US Big Content nearly banned from pirate "fishing exhibitions"

A US judge poked at a wasp’s nest when he appeared to rule that Big Content mass-lawsuits violate BitTorrent users’ right to anonymous speech.

Miami Judge Marc Schumacher signed an order which effectively protected accused BitTorrent downloaders from mass-lawsuits filed by copyright holder and kills all BitTorrent lawsuits in Florida state courts.

He did so thinking that both sides in his copyright case agreed with him and got a legal assistant to draw up “his reasoning.” Obviously Big Content said that it would never agree to such a thing and now it seems that Schumacher has set aside the ruling.

According to Torrent Freak,  for one brief moment, it was illegal for Big Content to carry out mass lawsuits in Florida. The document is still important because it shows how the judge is leaning in handling mass lawsuits.

Copyright holders are said to have exploited a loophole based on discovery. This gives them the ability to go on subpoena tantrums to send out to internet providers – without having to provide any evidence along the way.

Schumacher’s assistant described the BitTorrent lawsuits as “fishing expeditions” and said that the copyright holders are, in fact, trolls.

He said that the suits were used to extort settlements from defendants who are neither subject to the courts’ personal jurisdiction nor guilty of copyright infringement, but who are scared of being dragged into a court in suit that seeks disclosure of the contents of their personal computers.

While many federal courts have dismissed BitTorrent lawsuits, he is using the First Amendment.

Schumacher said that the Supreme Court recognised that the First Amendment protects anonymous speech. He added that it is impossible for a state court to conclude whether the copyright holder’s request to identify the file-sharers is legitimate or not, but BitTorrent users’ right to anonymous speech does shield them from being exposed through state court lawsuits.

The discovery process cannot be used for mass-BitTorrent lawsuits because subpoenas are supposed to target the defendant, not a third-party such as web provider. Even now that that the decision has been set aside, it does make it difficult for Big Content to see how it is going to get its trolling antics past this particular judge.