Some Good Court Rulings Against Copyright Trolls... And One Bad Ruling
from the trololololo dept
The Court currently has three similar cases before it, all brought by the same attorney. The suits are virtually identical in their terms, but filed on behalf of different film production companies. In all three, the plaintiffs sought, and the Court granted, expedited discovery allowing the plaintiffs to subpoena information from ISPs to identify the Doe defendants. According to some of the defendants, the plaintiffs then contacted the John Does, alerting them to this lawsuit and their potential liability. Some defendants have indicated that the plaintiff has contacted them directly with harassing telephone calls, demanding $2,900 in compensation to end the litigation. When any of the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or sever themselves from the litigation, however, the plaintiffs have immediately voluntarily dismissed them as parties to prevent the defendants from bringing their motions before the Court for resolution.Unfortunately, not all judges have recognized this abuse of the system yet. In a new ruling in the Northern District of California, a judge ruled that its not just okay to join totally separate defendants together in such a lawsuit, but it's fine to make them "jointly and severally liable" for the damages. The full ruling is embedded below. It's a "default judgment," meaning that the two defendants didn't bother to respond to the lawsuit or show up. Thus, no one presented the other side of the story. Such things happen and not responding to a lawsuit is almost always going to lead to a default judgment and trouble. But, there's simply no reason that the court should have then taken the further step of assuming that the two parties were linked and that they should be jointly and severally liable for the damages. Unfortunately, even as a default judgment, this ruling can and will be used by lawyers to suggest that joinder is proper.
This course of conduct indicates that the plaintiffs have used the offices of the Court as an inexpensive means to gain the Doe defendants' personal information and coerce payment from them. The plaintiffs seemingly have no interest in actually litigating the cases, but rather simply have used the Court and its subpoena powers to obtain sufficient information to shake down the John Does. Whenever the suggestion of a ruling on the merits of the claims appears on the horizon, the plaintiffs drop the John Doe threatening to litigate the matter in order to avoid the actual cost of litigation and an actual decision on the merits.
The plaintiffs' conduct in these cases indicates an improper purpose for the suits. In addition, the joinder of unrelated defendants does not seem to be warranted by existing law or a non-frivolous extension of existing law.
Of course, the one oddity with finding the defendants to be jointly and severally liable is that it actually could act as disincentive in a small way for these lawsuits with tons of defendants. That's because only a single damages award is being put forth. So, for example, in this case, it's $20,000. But that $20,000 is due combined from the defendants. Now, imagine a suit with... say.... 5,000 defendants, and a similar $20,000 award. Then if each paid $4 they'd satisfy the judgment. Of course, that's a really minor point, because as the first judge's ruling above notes, the folks filing these lawsuits never really want to go to court with them. They just want to pressure people into paying up.