I imagine a lot of the problem is the proximity in time and subject matter to her previous position. She was just recently appointed, and the work she did immediately before her appointment was as an RIAA lobbyist. I agree that topical overlap may occur often, but (as a Supreme Court example) Justice Kagan recused herself when she had been working on a case right before she was appointed that then came before the court, and it’s arguable that this situation is somewhere int the same neighborhood of relevance, since this judge’s entire job was to advance the goals of the RIAA. To me it actually looks like an even larger conflict of interest in this instance.

As for your second point, a federal appellate lawyer friend of mine recently said the same thing about 3 judge panels. Apparently, even without a conflict of interest, some judges make bad decisions. Shocking, I know.

Rich says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Thanks! Although, the geek in me just has to say that divide-by-zero is not an example of an underflow. An underflow occurs when a value is too small to representable in the given type (which usually result in the value being set to 0). A divide-by-zero will (assuming IEEE Standard 754) result in either infinity or a NaN. Sorry, I just had to…

Anonymous Coward says:

Conflict of interest?

There are plenty of judges who may have strong opinions on issues before them (whether it’s something as boring as copyright or true hot-button issues like gay marriage or abortion or health insurance reform); those strong opinions are certainly likely to have an influence on how the judges rule, but having thought about or worked on an issue before isn’t a “conflict of interest” that should lead a judge to recuse herself from a case.

If the RIAA or a company they represent were actually a party in this case, it’s likely that this could represent at least the perception of a conflict of interest, but the RIAA is not involved. This is a law suit brought by movie studios over movie file sharing.

I’m not saying that this isn’t an incredibly stupid ruling or that ill-conceived and twisted patterns of deceptive thought she acquired as a RIAA lobbyist had no effect on Judge Howell’s ruling, but it’s just bad law. It’s not a conflict of interest.

Markus (profile) says:

Re: Conflict of interest?

You’re right. She didn’t work for any of the companies in the suite. She (immediately prior to this) worked as a lobbyist of an organization that would greatly benefit should this ruling stand. If that is not enough of a conflict for you, maybe the fact that these companies are members of an organization (MPAA) that has extremely close ties to the RIAA and would also likely benefit is enough? No? Well then, yeah, she didn’t work for those specific companies.

JMT says:

Re: Conflict of interest?

If the judge’s performance had been beyond reasonable criticism your argument would be much stronger. But she appears to have made a very unusual ruling which goes against precedent, and made bizarre claims that are demonstrably false (?this benefits the defendants?). Given that this is exactly the result she would?ve recently pushed for as a RIAA lobbyist, it raises the very strong possibility, and more importantly the perception, of a conflict of interest. That sounds like grounds for her to be recused to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Conflict of interest?

This is like saying that Justice Kagan should continue recusing herself from any cases involving liberals or liberal causes because her previous job was as solicitor general under a liberal president.

Yes, this is an absurd ruling which goes against how other judges has ruled (though I don’t think it specifically violates any appellate precedents in that circuit), but there’s no evidence that she made this absurd ruling for the sake of personal gain rather than due to the same bizarre copy-right-wing ideology that likely got her her lobbying job in the first place (or that she developed during her time there).

Now, if she still owned a bunch of stock or stock options in RIAA companies, the argument you’re making about the benefit the precedent might have on the RIAA could certainly hold some weight, but I’ve heard of nothing like that here.

(I’m also not saying that this isn’t corruption–it’s certainly conceivable that her original appointment was in some sense Obama paying the MPAA/RIAA/etc. back for campaign contributions. I’m just saying that there hasn’t been any evidence that there was a conflict of interest of the sort that would be expected to lead to an ethical judge recusing herself from the case.)

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Quote

Nope, I found it to be interesting because it seems to be a very biased statement, that’s all.

As for the “Victims are fending for themselves.” part, I am really OK with that myself.

Copyright is a government granted monopoly where only the rights holder is allowed to profit from the works, so it makes sense to me that if the rights holder wants to enforce that copyright then the rights holder should shoulder all the responsibility to do so, financially or otherwise.

Donnicton says:

Although, on the other hand, I’m not entirely convinced that she earned half a million over five years lobbying for the RIAA in order to promote the excitement of Justin Bieber’s latest hit album to congress.

I can understand having worked with legislation towards a particular goal such as being involved with the creation of the DMCA, that’s not necessarily going to be a smoking gun, it just happened to be something you were involved with.
But, when you receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from a private corporation to promote a particular viewpoint to the government, and then become a judge and just happen to immediately start ruling in favor of those particular viewpoints(regardless of whether it’s for the same company), I can see it being rather understandable that a few eyebrows are going to be raised.

jim bank says:

Judge Howell didn't check the copyright owner

In this case, Maverick Entertainment is suing for copyright infringement for the movie “the clique”.

Maverick doesn’t even own the rights to the movie, its owned by ? 2008 Warner Home Entertainment. All rights reserved.

The way most bit torrents work they are configurable for various settings on duplicate named files. Last in first out is common so in this case if multiple downloads happened simultaneously in the “swarm” chances are NONE of the data from the Maverick Entertainment movie of the same name was even downloaded, and even more likely the “swarm” side of the upload would have been confused.

Anyway, five minutes and an understanding of bittorrent configurations could have saved thousands of lawsuits. The way it goes now however is that Maverick Entertainment is going to be collecting settlements enabled by a DC Judge Howell that is on the edge of conflict of interest, for copyright infringement of a movie they don’t even own.

CRAZY…I wonder if Warner Home Entertainment can sue Maverick Entertainment for gains $$$ that were knowingly obtained under a false and clearly confusible bit torrent file.

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