MPAA Banned From Using Piracy and Theft Terms in Hotfile Trial

Leading up to the trial, Hotfile has scored several significant wins against the MPAA. The Florida federal court ruled on several motions this week, and many went in favor of the file-hosting service. Most prominently, Judge Kathleen Williams decided that the movie studios and its witnesses are not allowed to use “pejorative” terms including “piracy,” “theft” and “stealing” during the upcoming proceedings.

piracy-crimeThe ongoing legal battle between Hotfile and the MPAA is nearing its climax.

In August the movie studios won summary judgment on the issues of DMCA defense and vicarious liability, while the file-hosting site was cleared of direct copyright infringement. The remaining issues, including the damages amount, will be decided during a trial early next month.

In preparation for the trial both parties have submitted motions to the court in recent weeks. Hotfile, for example, asked the court to prevent the MPAA from using “pejorative” terms including piracy, theft and stealing as these could misguide the jury.

District Court Judge Kathleen Williams has now ruled on these motions, with the file-hosting service scoring several important victories.

The Judge granted Hotfile’s “pejorative” terms motion, which means that the movie studios and its witnesses are not allowed to use words including “piracy,” “theft” and “stealing” during the trial.

“Defendants’ Motion in Limine to Preclude Use of Pejorative Terms is GRANTED IN PART. The parties may not use pejorative terms but may use terms of art,” the order reads.

pejor

The file-hosting service previously argued that since piracy and theft-related terms are derogatory, their use could mislead the jury and possibly influence their judgment. According to Hotfile there is no ground to substantiate the use of such terms.

“In the present case, there is no evidence that the Defendants (or Hotfile’s founders) are ‘pirates’ or ‘thieves,’ nor is there evidence that they were ‘stealing’ or engaged in ‘piracy’ or ‘theft.’ Even if the Defendants had been found to have directly infringed on the Plaintiffs’ copyrights, such derogatory terms would add nothing to the Plaintiffs’ case, but would serve to improperly inflame the jury.”

The MPAA countered that there is absolutely no reason to exclude words that are commonly used in cases related to copyright infringement. Banning the terms would make it hard for MPAA’s lawyers and the witnesses to describe the events that took place, according to the movie studios.

“Terms like ‘piracy’ and ‘theft’ are commonplace terms often used in court decisions, statutes, and everyday speech to describe the conduct in which Hotfile and its users engaged, and for which the Court has already found Defendants liable,” MPAA’s legal team wrote.

With her ruling Judge Williams clearly sides with Hotfile’s argument that the jury could be misled by piracy and theft-related descriptions. This is a clear win for the file-hosting service, but it also leads to the awkward situation that several witnesses can’t name their job titles, such as Warner’s head of Global Corporate Anti-Piracy.

Additionally, the MPAA can no longer quote Vice President Joe Biden’s famous comment: “Piracy is theft, clean and simple.”

The full list of motions Judge Williams ruled on includes more good news for Hotfile. For example, with regard to Hotfile’s countersuit over alleged DMCA abuse by the movie studio, Warner’s motions to exclude the term “perjury” and the studio’s audit of its anti-piracy system from trial were both denied.

On the downside, Hotfile’s request to prevent the MPAA from bringing up the criminal indictment against “Megaupload” was denied. This means that in describing the Megaupload case the movie studios can’t quote passages that reference piracy or theft.

It will be interesting to see how the MPAA tackles Hotfile now that they are restricted in the language they can use. It probably means that the term “copyright infringement” will be used more often than they had hoped.

To be continued.

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