Federal Courts Aren't ATMs, Angry Judge Reminds Copyright Troll
from the fully-justified-verbal-abuse dept
I will never tire of judges handing down benchslaps to IP trolls. Perhaps I’ll never tire of it because it just doesn’t happen often enough. Or perhaps it cannot happen often enough, given the sheer amount of troll litigation judges preside over. Not every dismissed case can be given the court’s full attention. But this opinion, from Judge Royce Lamberth, should certainly get Strike 3 Holding’s attention.
Strike 3 is […] a copyright troll. Its swarms of lawyers hound people who allegedly watch their content through Bittorrent, an online service enabling anonymous users to share videos despite their copyright protection. Since Bittorrent masks users’ identities, Strike 3 can only identify an infringing Internet protocol (IP) address, using geolocation technology to trace that address to a jurisdiction. This method is famously flawed: virtual private networks and onion routing spoof IP addresses (for good and ill); routers and other devices are unsecured; malware cracks passwords and opens backdoors; multiple people (family, roommates, guests, neighbors, etc.) share the same IP address; a geolocation service might randomly assign addresses to some general location if it cannot more specifically identify another. […]
Simply put, inferring the person who pays the cable bill illegally downloaded a specific file is even less trustworthy than inferring they watched a specific TV Show. But in many cases, the method is enough to force the Internet service provider (ISP) to unmask the IP address’s subscriber. And once the ISP outs the subscriber, permitting them to be served as the defendant, any future Google search of their name will turn up associations with the websites Vixen, Blacked, Tushy, and Blacked Raw. The first two are awkward enough, but the latter two cater to even more singular tastes.
The court goes on to point out it isn’t copyright law that vindicates the plaintiff but rather “the law of large numbers.” Strike 3 has filed 1,849 copyright infringement lawsuits across the nation (according to Judge Lamberth’s count), resulting in an untold number of settlements. And that’s all this really is: another attempt to force someone, anyone, to cough up some money rather than face off in court. As Judge Lamberth notes, copyright trolls “consume 58%” of the federal court system’s copyright lawsuit docket. They’re a burden on the courts and a burden on the public. Judge Lamberth calls Strike 3 on its copious bullshit:
These serial litigants drop cases at the first sign of resistance, preying on low-hanging fruit and staying one step ahead of any coordinated defense. They don’t seem to care about whether defendant actually did the infringing, or about developing the law. If a Billy Goat Gruff moves to confront a copyright troll in court, the troll cuts and runs back under its bridge. Perhaps the trolls fear a court disrupting their rinse-wash-and-repeat approach: fie a deluge of complaints; ask the court to compel disclosure of the account holders; settle as many claims as possible; abandon the rest.
Rather than be an accomplice in Strike 3’s shady game, Judge Lamberth denies its request for discovery. Without further discovery, Strike 3 can’t serve anyone with a lawsuit, which will prevent Strike 3 from refiling in this court at least, even with a dismissal without prejudice that leaves that door open.
No copyright troll is going to try to keep a case alive in Lamberth’s court, not after this damning summation of their collective efforts:
Armed with hundreds of cut-and-pasted complaints and boilerplate discovery motions, Strike 3 floods this courthouse (and others around the country) with lawsuits smacking of extortion. It treats this Court not as a citadel of justice, but as an ATM.
This will limit Strike 3’s litigation in this particular jurisdiction. But that’s what venue shopping is for. At least defendants have another opinion to quote when fighting back against trolls like Strike 3.