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EFF Asks Judge to Prevent ‘Catch-22’ in Porn-Downloading Lawsuit

Defendants Told They Must Reveal Their Identities Before Fighting to Protect Anonymity
PRESS RELEASE
January 30, 2012
Defendants Told They Must Reveal Their Identities Before Fighting to Protect Anonymity

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has asked a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to protect the identities of individuals sued in a mass copyright lawsuit involving pornographic materials.

In this case, adult film company Hard Drive Productions sued 1495 unnamed Internet users, claiming they illegally downloaded copyrighted pornographic material. Some of these defendants moved to quash subpoenas aimed at revealing their identity. Many filed those motions under seal, to protect their anonymity until the motions are decided.

Last month, a judge issued a "Catch-22" order, requiring these individuals to reveal their identities before their motions – which were made to protect their identities – could proceed. In a friend of the court brief filed Monday, EFF argues that this requirement could induce defendants to settle their lawsuits in order to avoid the embarrassment, humiliation, or expense, instead of getting to the merits of the case.

"These subpoenas need to be considered in the context in which this case was brought," said EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. "The plaintiffs here hope to take advantage of the stigma associated with pornography – as well as the threat of an expensive court battle – to induce people to settle no matter what their defenses might be. If defendants can't fight the exposure of their identities without exposing their identities, then the plaintiffs have already won."

The case is one of a growing number of mass copyright lawsuits that do not appear to be filed with any intention of litigating them. Instead, once identities of suspected infringers are obtained from ISPs, the plaintiffs send settlement letters offering to make the lawsuit go away for a few thousand dollars. A ruling on whether a film company may obtain identities of anonymous Internet users may be the last chance for defendants to be heard by the court.

EFF's brief explains both the speech implications of the ruling and the importance of the court rules that protect defendants, given the numerous ways these mass lawsuits violate due process.

"All that the plaintiffs need here to pursue their settlement shake-down scheme is the identity of the anonymous defendants," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "These defendants have a First Amendment right to argue for their anonymity without the court forcing them to moot that argument from the start. We're asking for these motions to quash to go forward without requiring them to be unsealed, and we're also asking the court to throw this case out given the basic due process flaws."

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/document/amicus-brief-hard-drive-productions-v-does-1-1495

For more on copyright trolls:
https://www.eff.org/issues/copyright-trolls

Contacts:

Corynne McSherry
   Intellectual Property Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   corynne@eff.org

Mitch Stoltz
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   mitch@eff.org

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