A pivotal case that could mean the end of many mass-BitTorrent lawsuits is currently ongoing in a Virginia federal court. Labeling the pay-up-or-else scheme as a “shake down,” the judge wants to know why he should allow copyright holders to massively coerce people into paying huge cash settlements. Realizing the importance of the case, a fellow anti-piracy law firm has now joined in to protect its livelihood.
In recent weeks the tide has turned against so-called copyright trolls and their mass-BitTorrent lawsuits.
Perhaps the most significant rulings came from Virginia, where District Court Judge John Gibney threw out all but one defendant in various cases filed by lawyer Wayne O’Bryan. The Judge suggested these cases are only setup to extract as much cash from defendants as possible, and that several procedures are broken in the process.
Gibney even went as far as calling the scheme a “shakedown.”
“This course of conduct indicates that the plaintiffs have used the offices of the Court as an inexpensive means to gain the Doe defendants’ personal information and coerce payment from them. The plaintiffs seemingly have no interest in actually litigating the cases, but rather simply have used the Court and its subpoena powers to obtain sufficient information to shake down the John Does,” Judge Gibney wrote.
Aside from throwing nearly all defendants out of the cases, the Judge also asked O’Bryan and the copyright holders why the court should allow such litigation in the first place.
“The plaintiffs’ conduct in these cases indicates an improper purpose for the suits. In addition, the joinder of unrelated defendants does not seem to be warranted by existing law or a non-frivolous extension of existing law,” he wrote.
If the answer to this order isn’t sufficient, and the mass-lawsuits are indeed found to be ‘frivolous’, it could signal the beginning of the end for many more BitTorrent lawsuits. These developments haven’t gone unnoticed by other lawyers who make a living off suing alleged BitTorrent users.
This week law firm Steele Hansmeier filed an amicus brief in support of mass-lawsuits. Interestingly enough, the Steele Hansmeier brief was submitted by the law firm Anderson & Associates, who are also involved in BitTorrent lawsuits themselves.
“Steele Hansmeier has extensive experience litigating suits similar to this action and believes that these actions are the only feasible method for copyright holders to protect their rights against the onslaught of BitTorrent-based copyright infringement,” they write.
The brief then goes into detail on why the court should allow thousands of defendants to be sued at once.
The above suggests that the firms are worried about the potential downfall of their lucrative business model to the extent that they feel the need to get involved in other cases to save what they can. For Steele Hansmeier this may be of even greater value than for other firms, as they are part of a tangled web of so-called copyright trolls.
A few days ago Judge Gibney scheduled a hearing for next week, where lawyer O’Bryan has to explain why their pay-up-or-else scheme is lawful. If the Judge concludes that the lawyer and copyright holder indeed violated federal rules, then they can expect to be fined thousands of dollars.
It goes without saying that it’ll be interesting to see the outcome.