Skip to main content

EFF Press Release Archives

Press Releases: June 2010

June 28, 2010

Predatory Suits Improperly Lump Thousands of Defendants Together

Washington, D.C. - On Wednesday, June 30, at 2:15 p.m., a federal court in Washington, D.C., will hear oral argument from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) about dividing up the mass copyright infringement lawsuits that improperly and unfairly target thousands of BitTorrent users.

A Washington, D.C., law firm calling itself the "U.S. Copyright Group" (USCG) has filed "John Doe" lawsuits on behalf of seven filmmakers that implicate well over 14,000 anonymous individuals in alleged unauthorized downloading of independent films, including "Far Cry" and "The Hurt Locker." EFF and co-amici Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation contend that these suits improperly lump thousands of defendants together, a shortcut that deprives the defendants of fair access to individual justice. In court on Wednesday, EFF Senior Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry will argue that USCG has not offered enough evidence of a relationship between the defendants to justify suing them together.

The stakes are high for anyone identified in USCG's slipshod cases. USCG's strategy appears to be to threaten a judgment of up to $150,000 per downloaded movie -- the maximum penalty allowable by law in copyright suits and a very unlikely judgment in cases arising from a single, noncommercial infringement -- in order to pressure the alleged infringers to settle quickly for $1,500 - $2,500 per person. Earlier this month, EFF, the ACLU, and Public Citizen filed an amicus brief in three of these cases, outlining how the lawsuits flout the legal safeguards that protect individuals' rights.

WHAT:
Achte-Neunte v. Does
West Bay One v. Does

WHEN:
Wednesday, June 30
2:15 p.m.

WHERE:
United States District Court for the District of Columbia, Courtroom 2
333 Constitution Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001

For more on these cases:
http://www.eff.org/cases/achte-neunte-v-does

Contact:

Corynne McSherry
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

Related Issues:
June 22, 2010

EFF Urges Appeals Court to Tackle Critical First Amendment Questions

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the Citizen Media Law Project (CMLP), and Public Citizen Monday urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to consider the critical First Amendment questions at issue in a case asserting "hot news misappropriation" -- a doctrine that a federal court used to put time limit restrictions on the reporting of facts.

The defendant in the case, TheFlyOnTheWall.com, had gathered stock recommendations from investment banking firms like Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Lehman Brothers and reported them on its website. The firms sued TheFlyOnTheWall.com, claiming that the information was "hot news" and the website was free-riding on the firms' work in creating the recommendations. A federal court agreed with the investment banks and ordered TheFlyOnTheWall.com to delay reporting of the information for two hours after the reports are released.

"Surprisingly, no court has carefully explored the tension between the so-called 'hot news misappropriation' doctrine and freedom of speech and freedom of the press," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "We're asking the appeals court to recognize the elephant in the room and analyze the 'hot news' doctrine in light of the strong First Amendment protections developed by the Supreme Court to encourage the expression of truthful statements on matters of public concern."

Applying heightened First Amendment scrutiny is especially important now, as the Internet is increasingly allowing Americans to publicly gather, share, and comment on the news of the day. Misuse of the "hot news" doctrine could stifle this extraordinary growth of free expression.

"It's not hard to see how new and vital forms of social media could get caught in a 'hot news' dragnet," said McSherry. "The court must ensure that this doctrine is not used to quash online commentary and information-sharing."

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/barclays_v_fly/FlyBriefFinal.pdf

Contact:

Corynne McSherry
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

Related Issues:
June 16, 2010

EFF and Other Privacy Groups Outline Six Steps for True User Control

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the ACLU of Northern California, and a coalition of privacy groups are urging Facebook to give users true control over their personal data by taking six critical steps to protect members' information.

In an open letter sent to CEO Mark Zuckerberg today, the coalition asks Facebook to close its "app gap" and allow users to decide which applications can access their personal data. The group also asks Facebook to make "instant personalization" an opt-in service and use an HTTPS connection for all interactions by default, among other steps.

"Facebook continues to push its users into more and more public sharing -- sharing that it's not at all clear members want or fully understand," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston. "We're calling on Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg to respect their members and give them the information and the tools they need for true control."

Facebook has faced a firestorm of criticism since April, when it made sweeping revisions to its privacy policy. Among the changes were the launch of the controversial "instant personalization" service, as well as forcing users to chose between making wide swaths of previously private data public or deleting the information. Facebook made some important privacy improvements in May, but key aspects of user control were not covered by the changes.

"Social network service providers are in a unique position -- hosting communications, conversations, and connections with loved ones, family, and friends," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "This is extremely sensitive information, and social networking services must ensure that users have ongoing privacy and control."

In the wake of the public outcry against Facebook's privacy revisions, EFF issued a Bill of Privacy Rights for social network users, advocating that all social network users have the right to make informed decisions about their level of privacy, to exercise control over their data, and to leave a network. Social network users' rights are also under discussion this week at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference in San Jose.

