from the not-a-good-idea dept
In a case before Judge Katherine Forrest in the Southern District of NY, things have not been going that well for Malibu Media. And, this may be surprising to some, given prior to becoming a judge, Forrest was one of the RIAA's lawyers in copyright lawsuits over online infringement. Yes, really.
As per usual, the FightCopyrightTrolls site has been doing a great job keeping tabs on this case, which started getting attention a month ago when the lawyers representing the (still anonymous) John Doe defendant called Judge Forrest's attention to Malibu Media's latest nasty shakedown trick. Earlier in the case, Malibu Media was granted discovery of the Doe's computers and couldn't find any evidence of the Malibu Media/Xart material. But rather than drop the case, Malibu Media's legal team did the standard trick of subtly threatening to embarrass/harass the Doe if he didn't pay up, by putting him through a litany of irrelevant questions designed to find out other people who know the Doe who Malibu Media might go after:
During the deposition, Malibu’s counsel propounded a morass of irrelevant questions concerning, inter alia, Doe’s educational background (including factual and technical details about the courses Doe studied), the identity and location of Doe’s family members, the identity and location of Doe’s employers years before the relevant period herein (including factual and technical details about Doe’s job roles and responsibilities), the location of Doe’s residences years before the relevant period herein, the existence of Doe’s resume/CV, identity and location of persons in Doe’s personal and social life. Indeed, Doe answered questions about two decades’ worth of his life. This line of questioning lasted for more than 2.5 hours. Doe’s testimony in response to these questions is not relevant or material to Malibu’s single cause of action for direct copyright infringement or any of Doe’s defenses.Judge Forrest quickly sided with the Doe and against Malibu Media:
Dissatisfied with the lack of evidence of infringement and existence of testimony denying same, Malibu’s counsel falsely accused Doe of destroying evidence and reiterated her intention to depose Doe’s significant other (wrongly identified by Malibu as Doe’s wife). In person, at the deposition, the undersigned reiterated Doe’s objection to producing Doe’s significant other and indicated that no evidence exists as to infringement by Doe, such that testimony from any other person concerning same has no probative value and would be pursued only for purposes of harassment. Malibu’s counsel reiterated Malibu’s intention to depose Doe’s significant other and potentially other parties.
[....] While Doe is cognizant of Malibu’s ostensible desire to conduct thorough discovery, it has become apparent that, in the absence of any evidence of infringement on Doe’s part, Malibu is conducting a fishing expedition and campaign of harassment by threatening to depose nonparty witnesses on irrelevant topics and to continue to depose Doe on same. In so doing, Malibu is attempting to prevent ultimate resolution in this matter by creating the false sense that evidence of infringement or wrongdoing exists.
Protective order granted. Plaintiff may not subpoena neighbors or Defendant’s significant other based on the current record. As to the neighbors, Plaintiff would be engaged in a fishing expedition and/or harassment of defendant (by way of causing embarrassment/humiliation).Malibu Media is not happy about this. It is both continuing to push the issue by arguing that the Doe should be "sanctioned" for "perjury" because its "computer forensic examiner has discovered that Defendant used military grade computer wiping software to delete material evidence from his hard drive" and it has asked to subpoena Verizon to try to continue its fishing expedition.
The issue in this is [sic] case is did this defendant download Plaintiff’s works — not anyone living in the apartments nearby.
As to Defendant’s significant other, the Court has read the transcript of the deposition. The testimony is that any use of this woman was on Defendant’s computer. There is no evidence that the computer has or had any of Plaintiff’s copyrighted works that I can see — thus, whether the girlfriend used the computer is irrelevant.
And, yes, now we've finally gotten to Verizon which appears to be fairly pissed off about Malibu Media and has made it clear that Malibu Media's subpoena attempt is not just "defective" but flat out ridiculous.
Here, Plaintiff has not demonstrated “good cause” for extending the discovery cut-off. Its subpoena suffers from multiple defects. It was served on the eve of the discovery cut-off without affording Verizon any meaningful opportunity to investigate the alleged facts. The subpoena was issued from this district but served in Texas and purports to command the appearance of Verizon’s representatives—who reside in or near Arlington, Virginia—to testify on six days’ notice in Texas, i.e., outside the 100-mile radius for commanding testimony of a witness.... And, the subpoena seeks information far beyond that contemplated by the Cable Communications Policy Act (“Cable Act”) as discoverable from an ISP — i.e., more than the name and address of the subscriber associated with an IP address, which Verizon already provided in response to an earlier subpoena in this action. Verizon objected in writing to the current subpoena within six days of service, yet Plaintiff has made no real attempt to address those objections.Many people have wondered why Malibu Media/Xart have not yet faced the same sort of crackdown as Team Prenda, and it seems likely that it's only a matter of time, and the right case -- with the right judge. Getting a big ISP involved in a case seems like the kind of thing that could finally tip the scales -- as it did in one of the key Prenda cases as well.
At bottom, Malibu Media’s subpoenas impose a significant, cumulative burden on Verizon, while “us[ing] the offices of the Court as an inexpensive means to gain the Doe defendants’ personal information and to coerce payment from them.” K-Beech, Inc. v. Does, 2011 U.S. ...; see also Northwestern Mem’l Hosp. v. Ashcroft,... (rejecting argument that a subpoena causes no undue burden merely because “the administrative hardship of compliance would be modest,” but considering instead “the rash of suits around the country” and the publicity generated). Given the defects in the subpoena and other problems addressed herein, Verizon respectfully submits that Plaintiff’s request for relief should be rejected.