Courts deliver knockout blow to copyright trolls

A federal appeals court has killed off a copyright takedown scam aimed at pornography downloaders which was being run by AF Holdings, an arm of copyright troll Prenda Law.

AF hit on an idea that it would ask an ISP for IP addresses thousands of downloaders, once it had the list it would contact the account holders and threaten expensive litigation if they do not settle promptly. Faced with the prospect of hiring an attorney, often in a distant court, most subscribers-including those who may have done nothing wrong-will choose to settle rather than fight.

Circuit Judge David Tatel, writing for United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, called the lawsuit “a quintessential example of Prenda Law’s modus operandi” in reversing a lower court ruling that would have forced a half-dozen ISPs to identify account holders associated with 1,058 IP addresses.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has welcomed the ruling. EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz said. “For the defendants, it will come down to risking being named in a lawsuit over a pornographic movie, or settling for less than the cost of hiring an attorney. As a matter of law and basic fairness, a copyright plaintiff needs to show that its case is on solid ground before putting hundreds of Internet users into that kind of bind.”

AF Holdings has never actually brought a copyright case to trial, yet is reported to have “earned” $15 million over three years using the scheme.

The court’s reversal was based on an inability to demonstrate that more than a handful of 1,058 individuals it sought to identify even lived in the District of Columbia.

Cox, AT&T, and Bright House each stated that they had no subscribers at all in the District of Columbia; indeed, they do not even offer service here. AF Holdings could not possibly have had a good faith belief that it could successfully sue the overwhelming majority of the 1,058 John Doe defendants in this district.

The court also ruled that seeking the identities as part of a single lawsuit was impermissible because there was no reason to believe that the targets acted together.

EFF said that the decision is “a crushing blow for copyright trolls”.