Cox Communications, AT&T, Bright House Networks, Verizon and Comcast contend that a company's effort to find the names of IP addresses that downloaded pirated copies of a porn movie is really a case of copyright trolling in order to extract settlements before revealing users' names.
That's one of the reasons the Internet giants are appealing a D.C. federal judge's order that they comply with a subpoena to reveal personal information behind some 1,058 IP addresses named as John Does in plaintiff AF Holdings' copyright infringement suit. AF Holdings is the named company behind the adult movie "Popular Demand."
Yet last year, U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell rejected the Internet providers' attempts to avoid AF Holdings' subpoena to find the names behind the IP addresses. She said that "in circumstances where the plaintiff knows only the IP addresses associated with computers being used allegedly to infringe its copyright, the plaintiff is entitled to a period of discovery to obtain information to identify the ISPs' customers who may be using those computers in order to determine whether to name those individuals as defendants."
The Internet providers, however, contend in an appeal brief that AF Holdings is "using these cases primarily to expand a national database of Internet subscribers who will be subject to pre-suit 'settlement' demands that use the threat of public identification with pornography to coerce substantial payments. AF Holdings then typically abandons or dismisses all claims, preventing the merits of its cases or the legal issues presented here from reaching final adjudication, contrary to the role of federal courts to decide actual cases and controversies."
They argue that the "overwhelming recent authority" of courts across the country has been to require that plaintiffs prove that the IP addresses are likely to be found within a court's jurisdiction, something that forces those suing to file individual lawsuits. If Howell's decision stands, they say that the DC Circuit will become a "unique venue for mass-Doe lawsuits."
There's another twist in the case. In a scathing order in May, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright ordered a group of attorneys for AF Holdings and another company, Ingenuity 13, to pay attorneys fees and costs of $81,319.72 as sanctions for their role in what he characterized as a "porno-trolling collective." He wrote that "copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow, starving attorneys in this electronic media era to plunder the citizenry." Among the attorneys named was Paul A. Duffy, a Chicago attorney who has been representing AF Holdings in the D.C. case. The decision is being appealed to the 9th Circuit.
The Internet giants quoted from Wright's order in arguing that they have been engaging in "serious misconduct and fraud." Wright wrote that the principals behind AF Holdings "fraudulently signed" the copyright assignment for "Popular Demand" using the signature of a groundskeeper for an attorney involved in the litigation, John Steele.
In an AF Holdings brief from Oct. 11, Duffy writes that "the horribles paraded by the ISPs are entirely unrelated to the issues" before the appellate court, noting that the Internet providers are "going to great lengths" to cast the company and adult film copyright holders as "unsavory." They also point to a district court in Minnesota that allowed information about settlements with Internet users to be filed under seal, challenging the notion that pornography plaintiffs engage in "coercive" tactics.
Internet Providers Appeal Order to Reveal Names of Porn Movie Pirates
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