Dallas Buyers Club Demands Accused Pirate Take Polygraph, Asks For Judgment When He Agrees Anyway

from the graphic-detail dept

Anyone who has spent time with us here at Techdirt will be familiar with Voltage Pictures, the movie studio that perhaps is more famous now for being a copyright settlement troll than it is for having produced the movie Dallas Buyers Club. The studio has quite the reputation for sending settlement letters to those it accuses of having pirated the movie, typically with offers to settle for amounts in the thousands, and armed with the evidence of an IP address and nothing else. The frightened masses too often fork over the demanded settlement, not realizing that having an IP address is not evidence enough to prove guilt. It's a bullying business model that drips of sleaze.

But, like with many others that use sleazy business models, the sleaze doesn't end there. Lying and making false promises appears to be part of the model as well. Take the case of Michael Amhari, a California man on the receiving end of one of Voltage's settlement offers. The studio made several promises to try to get Amhari to settle, none of which it appears to have been willing to keep. For instance, Voltage wanted Amhari to take a polygraph to back up his claim that he wasn't the one who downloaded the film.

“Plaintiff demanded that defendant take a polygraph examination in exchange for a dismissal of the case. Plaintiff’s counsel disingenuously stated that he would bear all the costs for such a polygraph test,” Amhari’s counsel Clay Renick writes.

“When plaintiff’s counsel then agreed to take such a test with the proviso that defense costs and attorney fees be covered, plaintiff then refused to pay costs and revoked his offer to conduct a polygraph.”

Instead of coming to terms, Dallas Buyers Club asked the court to order a default judgment in their favor, which Amhari’s counsel asked the court to set aside.

In addition to playing these games with a polygraph test request, Renick is also asking the court to set aside the judgement due to all the other promises Voltage made to Amhari, with promises to dismiss its claim, that it didn't keep.

For example, they offered to dismiss the case if he would state under penalty of perjury that he was not involved, while pointing out another possible suspect. However, after Amhari submitted his declaration they moved for a default anyway.

“After receiving exculpatory evidence and the sworn declaration of defendant, Mr. Davis then refused to file a dismissal and proceeded to demand that defendant appear in the action or he would file a default. This behavior is galling and it should not be permitted by the court,” the defendant’s counsel adds.

Galling and quite exemplary of just how interested in any kind of justice Voltage Pictures is in this instance. Which is to say it isn't at all, because it appears to keep requesting information and evidence supporting Amhari's innocence and then rescinding its promises once its requests are met. That isn't someone looking for a just result. It's instead the actions of an incredibly irritating bully who is only interested in the extraction of money from someone it deems to be be bully-able. That the promises were backed by a legal staff that then has gone back to the court to try to get judgments against the defendant is breathtakingly cavalier.

Given that Amhari has agreed to pretty much every demand that Voltage Pictures has made, and has received none of the promised results, it would be nice for the court to slap the troll around a bit and at least revoke the previous default judgement.

Filed Under: copyright trolls, dallas buyers club, michael amhari, polygraph
Companies: voltage pictures


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2016 @ 11:50am

    It should go without saying

    If they're willing to lie about all that, how can we be sure they're not lying about the entire case? They don't exactly ooze trustworthiness at this point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 11:58am

      Re: It should go without saying

      That's the great part about using the courts to shake someone down like this, so long as you make sure to mention the magic word, 'Copyright' you can get away with pretty much anything. The fact that they've lied multiple times to him will likely be brushed under the rug because no tactic is too sleazy, no law too important to be thrown out the window when it comes to 'protecting' the almighty and all important Copyright.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:06pm

        Re: Re: It should go without saying

        At least Voltage hasn't slipped as far as MM yet, where they claim that lack of evidence proving their claims is evidence that they must have been guilty.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:14pm

          Re: Re: Re: It should go without saying

          Give it time, I'm sure the only reason they haven't tried it yet is because they haven't heard of the trick.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            That Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:36pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: It should go without saying

            They probably don't want to pay for an expert who was allowed to retire instead of facing charges.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:39pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: It should go without saying

