Several movie studios represented by the U.S. Copyright Group (USCG) scored a big win in their mass BitTorrent lawsuits this week. Contrary to earlier decisions in similar cases, U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell, waived away the concerns that had been raised by ISPs, consumer rights groups and the defendants’ lawyers.
Among other things, they had argued that many of the defendants fall outside the Washington DC Court’s jurisdiction as they live in other states. In addition, they argued that joining thousands of defendants in one lawsuit is improper procedure, and that the lawsuits violate the defendants’ right to anonymity as protected by the First Amendment.
However, the District Court judge disagreed and allowed Call of the Wild Movie LLC, Maverick Entertainment Group, and Donkeyball Movie LLC to continue their cases.
Texas lawyer Robert Cashman, who represents several defendants, is blown away by the decision of Judge Beryl Howell, who has basically turned the U.S. legal system into a tool which allows the copyright holders to acquire all the info they need to send out “extortionist” settlement claims.
“In layman terms, the decision means that the plaintiff attorneys can continue harassing defendants and trying to elicit multi-thousand dollar settlements from defendants. This, while the plaintiff attorneys continue to tell the judge they are conducting ‘discovery,’ that is, trying to figure out which of the thousands they have sued live in DC,” Cashman told TorrentFreak.
“It is my opinion that the judge is completely siding with the plaintiff attorneys on all accounts, for whatever his personal or political motivations. On almost every argument, he states that he is siding with the plaintiff attorneys because it is ‘too early’ to decide any of the issues brought to the court until defendants are named,” he added.
This is a big concern because the copyright holders are not planning to bring a full-trial against the defendants, they simply want their names so they can send out their demands for cash. And since Judge Beryl Howell has now ruled that potential issues of jurisdiction and joinder are not relevant until the defendants are named, the copyright holders now have carte blanche.
“In short, he is giving the plaintiff attorneys a very loose leash to run around and do whatever they want to do to whomever they please, and he is completely ignoring the fact that the plaintiffs are not running a lawsuit, but instead are running a settlement scheme disguised as ‘discovery’,” Cashman said.
“I believe the judge is giving the plaintiff attorneys the benefit of the doubt on all accounts, which is unfortunate because he is turning a blind eye to the abuses defendants are suffering with threats and harassment while plaintiff attorneys attempt to scare them into a settlement,” Cashman added.
Interestingly, just last week thousands of defendants were dropped from these same cases by the copyright holders, at least for the time being. For these people nothing will change. However, the most recent decision is certainly a step in the wrong direction, which may lead to even more U.S.-based cases than the 100,000+ that have been filed against BitTorrent users since last year.