Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner and Cox are appealing a district court decision ordering them to reveal the identities of 1,058 subscribers accused of pirating movies on BitTorrent. The ISPs point out that their subscribers may not be the individuals who downloaded the copyrighted files in question, and warn that the decision creates a “great potential for coercive and unjust ‘settlements’.”
Last year district court Judge Beryl Howell, a former RIAA lobbyist, granted the adult movie company AF Holdings the right to obtain the personal details of more than 1000 Internet users suspected of downloading their works on BitTorrent.
The verdict was a big win for the porn studio and its controversial law firm Prenda, since many other judges had previously rejected joining so many defendants in one lawsuit. Adding to the controversy, Judge Howell accused the ISPs who joined the case that they were not doing enough to stop online piracy.
The ISPs were not happy with Howell’s ruling and this week Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner and Cox filed an appeal. The providers hope to reverse the earlier ruling and stop copyright trolls from targeting hundreds of defendants in a single lawsuit.
The providers point out that many judges have rejected these cases, and that the copyright trolls are trying to create an environment in which they can sue many people at minimal cost.
“The district court’s authorization for Plaintiff to pursue the personal information for more than 1,000 Internet subscribers in a single lawsuit stands in stark contrast to the vast majority of recent decisions addressing the ‘multi-Doe’ pornographic lawsuit phenomenon,” the ISPs write.
“Through this action, Plaintiff hopes to create a ‘safe haven’ in the District of Columbia for pursuing the largest amount of subscribers’ information, at the lowest cost.”
The providers continue by pointing out that many of the targeted account holders are not the individuals who actually downloaded the infringing files.
“Due to unsecured and shared Internet connections in Internet subscribers’ homes, the contact information that Plaintiff seeks is not necessarily a reliable indicator of the true identities of the ‘Does’ who allegedly downloaded Plaintiff’s pornography.”
The movie studio appears to be well aware of this, but according to the ISPs they are not interested in finding the true pirates. Instead, they are looking for settlements of a few thousands dollars per defendant.
Since the evidence in these cases has never been properly tested the ISPs fear that many of the alleged downloaders may be innocent.
“These cases present a substantial risk that the ISPs will be required to disclose innocent subscribers’ information for extra-judicial processes, in cases that rarely, if ever, are tested on their merits,” the ISPs write.
To make matters worse, these innocent subscribers often see settling as the best option. Hiring a lawyer is often just as expensive as paying the settlement fee, and the sexually explicit nature of the titles used in these lawsuits can be quite embarrassing.
“This creates great potential for a coercive and unjust ‘settlement’,” the providers note.
Finally, the ISPs mention the controversial nature of the law firm Prenda, who were recently punished in court for their “mob-like” tactics. Among other things, Prenda’s principals relied on fictitious persons as “clients” and submitted fake documents in support of their lawsuits.
After all the dirt that has come out in recent weeks, the dubious status of Prenda alone may be enough to get the district court ruling overturned.
It’s good to see that Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner and Cox are taking a stand in this case. Of course it’s in their own interests, but it also helps the hundreds of subscribers in this case and perhaps thousands more in the future.
Unfortunately the copyright troll cases aren’t going away anytime soon, but by winning this case the ISPs can at least minimize the damage they cause.