              Also quite possible, I mean they're in it for the easy money first and foremost, why pay expenses that you don't have to when you can just drop a case as soon as it looks like it might turn against you and just line up another mark, something that's as easy as pulling numbers out of a hat?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 20 May 2016 @ 12:02pm

    “Plaintiff demanded that defendant take a voodoo examination in exchange for a dismissal of the case. Plaintiff’s counsel disingenuously stated that he would bear all the costs for such a voodoo test,” Amhari’s counsel Clay Renick writes.
    “When plaintiff’s counsel then agreed to take such a (voodoo) test with the proviso that defense costs and attorney fees be covered, plaintiff then refused to pay costs and revoked his offer to conduct a voodoo.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:04pm

    A verbal promise and an empty sack is worth... an empty sack

    I'm guessing(though I would love to be wrong) they were careful enough to not make any of their 'promises' on paper, and as such it will be easy enough for them to claim that the terms he agreed to were not how he describes them, and as such they didn't break any promises whatsoever.

    Semi-related, if his lawyer thought it was a good idea for him to take a polygraph test to demonstrate his innocence he needs to get a new lawyer, as his current one is clearly an idiot. You'd have better odds flipping a coin to determine guilt or innocence, and as far as I know polygraph results aren't legally admissible evidence anyway, so I'd say it's pretty clear Voltage is just doing it to wear him down.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:20pm

      Re: A verbal promise and an empty sack is worth... an empty sack

      Seems to me they've got a pretty good case for promissory estoppel by this point, actually.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:41pm

        Re: Re: A verbal promise and an empty sack is worth... an empty sack

        If the defense can provide evidence of the various 'agreements' sure, but like I said if they were in any way smart they would almost certainly have made sure to never write any of their 'offers' down, meaning it would be his word against theirs.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:04pm

    What is extra galling is following standard boiler plate filings, they tell the court the account holder is the person who did it... and then say oh well swear you are innocent and throw someone else under the bus.

    So an innocent person can swear they are innocent, and then are required to give them a new target to go after despite the claims made that the accused is the infringer.

    Given the pattern in these cases, it should finally be clear that these are nothing but $400 fishing trips to reel in thousands. The system works against the accused, and the courts seem overly generous with the leeway the lawyers are given, while making sure the accused is held to higher standards.

    The system is weighted against the accused, and makes just paying them the easy way to end the suffering. Even if you jump through every hoop, disprove every claim... the trolls slink away to avoid having to pay for making an innocent person defend themselves against baseless accusations.

    They are supposed to only recover so much per work, and they rake in many times that amount with settlements made outside of the purview of the courts and keep going for more because no one has the will to stop these legal shakedown operations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2016 @ 12:21pm

    I'd like to point out, he did not agree to a lie detector. He made a counter offer of them payinf his fees. Saying he agreed seems disingenuous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:33pm

      Re:

      “Plaintiff demanded that defendant take a polygraph examination in exchange for a dismissal of the case. Plaintiff’s counsel disingenuously stated that he would bear all the costs for such a polygraph test,” Amhari’s counsel Clay Renick writes.

      “When plaintiff’s counsel then agreed to take such a test with the proviso that defense costs and attorney fees be covered, plaintiff then refused to pay costs and revoked his offer to conduct a polygraph.”


      Unless the above quote is incorrect then it looks like he did agree to take a polygraph test in exchange for the plaintiff covering his legal fees as well at the case being dropped, at which point they rescinded the offer.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:24pm

    Meanwhile Up North

    The settlement trolls have arrived here in Canada.

    A family friend that I do occasional tech support for received about 30 copyright notices overnight, forwarded from his ISP under Canada's Notice on Notice regime. The one he forwarded me originates with Vobile Inc. in California, on behalf of Viacom.

    He's a senior citizen in his late 80s living in a retirement home. He has just the one PC connected to his cable modem, and no WiFi. There's absolutely no possibility that he was downloading "The Shannara Chronicles" with BitTorrent in the middle of the night as the notice claims.

    Canada's Notice on Notice system no doubt limits RightsCorp/Prenda/ Voltage Pictures style shakedowns. But seniors are lucrative targets for fraud.

