Another Judge Blasts Copyright Trolls
from the swarms dept
We’ve been seeing more and more judges reacting negatively to copyright trolls. What’s interesting is that they seem to be getting more aggressive in their statements against the trolls, and it seems clear that fewer judges are falling for their antics. The latest is from Judge Harold Baer in the Southern District of New York, who you could say is not impressed by some copyright trolling cases that have ended up in his court, coming from Media Products and Patrick Collins. He had allowed for expedited discovery, which is what copyright trolls want, but it seems quite clear that Baer regrets that decision and now seeks to reverse it. Expedited discovery basically gives the trolls what they want: it lets them subpoena ISPs to find out contact info of users based on the IP addresses they’ve collected. From that point on, they have no intention of ever proceeding with the actual lawsuit. They just want to start pressuring people into “settling.”
Judge Baer clearly understands what’s going on here. He notes early on the very serious potential problem of IP addresses not being particularly good identifiers of who has done the actual infringement:
Particularly troubling for courts is the high probability of misidentified Doe defendants (who may be the bill-payer for the IP address but not the actual infringer) settling a case for fear of the disclosure of the allegations against them or of the high costs of litigation.
He notes that he’s not ready to “wade into” the question of whether or not joinder is appropriate, especially in cases where all of the IP addresses are part of the same BitTorrent swarm, but he is clearly worried about a different kind of “swarm”:
Ironically, there are swarms on both sides, for copyright locusts have descended on the federal courts, exacting low-cost settlements from embarrassed John Does and then moving on to the next District
Yes, Judge Baer seems familiar with the M.O. of these trolls, and how they’ve effectively been “run out of” other districts after judges realized what they were up to. In fact, he quotes a ruling in the Central District of California approvingly:
… the federal courts are not flexible enough to be shaped into “cogs in a plaintiffs copyright-enforcement business model. The Court will not idly watch what is essentially an extortion scheme, for a case that [Plaintiffs have] no intention of bringing to trial.”
He also worries that the plaintiffs have already pressured defendants into settling, noting “that some Doe defendants have already been voluntarily dismissed at this early stage in the litigation.” For that reason, he’s decided that joining all the cases together at this stage is inappropriate, and has (like many other courts) severed and dismissed all but one Doe.
He then goes back to talk about his overall concerns with how copyright trolling is a troubling development, and quotes a bunch of other cases from other district courts around the country:
The Plaintiffs’ tactic, if left unchecked, could turn copyright protection on its head. Congress intended to incentivize the creation of useful arts by providing a statutory right and a means of enforcement that would reward authors for their labors, hardly the Plaintiffs’ strategy here…. In the BitTorrent pornography cases, settlements are for notoriously low amounts relative to the possible statutory damages, but high relative to the low value of the work and minimal costs of mass litigation. Cases are almost never prosecuted beyond sending demand letters and threatening phone calls. Severing the Doe defendants does not destroy the incentive to prosecute infringers who use peer-to-peer protocols; it merely restores the balance that Congress intended, not to mention that it ensures that courts receive the filing fees that Plaintiffs otherwise avoid.
And one final point, since he already allowed for discovery, he wants the plaintiffs to destroy the info, and if he finds out that they pursue those people anyway, it sounds like there may be trouble:
Plaintiffs shall not contact any Doe defendant who does not remain in this or a subsequently-filed case, and any pending settlement not with John Doe 1 in each named case shall immediately cease. If after 14 days Plaintiffs have not reinstituted cases against the remaining Doe defendants, Plaintiffs shall destroy whatever personal information they presently have for those defendants and shall not use the information for any purpose. Ifany Doe defendant no longer named in a case is contacted following entry ofthis Order, I encourage them to contact the Court.
Elsewhere, he orders the plaintiffs to pass along this order to all the ISPs they’ve subpoenaed, and to have them distribute it to all the people in question, so (hopefully) they understand to contact the court if the plaintiffs violate the order and continue to go after them.
One really good thing here: Judge Baer clearly spent time looking into these cases, and seeing just how common they are and what’s happening in them. Above, we’ve already noted that he cited a few such cases — but in a footnote that takes up about half the page, he goes on to name a whole bunch of them, noting that “this is but a sample” and pointing out:
It is difficult to even imagine the extraordinary amount of time federal judges have spent on these cases.
Hopefully other judges are beginning to recognize the same thing. It seems clear that more and more judges are putting these cases into the proper context, understanding what’s really happening and how the copyright trolls are abusing the court system as a part of a business model, rather than for any legitimate legal reason.