In 2010, adult movie company Larry Flynt Productions embarked on a project to extract hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements from alleged BitTorrent pirates. In October, through lawyer Evan Stone, the company filed several lawsuits which sought the identities of several thousand Internet users said to have infringed copyright.
As reported in December, the cases suffered a setback when ISP Time Warner Cable refused to hand over customer details, but now the problems for Larry Flynt – and others embarking on similar projects – may even prove terminal.
Rob Cashman, owner of Cashman Law Firm, has contacted TorrentFreak with great news for the Does in both these and similar cases in the future. Cashman’s company has been working against these lawsuits and it now appears that thousands have been dismissed due to the Does involved being improperly joined.
After a description of how the Does allegedly shared the movie in question, Royal Furgeson, Senior United States District Judge for the Northern District of Texas, said that in the plaintiff’s complaint there are no allegations that the defendants are in any way related to each other, or that they acted in concert in the alleged infringements.
Taking the ruling from an earlier file-sharing case, West Coast Prods., Inc. v. Does 1-535 of December 16, 2010) the judge reiterated that “merely committing the same type of violation in the same way does not link defendants together for purposes of joinder.”
Additionally, the judge ruled that “joinder is improper in this case because each Defendant will also likely have a different defense.”
“In my opinion [these cases] had much more credibility and corporate backing than the West Virginia cases did,” Cashman told TorrentFreak. “This result will likely get noticed by judges across the US who are trying their own John Doe mass media copyright infringement lawsuits.”
So what does the decision mean for the Does/defendants in the cases?
“In short, all defendants were dismissed and severed. What this means is that if the plaintiff attorneys wish to continue the lawsuit, they will have to file against each of the six thousand defendants individually,” says Cashman.
If one views these mass lawsuits from the plaintiff’s viewpoint, this is a disaster. The whole process relies on doing everything in bulk, as cheaply as possible, in order to make the most profit on settlements. If this type of ruling spreads, the word ‘cheap’ isn’t something that will be often associated with these operations in future.
Cashman says that if the plaintiffs do decide to proceed with these cases, the process is extremely time consuming. The plaintiffs will have to draft complaints specific to each defendant, submit them to the local court where each lives, learn and follow the local court rules, pay the filing fees for each defendant and properly serve them.
“Then us attorneys will begin defending the cases, and we will begin conducting discovery and making them attend depositions, answer interrogatories, and prove their case,” he continues. “I would think this would be difficult for them to do with just a few defendants. I can imagine this would be nearly impossible to do with 6,000+ defendants.”
“But, I’m sure if asked, they will probably post some news article expressing their determination to go after each and every defendant, and I wish them well,” Cashman concludes.