Lawsuit Against US Copyright Group For Fraud & Extortion Moves Forward

from the conduct-is-actionable,-it-seems dept

US Copyright Group was the first of the US-based copyright trolls, suing thousands of individuals in a single lawsuit, trying to get them to pay up (rather than going through an actual trial). US Copyright Group is really a front for a DC law firm, Dunlapp, Grubb & Weaver. One of its very first "big" lawsuits was against about 5,000 people for supposedly partaking in the sharing of Uwe Boll's Far Cry. Of course, as we had noted, there was a pretty big problem in the Far Cry lawsuit, in that the US copyright registration was filed too late for many of the accusations of infringement.

Partly on the basis of the registration problems, Dmitriy Shirokov (with the law firm Booth Sweet) sued US Copyright Group, DGW and its key lawyers for fraud, extortion and conspiracy back in 2010. DGW shot back angrily, claiming that it's perfectly fine for for lawyers to lie to the court, if it's part of the course of litigation:
"Although an attorney may be accused of defrauding opposing parties, knowingly committing discovery abuses, lying to the court, or purposely and maliciously defaming another individual, if it takes place during the course of litigation, the conduct simply is not actionable,"
Of course, the threats and extortion weren't actually "during the course of litigation." DGW also claimed that there was no "harm" for Shirokov, because he didn't settle, and thus hadn't paid up. DGW then went even further, asking for sanctions against Shirokov and Booth Sweet, claiming that it was actually them who were filing lawsuits for "improper purpose."

The court has now ruled in response to DGW's motion to dismiss, and it seems pretty clear that the judge is not impressed by DGW at all. The motion to dismiss was rejected and the class action lawsuit against the company moves forward.
Judge Boal recommended that the motion for dismissal be denied in significant part. The defendants had argued that Mr. Shirokov was not entitled to sue them at all, since he wised up before paying their demands, and his claimed injuries were out-of-pocket costs of investigating the threats. They claimed that the Noerr-Pennington privilege, an antitrust doctrine, prevented any liability. And they argued that lawyers and their clients have absolute immunity for even intentional torts, or in DGW’s words: “although an attorney may be accused of defrauding opposing parties, knowingly committing discovery abuses, lying to the court, or purposely and maliciously defaming another individual, if it takes place during the course of litigation, the conduct simply is not actionable.” Just think about that one for a minute.

Judge Boal thoroughly debunked each of those claims. The fees Mr. Shirokov incurred in investigating the trumped-up copyright claims constitute an injury-in-fact that gives him standing to sue. The Massachusetts litigation privilege does not apply to threats of litigation that are not seriously contemplated in good faith. And the Noerr-Pennington antitrust doctrine did not apply outside of antitrust law, and even the First Amendment right to petition isn’t an absolute protection for litigation threats.
It's important to note that, in this case, it's the specific issue of the non-registered copyrights that is key. That is, the lawsuit isn't about the general practice of copyright trolling -- but the fact that it was done using claims and demands that were not true (e.g., the statutory damages if found guilty of sharing, even though such statutory damages were not available for a work that hadn't been registered).

Along those lines, the court didn't completely side with Shirokov, saying that some of the racketeering and fraud charges should be dismissed. But, large parts of the lawsuit survive and will move forward -- which doesn't seem like a good thing for DGW or US Copyright Group. Perhaps, next time, they'll check the copyright registration before filing suit.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: copyright, dmitriy shirokov, fraud, registration, thomas dunlap, trolls, uwe boll
Companies: booth sweet, dunlap grubb & weaver, us copyright group

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    brandy, 26 Mar 2012 @ 6:51pm

    Nu Images,Inc.

    I've gotten letters via comcast or something saying that they have a subpoena for downloading/uploading a video called "The Mechanic" anyways a cop told me to throw it away and not worry, comcast's main office in athens said it was a scam and not to worry. . it's requesting me to get a lawyer or have my information, name ect. handed over. . I did have power around that time but i don't recall if i even had internet but I know for 100% certain that I did not download that movie. . but . . what should I do? ignore it? or. . get a lawyer? I Don't have any money, I have a 3 year old and two other people living with me and a house that is crap that i have to pay to fix like the ac that's gone out. . and other important bills like electric, I get SSI and tanff. . and nothing else since i'm disabled what the hell am I supposed to do D: if they do sue me? my friend and mother even said this was fake and not to worry but i have panic attacks and frankly i'm scared.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.