San Francisco - In a big victory in the fight against copyright trolls, a judge in West Virginia has blocked an attempt to unmask accused file sharers in seven predatory lawsuits involving the alleged illegal downloading of pornography. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), working with Charles J. Kaiser of Phillips, Gardill, Kaiser & Altmeyer, PLLC, filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the film companies were abusing the law in an attempt to pressure settlements.
In these cases -- as in many others across the country -- the owners of the adult movies filed mass lawsuits based on single counts of copyright infringement stemming from the downloading of a pornographic film, and improperly lumped hundreds of defendants together regardless of where the IP addresses indicate the defendants live. The motivation behind these cases appears to be to leverage the risk of embarrassment associated with pornography to coerce settlement payments despite serious problems with the underlying claims.
"This is the next nail in the coffin of the copyright trolls," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "Now that judges are starting to reject the shoddy and unfair tactics being used by the attorneys filing these cases and force plaintiffs to play by the rules, this type of mass litigation will no longer be a good business model." In the seven West Virginia cases, collectively suing over 5,400 people, Time Warner Cable moved to quash subpoenas seeking the identities of accused filed sharers. EFF"s supporting amicus brief specifically noted the problems with suing hundreds of unconnected individuals in the same lawsuit. The judge's ruling today closely followed EFF's reasoning, ordering the plaintiffs to re-file their actions against each defendant individually.
"These lawsuits have caused massive collateral damage to the individuals targeted, due process, and the legal profession," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "Copyright owners have a right to protect their works, but not at the expense of the due process rights of thousands of Doe defendants."
In a further blow against the plaintiffs' blunderbuss tactics, the court also forbade the plaintiffs from re-filing unless the plaintiffs had a valid reason to believe the Does actually were located in West Virginia, noting that a simple Google search would narrow the field.
"Courts must protect the rights of each and every defendant, and attempts to game the system inevitably puts those rights at risk," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "We are grateful that the court saw through that attempt here and hope that others avoid this unwarranted, harmful attack in the future."
The West Virginia order comes on the heels of a ruling by a judge in the District of Columbia earlier this month that dismissed hundreds of individuals from across the country named in the U.S. Copyright Group's troll campaign due to lack of personal jurisdiction in Washington, D.C.
For the judge's full orders:
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Electronic Frontier Foundation
Intellectual Property Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation