A Victory for John Doe?

By August 25, 2014Copyright

Whether or not you have used the term frequently used to describe one, you have no doubt heard of a Copyright Troll.  To put it in simplistic terms, a Copyright Troll is a company that “tags” certain videos (or other copyrighted property), tracks those who illegally downloaded these videos, and files a lawsuit against thousands of such users at once, using only IP addresses to identify each “John Doe.”  The “John Does” against whom these lawsuits are filed then receive a letter from their Internet service provider (such as Comcast or Time Warner) warning them that a lawsuit has been filed against them, and that the Internet service provider will be forced to turn over the users’ identifying information unless further action is taken.  Many a John Doe ignores such a letter, only to be contacted — and, dare we say, bullied — by the Troll-Attorney, who explains to John Doe that defending such a lawsuit would be time consuming and expensive and offers a “settlement deal” — usually to the tune of a few thousand dollars, which, the attorney explains, is less than the expense the Doe would likely incur if he actually retained counsel in order to defend the suit.  You can see how such a venture would be profitable for the Copyright Troll… even at the low end of the settlement range, $1000 per John Doe, when there are 1,500 John Does, is a big win for the Troll.

Enter Judge Otis D. Wright II of the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California.  In a memorable decision earlier this month, Judge Wright blasted so-called Copyright Trolls Prenda Law, accusing the attorneys behind many of these trolling suits of fraud, calling on the IRS to investigate them for tax evasion, calling for disbarment of the attorneys, and urging the FBI to prosecute them.  (See the full story as reported by InfoWorld.)  The court also ordered the attorneys to pay punitive damages as penance for their actions.  Although the foregoing may be considered entertaining in itself, Judge Wright also laced the opinion with Star Trek references — referencing the “enterprise” and Prenda Law’s “next voyage.”

Will this decision will impact Copyright Trolls across the country?  We shall see.