Yet Another Judge Slams Copyright Trolls; Warns That Courts Should Not Be Used To 'Bludgeon' People Into Settling
from the down-they-go dept
Reminiscent of the Righthaven cases, where once judges realized what was really happening they quickly started dumping them, it seems that we’re reaching the tipping point with porn companies playing the copyright trolling game as well. More and more of the attempts to seek expedited discovery are getting rejected in sternly worded rulings from judges who recognize that the sole purpose of the lawsuit isn’t to go to trial, but to get expedited discovery in order to shake people down for cash. The latest such ruling in an increasingly long line comes out of the Eastern District of NY, where judge Gary Brown issued a nice smackdown on copyright trolls. The judge first notes the ridiculousness of relying on IP addresses to identify the individuals, citing a bunch of cases, before noting that an IP address simply does not indicate the “true identity” of the defendant.
In sum, although the complaints state that IP addresses are assigned to “devices” and thus by discovering the individual associated with that IP address will reveal “defendants’ true identity,” this is unlikely to be the case. Most, if not all, of the IP addresses will actually reflect a wireless router or other networking device, meaning that while the ISPs will provide the name of its subscriber, the alleged infringer could be the subscriber, a member of his or her family, an employee, invitee, neighbor or interloper
There are a number of issues specific to the claims of the plaintiff, K-Beech in this case, including its failure to register the copyrights in question, and a weak attempt at lumping in a trademark claim after this came to light. However, what becomes clear pretty quickly is that the judge isn’t buying any of this, and sees that it’s really just an attempt to use the courts to shake people down. It starts off with the discovery request going far beyond what’s necessary to take a case to trial:
However, not all the information sought is required to advance the claim. For example, in addition to names and addresses, plaintiffs seek both the home telephone numbers and email addresses of the putative John Does… information which is clearly not required to proceed with this action. In particular, obtaining the home telephone numbers seems calculated to further plaintiffs’ settlement strategies, discussed above, rather than advancing their claims by allowing them to effect service.
But the larger point is that the court recognizes these kinds of copyright trolling lawsuits as “abusive litigation tactics.” While the court notes that it can and should encourage settlements, it also notes that the rules say those settlements should be “just” and it’s not clear that’s what’s happening here:
Our federal court system provides litigants with some of the finest tools available to assist in resolving disputes; the courts should not, however, permit those tools to be used as a bludgeon.
The court then goes on to agree with many other courts in noting that lumping a bunch of defendants together in the same lawsuit is improper joinder, and agrees to only allow discovery on the very first IP address named in each of the lawsuits being considered.
On the whole, there isn’t that much different about this ruling from a bunch of other recent rulings, but it’s another one to add to the pile, and it gets clearer and clearer every day that the courts are now aware of how trolls are abusing the system, and less and less likely to allow such abuse.