Judge Slams Copyright Troll Lawyer John Steele's Latest 'Fishing Expedition'
from the another-one-down dept
However, despite that loss, Steele has tried again for another reverse class action. Earlier, the judge denied Steele's motion for expedited discovery. Expedited discovery is a pretty standard thing that almost every court grants as a matter of course, but we've now seen a few courts in these mass infringement lawsuits refuse, after realizing the only purpose behind expedited discovery is to get the names/addresses of people in order to hit them up with settlement offers. In this case, the judge specifically ordered the court clerk not to issue subpoenas in the case, to stop Steele from getting the info he needed to pressure people into settling. Steele still pushed forward, trying to get the court to approve things so he could send out the subpoenas and get the names.
But the judge is having none of it.
In an incredibly short, but clearly well-thought out response (pdf) to Steele, Judge Harold Baker, makes it clear that he wants no part of this. First, he points out that IP addresses do not match up well with individuals, and even points to the recent story of a home being raided for child porn due to an open WiFi router, to highlight that an IP address does not show who's actually doing the downloading:
Moreover, VPR ignores the fact that IP subscribers are not necessarily copyright infringers. Carolyn Thompson writes in an MSNBC article of a raid by federal agents on a home that was linked to downloaded child pornography. The identity and location of the subscriber were provided by the ISP. The desktop computer, iPhones, and iPads of the homeowner and his wife were seized in the raid. Federal agents returned the equipment after determining that no one at the home had downloaded the illegal material. Agents eventually traced the downloads to a neighbor who had used multiple IP subscribers’ Wi-Fi connections (including a secure connection from the State University of New York). See Carolyn Thompson, Bizarre Pornography Raid Underscores Wi-Fi Privacy Risks (April 25, 2011), http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/42740201/ns/technology_and_science-wireless/But, much more importantly, Judge Baker notes the serious fear of chilling effects from these lawsuits, pressuring people to settle even if they are innocent, and even calls out one of Steele's other cases, where Steele has dropped a bunch of defendants who settled. While that may have been good for Steele at the time, Judge Baker uses it to point out that this appears to be Steele's business model, rather than a real legal situation, and he sees no reason to help Steele out in this fishing expedition to scare people into settling:
The list of IP addresses attached to VPR’s complaint suggests, in at least some instances, a similar disconnect between IP subscriber and copyright infringer. The ISPs include a number of universities, such as Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, and the University of Minnesota, as well as corporations and utility companies. Where an IP address might actually identify an individual subscriber and address the correlation is still far from perfect, as illustrated in the MSNBC article. The infringer might be the subscriber, someone in the subscriber’s household, a visitor with her laptop, a neighbor, or someone parked on the street at any given moment.
In Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1 - 1000, counsel sought leave to dismiss more than 100 Doe defendants, stating that some of the Does had “reached a mutually satisfactory resolution of their differences” with the plaintiff.... Orin Kerr, a professor at George Washington University Law School, noted that whether you’re guilty or not, “you look like a suspect.” Could expedited discovery be used to wrest quick settlements, even from people who have done nothing wrong? The embarrassment of public exposure might be too great, the legal system too daunting and expensive, for some to ask whether VPR has competent evidence to prove its case. In its order denying the motion for expedited discovery, the court noted that until at least one person is served, the court lacks personal jurisdiction over anyone. The court has no jurisdiction over any of the Does at this time; the imprimatur of this court will not be used to advance a “fishing expedition by means of a perversion of the purpose and intent” of class actions.Denied.