Mass suing by copyright trolls could be about to be consigned to the dustbin of legal history, according to the Mail Tribune .
The idea is that you sniff out a potential pirate from a P2P site , get the ISP to identify them, usually with a court order, and then threaten to take them to court. The victim usually settles to avoid expensive court litigation. It has worked rather well, until judges started to wake up to the idea that the practice was, well, abusing the legal system for extortion.
A federal judge has now slammed “reverse class action lawsuits” while dismissing a Los Angeles-based movie company’s lawsuit that claimed dozens of Jackson County “John Doe” defendants had pirated one of its movies off the web.
Salem attorney Carl Crowell filed a lawsuit on behalf of Voltage Pictures US District Court in Medford, seeking up to $180,000 in damages from each of the 34 defendants accused of pirating the 2012 movie “Maximum Conviction”.
The company sought $30,000 for the alleged infringement, and an additional $150,000 from each defendant in statutory damages should there be a finding of willful conduct.
But US district court judge Ann Aiken told the plaintiffs to go forth and multiply – saying the movie company had unfairly lumped the plaintiffs together in a “reverse class action suit” to save more than $200,000 in court costs, and possibly intimidate the plaintiffs into paying $7,500 for allegedly illegally viewing a $10 video.
Voltage wanted a jury trial, alleging the unnamed defendants used their computers to illegally copy and distribute the 2012 movie Maximum Conviction. Voltage said the unnamed local defendants resided in Medford, Talent, Central Point, Shady Cove, Klamath Falls and Brookings.
The defendants were not identified by name at the time of the initial filing because Voltage had only their internet protocol addresses. Voltage later subpoenaed the defendants’ internet service providers, which include Charter Communications, Clearwire, CenturyLink, Embarq and Frontier Corp., to obtain the defendants’ names.
Aiken said that the manner in which plaintiff is pursuing the Doe defendants resulted in $123,850 savings in filing fees alone at the expense of the fairness to the defendants.
Aiken agreed technologies such as BitTorrent are “anonymous and stealthy tools” that allow for large scale copyright infringement. But some of the people listed had unsecured IP addresses, others allowed only downloading and prohibited uploading, while others still were associated with institutional accounts such as businesses or schools with numerous users.
Aiken said cases such as the one filed by Voltage allow plaintiffs to use the courts’ subpoena powers to troll for quick and easy settlements. The letter asks $7,500 as a settlement offer, and said that amount would increase up to $150,000 if the recipient did not agree to prompt payment.
It also makes threats against attempts to delete files, asserting costs associated with such actions will be added to the assessment. Aiken said the letter was an exorbitant extortion tactic.