In addition to EFF and the ACLU of Northern California, other groups signing today's open letter include the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, Privacy Lives, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

For the full open letter:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/social_networks/OpenLettertoFacebook.pdf

For EFF's Bill of Privacy Rights for Social Network Users:
http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/05/bill-privacy-rights-social-network-users

For more on social networking and privacy:
http://www.eff.org/issues/social-networks

Contacts:

Kevin Bankston
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
bankston@eff.org

Kurt Opsahl
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
kurt@eff.org

Related Issues:
June 3, 2010

Predatory Copyright Infringement Cases Violate Rights of Thousands

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked judges in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to quash subpoenas issued in predatory lawsuits aimed at movie downloaders, arguing in friend-of-the court briefs that the cases, which together target several thousand BitTorrent users, flout legal safeguards for protecting individuals' rights. Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation joined EFF on the briefs filed Wednesday.

The lawsuits are the brainchild of a Washington, D.C., law firm calling itself the "U.S. Copyright Group" (USCG). USCG investigators have identified IP addresses they allege are associated with the unauthorized downloading of independent films, including "Far Cry" and "The Hurt Locker." To date, USCG has filed seven "John Doe" lawsuits in D.C., implicating well over 14,000 individuals, and has issued subpoenas to ISPs seeking the names and addresses of the subscribers associated with those IP addresses. Several ISPs have complied, but Time Warner Cable moved to quash the three subpoenas it received, arguing that USCG is abusing the discovery process.

In briefs filed in support of the cable giant, EFF says the John Doe defendants are being deprived of a fair chance to defend themselves by the strategies adopted by the USCG.

"By requiring those sued to defend these cases in D.C., regardless of where they live, and by having thousands of defendants lumped into a single case, the USCG has stacked the deck against the defendants," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "In addition, the First Amendment mandates that each defendant be given notice and opportunity to quash a subpoena and that the plaintiff offer sufficient evidence of infringement about each defendant individually."

"If USCG wants to sue thousands of people, it needs to give each defendant a fair chance to fight the accusations," added EFF Civil Liberties Director Jennifer Granick. "Instead, USCG is taking shortcuts that will result in innocent people getting tangled up in the dragnet."

USCG's strategy appears to be to threaten a judgment of $150,000 per downloaded movie -- the maximum penalty allowable by law in copyright suits and a very unlikely judgment in cases arising from a single, noncommercial infringement -- in order to pressure the alleged infringers to settle quickly for about $2,500 per person. USCG unapologetically explains this strategy on its website: "As a practical matter each individual infringer lacks the assets, net worth and earning capacity to make civil prosecution practical...until the SaveCinema.org efforts of the US Copyright Group." USCG has also said it plans to target thousands more individuals for legal action in the coming months.

"We've long been concerned that some attorneys would attempt to create a business by cutting corners in mass copyright lawsuits against fans, shaking settlements out of people who aren't in a position to raise legitimate defenses and becoming a category of 'copyright trolls' to rival those seen in patent law," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "We're asking the court to step in now and force USCG to follow the rules that apply in all other cases."

For the full amicus brief:
http://www.eff.org/files/filenode/uscg_does/Achte-Neunte%20Final%20Brief.pdf

For more on this case:
http://www.eff.org/cases/achte-neunte-v-does

Contact:

Corynne McSherry
IP Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation
corynne@eff.org

June 2, 2010

Appeals Court to Consider 'First Sale' Doctrine for eBay Seller

Seattle - On Monday, June 7, at 9 a.m., a federal appeals court in Seattle will hear oral argument in a case where the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is fighting to uphold an eBay seller's "first sale" right to resell promotional CDs that he buys from secondhand stores.

Troy Augusto was sued by Universal Music Group (UMG) three years ago for 26 auction listings for promo CDs. At issue was whether the "promotional use only, not for sale" labels on those CDs trump Augusto's right to resell materials that he owns -- a right guaranteed by copyright law's "first sale" doctrine.

In 2008, the district court handed the victory to Mr. Augusto, but UMG has appealed that ruling. At Monday's hearing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in Seattle, EFF cooperating counsel Joseph C. Gratz of the San Francisco law firm Durie Tangri LLP will argue the case, urging the court to uphold the "first sale" principle against self-serving "not for resale" labels on compact discs.

Also on the court's calendar on Monday are two other important first sale cases. In Vernor v. Autodesk, the panel will consider whether an eBay seller has the right to resell software purchased second-hand. In MDY v. Blizzard, at issue is whether World of Warcraft players own the software they purchase to play the game, and whether that entitles them to use the software in ways the creator does not approve of.

WHAT:
Oral argument in UMG v. Augusto

WHEN:
Monday, June 7
9 a.m.

WHERE:
William K. Nakamura Courthouse, 7th floor
1010 Fifth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104

For more on UMG v. Augusto:
http://www.eff.org/cases/umg-v-augusto

Contact:

Fred von Lohmann
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation
fred@eff.org

Related Issues:
JavaScript license information