    I've advised him not to contact Vobile. I emailed his ISP on his behalf, and they sent back a standardized form giving the distinct impression that they want nothing to do with it. They'll only hand over his information to the trolls if they get a court order.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:37pm

      Re: Meanwhile Up North

      But seniors are lucrative targets for fraud.

      But of course. Mental state maybe not so great, not likely to have the energy for defending themselves in court, retirement money just begging to be grabbed... if you're interested in the 'Extortion masquerading as copyright enforcement' business I imagine seniors make for quite the tempting target indeed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 12:49pm

      Re: Meanwhile Up North

      Hit enter too soon...

      Now if you'll excuse me I think I need to take a shower, as for some reason I feel like I just swam through an olypmic sized pool filled to the brim with sleaze and liquid sociopath after putting myself in the mindset of the type of person to run such scams in order to write the above.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 20 May 2016 @ 12:35pm

    I expect Tomas de Torquemada and Eugene McCarthy are cackling with glee about now at how DBC and MM are conducting their business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 20 May 2016 @ 1:46pm

    I think the term "copyright pirates" may have been given to the wrong people in this equation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 2:01pm

    The other problem: the lawyer

    The other problem is the lawyer who took this case: I'm sure he keeps coming back to and court only to say "I went to my client and doesn't agree to the terms [and he wants to keep paying me to fight for him]".
    At what point do we hold lawyers responsible for putting billing hours and income before what's right?

    What does Voltage Picture really have to gain by going after this one guy? Is he the head of a Chinese cartel that's selling millions of bootleg DVD's? Is he part of a North Korean smuggling ring that's trafficking millions of DVD's? If not, then why spend all this time and effort to get a few thousand dollars from the guy?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2016 @ 2:09pm

      Re: The other problem: the lawyer

      If not, then why spend all this time and effort to get a few thousand dollars from the guy?

      Because ruining someone’s life, whether they win or lose, helps convince others to settle quickly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 2:09pm

      Re: The other problem: the lawyer

      What does Voltage Picture really have to gain by going after this one guy? Is he the head of a Chinese cartel that's selling millions of bootleg DVD's? Is he part of a North Korean smuggling ring that's trafficking millions of DVD's? If not, then why spend all this time and effort to get a few thousand dollars from the guy?

      Answer: Reputation to make future cases easier.

      "We were willing to drive this guy into the ground even after he hired a lawyer and fought back by insisting on his innocence, so you'd best pay up before we do the same to you."

      Copyright extortion isn't about guilt or innocence, it's all about going after a mark and making them too afraid to fight back, whether that's by making it cheaper to settle than fight back, telling them that if they fight back their lurid (accused) downloading habits will become public record for all to see or both.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Beefcake (profile), 20 May 2016 @ 2:52pm

    Gonna Be That Guy I Guess

    It's correctly spelled "judgment".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Mark Wing, 20 May 2016 @ 3:46pm

    If you're going to get sued for watching a shitty movie, then at least hold out for the porn spoof of it, like "Debbie Does Dallas Buyers Club."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2016 @ 4:36pm

      Re:

      Or any "B" grade SF movie from the 50's and 60's. I managed to force myself to watch 5 minutes of that piece of rubbish before giving it up as a very bad joke.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 May 2016 @ 4:04pm

    I would never wish aids on anyone, but these jokers are pushing the envelope. Sorry to say I couldn't sit through it either. Whom shall I send my request for a refund to?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 21 May 2016 @ 3:11am

    Austro-Hungarian Outcome

    I think the result for Voltage Pictures should be like the result from WW1 for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Like Austria-Hungary (in respect of Serbia) they have made a set of demands that they believe are unacceptable in the hope that their non-acceptance will give them an excuse to do what they want. Like Serbia Amhari has accepted the demands and now they are stuck.

    The final result for the Austro-Hungarian empire was that it ceased to exist.

    Let us hope that the same happens to Voltage Pictures.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2016 @ 10:53am

    I wouldn't mind so much but every film voltage has made was utter utter crap, and only got made to take a massive tax loss for the parent company shareholders.

    I should be able to sue Voltage if they accused me of having such bad taste that I'd download ANY of their drivel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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