Dissecting a Remarkable Ruling
* The blog title is a reference to this Order of the Stick comic. (It’s safe for work, so long as you don’t read it out loud.)
Last time we surveyed the forces that lead to this recent extraordinary magistrate’s opinion. It was handed down May 1, but already it’s become notorious for its almost gleeful taking down of the four porn-industry rights-holding plaintiffs. The key is to read the snerk-inducing footnotes. Highlights include these gems:
Footnote 7, in which the concept of “moral high ground” is discussed:
Plaintiff K-Beech’s rambling motion papers often lapse into the farcical. In its papers, counsel for K-Beech equate its difficulties with alleged piracy of its adult films with those faced by the producers of the Harry Potter books, Beatles songs and Microsoft software, and compare its efforts to collect from alleged infringers of its rights to the efforts of the FBI to combat child pornography. In an ironic turn, the purveyors of such works as Gang Bang Virgins, explain how its efforts in this matter will help empower parents to prevent minors from watching “movies that are not age appropriate” by ensuring that viewers must
Are Pornographers Ruining it for Everyone? Identifying and Outing Anonymous Online Copyright Infringers
Judges: Courts Aren’t Litigation Clearinghouses
Last summer, I started to blog about mass-defendant bittorrent cases pending in Washington, D.C., some of which involved over 10,000 anonymous defendants. Since the plaintiffs didn’t know who the defendants were, but they did know to IP address to which a bittorrent was sent, they would sue the defendants as “John Doe,” then ask the court for permission to send subpoenas to the defendants’ internet service providers. The subpoenas would ask for the contact information of the subscriber who was assigned that particular IP address at that particular time.* In theory, the subscriber would be your defendant, or at least someone who knew the real defendant (e.g., a family member).
* Since most consumers are dynamically assigned an IP address by their ISP for each internet session, and that IP address will likely change from session to session, you need to know not only the IP address but also the exact time the IP address was being used.
Recall that the first hurdle that the plaintiff must clear is a request for early discovery. Normally, discovery in federal court can’t start until there’s been a conference among the parties’ lawyers, which is … Read More»
Or, How One Really Bad Idea Helped Clarify Tennessee Privacy Law
Burnette v. Porter is about as non-technological a case as you’ll find. The Internet plays a minor role, which mostly just shows how ubiquitous the internet has become in our everyday lives. The decision matters, though, because it’s now pretty much the leading decision on privacy law in Tennessee, and state privacy laws are one of the four main sources of internet-privacy law. The more clarity we have on the issue, the better off we’ll be in the long run. Those of us who live and do business on the internet now have a slightly better idea of what is and is not permitted.
* The four main sources are: (1) the Stored Communications Act (and to a lesser extent the Wiretap Act); (2) the Computer Abuse and Fraud Act; (3) the state common law of privacy; and (4) the state law of conversion. Each is tremendously flawed in its own way. Together, they make up a patchwork of internet-privacy law that succeeds mainly in over-punishing minor infractions while failing to cover major invasions of privacy.
Spy Kids Do Spying!
There’s this man (the “Man”) and this woman (the … Read More»
How a Switch in Time Saved 23,322 John Does (Their Identities, for Now, at Least)
In a series of posts a couple of weeks ago, I discussed an important decision out of the West Coast case* regarding anonymous internet speech. In that decision, U.S. Judge Kollar-Kotelly refused to stop (“quash”) subpoenas that had been issued to ISPs for purpose of identifying 5829 anonymous defendants, who were accused of downloading the plaintiff’s movie using BitTorrent. I mentioned in those posts that this was one of several such BitTorrent-movie cases pending in the District of Columbia. A few of those other cases belong to Judge Wilkins, and Judge Wilkins has just done a remarkable thing in a case involving The Expendables: on his own volition, he has refused to let such subpoenas even issue.
* I think I sometimes accidentally called this the “Blue Coast” case. Blue Coast is a better name than West Coast, but I should nevertheless try to get it right. Something I didn’t realize about West Coast when I wrote those posts is that, unlike most of the other cases, the movie at issue is pornographic. Perhaps that’s why the anonymous defendants were so … Read More»
Why the Judge’s Decision Was Right (but Feels Wrong)
In my last two posts, I described the general contours of the First Amendment right to speak online anonymously, the steps a plaintiff must take to reveal an anonymous defendant’s identity, and how a defendant can try to assert those First Amendment rights. Keep the principles, problems and paradoxes that I described in my last two posts in mind as we discuss Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s opinion, and as I explain why I think she was correct, and yet I’m dissatisfied with the result.
If you’ve been keeping up so far, you know that the filmmakers’ first step was to file a lawsuit against a number (5829!) of “John Does.” Then they asked the court for permission to serve subpoenas earlier than you’re normally allowed–because there can’t really be a case without the subpoenas. They did that, too, and the court said OK. Then they duly issued and served the subpoenas, many of which were arguably defective, to the various major ISPs. And some of the ISPs responded quickly with customer identities*, and others brought motions to “quash” the subpoenas. In addition, many of the defendants, upon learning of the subpoenas, … Read More»
And the Legal Trail Plaintiffs Can Follow Through the Internet to You
In my last blog entry, I said I wanted to discuss this opinion, issued out of West Coast Productions Inc. v. Does, in which some independent filmmakers sued 5829 anonymous defendants for allegedly downloading their films using BitTorrent, in violation of copyright law. This opinion is the culmination of the filmmakers’ (more or less* successful) attempt to identify the anonymous defendants, some of whom resisted pretty strenuously, so they could be named and served with process. I explained the general contours of the First Amendment right to speak anonymously, and the interests that had to be balanced. Now I want to put these rights into some real-world context by discussing the steps the filmmakers took to learn the identities of the defendants.
* The filmmakers won the right to learn the defendants’ identities, but they still have a few procedural hurdles, which are proving troublesome.
The filmmakers in this case found themselves with a pretty typical problem: they knew the IP addresses that were used in carrying out the allegedly wrongful act, but that they weren’t enough to identify the actual person. It’s usually fairly easy to … Read More»
And its Limtits… Explaining the Decision to Disclose All Anonymous Defendants’ Identities in Blue Coast Productions v. Does
While I was literally “between offices” last month, this decision was handed down in a high-profile case, West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does, pending in United States District Court (i.e., trial-level court) for Washington, D.C. It is one of three cases pending in that court brought by independent filmmakers against thousands* of ordinary citizens who are accused of downloading movies using the BitTorrent streaming protocol. The filmmakers say that they can tell what movies were downloaded and to what IP address, but (for reasons I’ll explain later), that’s not enough information to find out exactly who did the downloading. For that, they need information being held by the defendants’ various ISPs. They asked the court for permission, sent out civil subpoenas, a lot of people objected, and motions were filed. In her decision, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said that the filmmakers could find out what they wanted to know from the defendants’ ISPs.
* Literally. There are 5829 defendants in this one case alone.
As some of you know**, Internet speech is (along with the Stored Communications Act) an area of special … Read More»