Since 2010 the United States Copyright Group (USCG) has sued tens of thousands of BitTorrent users who allegedly shared films without the consent of copyright holders.
Their example was soon followed by other law firms, representing dozens of copyright holders, who saw an opportunity to convert instances of piracy into a healthy revenue stream.
One of the movie studios that teamed up with USCG is Nu Image, the makers of The Expendables, an independent production that grossed more than $100 million in the United States alone.
A massive list of 23,322 U.S. Internet users were targeted by the film studio, and for a short while Nu Image had the questionable honor of having started the biggest file-sharing lawsuit the world has ever witnessed.
But, instead of raking in millions of dollars from the accused file-sharers as was the plan, Nu Image has now thrown in the towel by voluntarily dismissing the case.
Late last month the film studio received bad news as District Court Judge Robert Wilkins ruled that Nu Image can only go after those individuals who are reasonably likely to be living in the District of Columbia. This means that the movie studio could not send any subpoenas to ISPs when the IP-addresses are located in other districts.
This effectively meant that 99% of the initial defendants walked free. A devastating blow to the plans of USCG and Nu Image, and as a result they’ve now decided to drop the case in its entirety, including the defendants who were sued in the right district.
“Plaintiff hereby gives notice that it voluntarily dismisses the case in its entirety, without prejudice,” the attorneys write in a brief notice to the court.
Although it is not the first time that a judge has ruled that defendants have to be sued in the right court, the current case adds extra weight because of the sheer number of defendants and the fact that it received widespread coverage in the media previously.
If other judges side with Wilkins, future mass-lawsuits against BitTorrent users will become more costly. Although it is unlikely that these cases will disappear entirely, it seems plausible to assume that lawyers will now think twice before they sue thousands of defendants in the wrong district.
USCG in particular has to change their tactics if they want to continue suing alleged copyright infringers, not least because their actions are being watched more closely after doubt was cast over the reliability of their evidence.