Court: Mass “Copyright Troll” Lawsuits Targeting Danes May Be Illegal

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A mass copyright-trolling scheme in Denmark is at risk of boiling over into criminal action against the companies involved. After hundreds of cases against alleged pirates were kicked out over recent months due to the plaintiffs having no right to sue, a court has warned that the campaign may be threatening Danes' legal security.

copyright trollSo-called ‘copyright trolling’ campaigns against alleged file-sharers is huge business in both the United States and Europe.

The goal is to have courts order ISPs to hand over the personal details behind an IP address so that subscribers can be put under pressure to pay a settlement or face punishing legal action. In Denmark, especially considering its relatively small population, such schemes are now extremely prevalent. But all is not well for the main players.

Cases Undermined Due to Rookie Mistakes

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between a regular copyright lawsuit and one filed by a supposed ‘copyright troll’. However, when middle-man companies appear in the mix, those which appear to have no place in the proceedings other than to provide some kind of shield for the real rightsholders, red flags start to get raised. For those on the receiving end, however, that’s not always bad news.

As reported in April, a High Court in Denmark threw out three copyright infringement cases against alleged pirates. The problem was that Copyright Management Services, a UK middle-man company working with Danish law firm NJORD Law, attempted to squeeze around US$1,000 from the defendants to prevent further action from their movie company partners.

Unfortunately for them, however, the Eastern High Court found that CMS had absolutely no right to sue. As a result, the cases were dismissed and the opportunists were sent on their way. But that wasn’t the end of the road.

Dozens and Dozens of Cases Collapse

The findings of the Eastern High Court created momentum. Since then, it’s believed that around 100 other cases have been dismissed on the same grounds, including three reported by the Court of Frederiksberg this week.

The three cases emerged following judgments obtained against three defendants, one of whom reportedly torrented an adult movie and another London Has Fallen, a common title in similar lawsuits elsewhere. After failing to appear last year to defend themselves, each was ordered to pay 7,500 kroner (US$1,237) in default damages.

All three failed to pay, so each found themselves pursued through the bailiff’s court by the ‘plaintiffs’. However, the court in Frederiksberg has booted out all three cases (1,2,3), referencing earlier cases that found that CMS had no right to sue.

In fact, not only did the court reference the failed case in April, it also referred to another 39 rulings by the same court and another 60 handed down by the Copenhagen City Court, all of which found that CMS had no right to bring these copyright cases as it had no standing to be the plaintiff.

Hundreds of Thousands of Danes Potentially Affected

These types of lawsuits have been ongoing for several years in Denmark and despite warnings, very little has been done to prevent their spread. In 2018, ISPs Telenor and Telia put up a fight but the damage had already been done.

According to a report by Berlingske this week, at least 2,500 Danes could be affected and potentially up to 200,000.

“It’s a big money machine where you treat the courts as ATMs,” lawyer Allan Ohms told the publication. “Njord Law Firm is a reputable law firm, so I do not understand why they are involved.”

The Berlingske report catalogs many horrors, including the targeting of an 84-year-old woman with dementia and a 41-year-old man who had to sit in court while being accused of downloading porn, because his age and gender “matched the profile” of someone who would’ve carried out the crime. The case was dismissed but a family member recalls that the case took its toll.

“I clearly remember when he came home after the trial. He was completely devastated. As an ordinary citizen one stands completely defenseless in this situation. That can simply not be right,” the person said.

But many people have already settled with NJORD law and its apparently shadowy partners, about which very little is known.

Lawyer Nikolaj Linneballe said that no one really knows who is pulling the strings behind the scenes and, importantly, who is collecting all the money from cases that should have never been brought. He believes the settlement money should be returned when it has been shown that plaintiffs had no right to bring a case but whether that will ever happen is unknown.

Court Suggests That The Lawsuits May Be Illegal

As reported by Berlingske, the Court of Frederiksberg appears to be of the opinion that the lawsuits in these ‘false plaintiff’ cases may be illegal. Indeed, the suggestion is that Danes affected by the action may be able to file a claim for damages via a criminal complaint.

While that may be the case, by design these middle-man companies seem primed to collapse like chocolate teapots should the battle turn sour. But nonetheless, things are certainly in a mess.

Aside from CMS’s lack of standing to bring any of these cases, NJORD law stands accused of requesting an arbitrary amount of 7,500 kroner to settle each case, regardless of the costs incurred in the matter. This raises the question of how “real” these claims for compensation are, despite the fact they should’ve never been brought at all.

“[The] amount is arbitrarily fixed for the occasion, and not an amount where there is an expression of a real claim for compensation, remuneration or allowance,” the court previously said, noting that the actions constitute a potentially significant “legal security problem” for Danes.

One of the problems is the starting point of the law firm and its partners. Those accused are considered guilty unless they are able to prove their innocence, which in most cases is not possible, since the companies involved hold all of the ‘evidence’, including who is supposed to have shared what, when, and with whom.

Indeed, the collection and presentation of evidence is held in a tightly closed-loop, since it’s all handled non-transparently by entities acting in concert with the plaintiffs and rightsholders. The defendants have no access to the audit trails so are faced with the problem of arguing against a spreadsheet.

In many respects, copyright-trolling has rarely been any different. The smoke and mirrors are fairly standard, as are the strong-arm tactics. But maybe Denmark has had enough now, which is usually a signal for the trolls to move to another territory and start the same thing all over again.


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