Anti-Piracy Lawyers Retreat, Drop Another Mass BitTorrent Lawsuit

The United States Copyright Group (USCG) has dropped another mass-lawsuit they filed earlier against 1,951 BitTorrent users. The dismissal comes just a week after the lawyers dismissed their 'The Expendables' case and suggests they are retreating. The question is, however, whether this signals the end of trouble for the defendants or whether the lawyers will re-file their cases in smaller batches.

Early 2010, USCG imported the mass-BitTorrent lawsuit scheme into the United States. Since then the group has sued tens of thousands of alleged BitTorrent users, and other lawyers have been quick to copy their tactics.

Thus far the results in court have varied greatly. In some cases the judges were quick to throw the cases out, and in other instances the copyright holders were allowed to identify the alleged copyright infringers. They could then continue their scheme and send settlement offers to the defendants to make the threat of legal action disappear.

Last week we reported that USCG had dropped one of their most prominent cases representing the makers of The Expendables, Nu Image. In a brief court filing they voluntarily dismissed their case against 23,322 alleged BitTorrent users who were accused of illegally sharing the film.

One of the reasons for this dismissal is that in July, District Court Judge Robert Wilkins ruled that the lawyers could only go after those individuals who are reasonably likely to be living in the District of Columbia.

This meant that they were not allowed to send any subpoenas to ISPs when the IP-addresses are located in other districts, and it effectively reduced the group of defendants to about 1 percent of what it initially was. Apparently, this group of leftover defendants was not worth the effort and the case was dropped.

But this case doesn’t stand alone.

This week USCG voluntarily dismissed another lawsuit (pdf), one that was filed just a few weeks ago. The case in question was filed on behalf of Cinetel Films, the makers of the horror flick “I Spit on Your Grave” and listed 1,951 BitTorrent users as defendants.

As with the Expendables case, USCG doesn’t give a reason why they chose to voluntarily dismiss the case. However, since this case was also appointed to Judge Robert Wilkins it doesn’t seem far-fetched that they anticipated running into similar jurisdiction issues as they did in the Expendables case.

The above suggests that USCG is ‘retreating’ and they are unlikely to file similar mass-lawsuits at the District Court for the District of Columbia in the near future. However, that doesn’t mean that the trouble for the defendants is completely over.

As both cases were dismissed “without prejudice,” it means that they ran be refiled at a later stage. This allows the lawyers to cut up the huge list of defendants into smaller batches and file new lawsuits in the districts where these alleged BitTorrent users live.

As we’ve pointed out in the past, anti-piracy lawyers are constantly changing their tactics to maximize the profitability of their settlement schemes. The future will show whether USCG and its clients are planning to do the same. In other words, they may have lost a battle but the war is certainly not over yet.

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