Lawyer Refuses to Tell Court How Profitable BitTorrent Settlements Are

Last month a lawyer was ordered by a judge to reveal how much money he has received from threatening to sue alleged BitTorrent users. The lawyer, Ira M. Siegel, missed the court's deadline and even then failed to answer fully as required. After describing the EFF as a group wanting “freedom from the tyranny of having to pay for content," his eventual response began with a surprising attack on an anti-copyright troll blogger.

While there are countless lawsuits being filed in the U.S. targeting alleged BitTorrent users, at the moment On The Cheap, LLC vs Does 1-5011 is generating particular interest.

The case is one of the porn-based BitTorrent lawsuits filed late last year by Ira M. Siegel using evidence from the Copyright Enforcement Group, ostensibly to ‘protect’ the work entitled Danielle Staub Raw – a sex tape featuring reality show star Danielle Staub.

The case, filed in the northern district of California, has piqued the judge’s attention on several fronts, no doubt in part due to the involvement of the EFF.

At a hearing late August, Judge Bernard Zimmerman expressed unhappiness with the lack of progress in the case, as well as the possibility that the case is really just a fishing scheme to get money. Siegel took umbrage at the suggestion, and went on to lambast the EFF as wanting “freedom from the tyranny of having to pay for content.”

The jurisdiction issue was another sticking point. Judge Zimmerman had trouble with Siegel’s claims that being in a BitTorrent swarm subjects people to nationwide jurisdiction. There was also concern stemming from the Plaintiff and the lawyer being based in southern California, while filing in northern California.

At the end of the hearing the Judge made an order requiring the presentation of several items of information including details of any settlements paid (the previous week Siegel had dismissed 68 defendants with prejudice, indicating a settlement), copies of all settlement demands sent out, details of the distribution of the work, and the hiring of the Copyright Enforcement Group.

Zimmerman’s concern; that courts are being used as collections agencies.

The response to this motion was due by the end of August but not only did Siegel miss the deadline by filing late, he failed to respond as required, and refused outright to reveal how much he has received in settlements. Furthermore, he began his lengthy response with a surprising attack on blogger Sophisticated Jane Doe, a defendant from another case who posts on the FightCopyrightTrolls.com blog.

Sophisticated Jane Doe has been covering developments in the current case and Siegel is clearly unhappy with that. He describes Jane Doe as someone “who wants to see roadblocks in the way of copyright enforcement” and takes issue with ‘her’ (Siegel points out that sex should not be taken for granted) use of terms and phrases such as “Troll”, “he extorted”, “most sinister” and references to “shameless” honeypot schemes.

“This is brought to the Court’s attention because it further illustrates that with which we are dealing: people pirating copyrighted works and otherwise engaging in tortious activity behind what they hope is the shield of anonymous IP addresses and the hurdles and expenses to which a copyright owner must go to uncover their identities,” Siegel writes.

Ironically, while Siegel criticizes FightCopyrightTrolls for having an anonymous WHOIS protected domain, Copyright Enforcement Group, the company Siegel works with in these cases, protects its domain in exactly the same manner.

Despite the attack, Sophisticated Jane Doe is pleased with the attention.

“Have you ever heard about [the] Streisand Effect, Mr. Siegel? The sole reason of my fight is to make sure my (and other victims’) side of the story is heard by judges, not to influence them, but to make sure their decisions are fair and balanced,” she writes in response.

“Now I have a huge helping hand from the least expected player: a troll! Thank you Mr. Siegel! Given the significance of this help, I even forgive you for the veiled threats you’ve extended towards me. I’m immune against threats, you should have known it if you read this blog carefully.”

Interestingly, according to Robert Cashman, a Texas lawyer defending dozens of individuals affected by these mass BitTorrent lawsuits, the late filing of a response in the case may have been deliberate.

“The question I keep asking myself is 1) was the late submission of a reply a purposeful attempt by Ira Siegel to give Judge Zimmerman a pretext to dismiss the case on grounds such as failing to properly respond?

“And, 2) would Siegel be willing to throw this case and risk it being dismissed in order to shield from the court how much money his client has made from settlements?” Cashman writes.

“In sum, there is a lot that is going on in these cases, and some days it feels more like drama, deception, and posturing rather than discussing the case on its merits. Judge Zimmerman appears to be trying to remedy this,” notes Cashman.

“While we will now wait and see if and how Judge Zimmerman responds to what he will no doubt see as blatant disregard to his order, I expect that Siegel’s latest move will result in a dismissal of his case. Perhaps it will even create some ripples in his other cases as well,” Cashman concludes.

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