To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.
William Kingdon Clifford
In myriads of Bittorent cases across the country, copyright trolls tout a couple of Bittorent transactions registered by an unlicensed German investigator Guardaley/IPP International/Excipio as a “smoking gun” kind of a proof, but Colorado Magistrate Michael E. Hegarty doesn’t think it is enough to establish liability.
In my opinion, this recommendation is significant for defense attorneys and pro se defendants not only in Malibu cases, but in all the other Bittorent lawsuits, especially in numerous instances, where forensic examination of defendants’ hard drives yielded no traces of XArt’s smut. Because
Although Plaintiff appears to argue that it has demonstrated direct proof that Defendant copied its films, it is unclear whether the evidence demonstrates that the entirety of each film was copied onto Defendant’s computer. That is, Mr. Patzer (who designed, implemented, maintained and monitored the data collection system used to identify IP addresses that have allegedly committed infringement via the BitTorrent protocol) attests that
27. Only 1 PCAP per movie infringed is produced to the Plaintiff usually. 1 PCAP per movie is sufficient to prove without question that the infringement of each of the movies at issue occurred. Producing all PCAPs for each of the infringed movies would be superfluous and extremely time consuming.
Accordingly, the PCAPs at issue here contain “pieces” of the Plaintiff’s movies. Mr. Patzer does not explain why one PCAP is “sufficient to prove” Defendant copied the entire film and why producing all PCAPs would be superfluous.
In other words, to establish no genuine issue of material fact (the essence of summary judgment), Malibu needs more evidence. So, Judge Hegarty examined if there is an indirect proof of infringement:
Accordingly, the Court looks to whether Plaintiff can prove copying indirectly “by establishing that [Defendant] had access to the copyrighted work and that there are probative similarities between the copyrighted material and the allegedly copied material.”
In this particular case, the plaintiff’s expert Partick Paige examined the defendant’s hard drive and found traces of 28 of the 39 films listed in the complaint. The judge agreed that in respect to these 28 flicks, the proof of liability, albeit indirect, is strong enough, and if only those 28 were at issue, the motion for summary judgment would be certainly granted, and there would be no need to proceed to a jury trial.
However, with respect to the remaining 11 titles, there is no even indirect proof of infringement, so the judge felt he didn’t have the right to usurp a jury’s prerogative of decision.
Guardaley and Keith Lipscomb (via their local Jason Kotzker), were shaking down Colorado residents rather seamlessly for years, in part because Judge Hegarty (who was de facto the only judge handling Bittorent lawsuits in Colorado) kept rubberstamping Malibu’s ex parte discovery motions and was generally pro-plaintiff. Thus, this kind of judge’s finding that Guardaley/IPP’s recorded transactions are simply not enough to proof infringement is especially noteworthy.
When a porn copyright shakedown factory Malibu Media / X-Art resumed its operations in New York after a two-year hiatus, it raised many brows because this state has proven to be very hostile to copyright trolls in the past: to my understanding, in 2012 New York Southern and Eastern districts amassed the largest number of court rulings scolding trolls one way or another.
This may change after today’s Order and Opinion issued by a district judge Alvin K. Hellerstein in Malibu Media v. John Doe (NYSD 15-cv-04369). Malibu’s motion for ex parte early discovery was denied, thus the case was effectively dismissed.
This order was built upon findings and opinions by other judges, and it is both significant and unique because of the number of citations from troll-busting New York, Wisconsin and Ohio rulings.
Recent empirical studies show that the field of copyright litigation is increasingly being overtaken by “copyright trolls,” roughly defined as plaintiffs who are “more focused on the business of litigation than on selling a product or service or licensing their [copyrights] to third parties to sell a product or service.”
In 2012, judges in the Southern District and across the country began awakening to the danger of copyright trolls, especially in the context of pornography,
Judge Hellerstein continued with the most damning quotes from orders by judges Marrero, McMahon, Baer, Brown, Fox, Black, Oetken, Conley, Randa and others. Again, I never saw an order based on such a thorough research. (We covered the majority of the cases cited in this order — follow the links in the previous sentence.)
In denying Malibu’s motion for ex parte discovery, the judge analyzed the factors allowing this type of exceptional relief, and in the judge’s opinion, none of these factors were favorable to Malibu: a nice reminder that the phrases “ex parte discovery” and “rubber stamp” are spelled differently.
Citing Judges Marrero and Oetken, Judge Hellerstein time and again reiterated the simple fact that an IP address is not equal to a person, thus concluding that Malibu didn’t show a prima facie claim:
[t]he fact that a copyrighted work was illegally downloaded from a certain IP address does not necessarily mean that the owner of that IP address was the infringer. Indeed, the true infringer could just as easily be a third party who had access to the internet connection, such as a son or daughter, houseguest, neighbor, or customer of a business offering internet connection.
And even if Plaintiff could definitively trace the BitTorrent activity in question to the IP-registrant, Malibu conspicuously fails to present any evidence that John Doe either uploaded, downloaded, or even possessed a complete copyrighted video file.
Finally, Plaintiffs assertion that there is no alternative means of obtaining the desired information is inadequate. The only support for it comes from the declaration of Patrick Paige who, as Magistrate Judge Fox found in a different case, lacks personal knowledge of the methodology used by ISPs to match the IP address with its registrant. […] The Paige declaration that Judge Fox found deficient nearly three months ago is identical to the Paige declaration submitted in support of this motion. It fares no better this time.
The judge didn’t forget about the most egregious troll’s conduct, specifically:
When courts have attempted to place restrictions on the subpoena to prevent Malibu from abusing the process to extort defendants, Malibu has flagrantly disregarded them. For example, after one court issued “two orders unambiguously ordering [Malibu] to file [the identified IP-registrant’s name] under seal,” Malibu filed it publicly anyway. […].
And in the Eastern District of New York, Magistrate Judge Gary Brown took additional precautions to protect John Doe’s identity by explicitly instructing that “the subpoenaed information be sent directly to the Court, ex parte and under seal.” Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Doe 1 […]. Malibu instead served subpoenas that requested the identifying information be sent directly to Plaintiffs counsel.
The conclusion was devastating to the plaintiff (emphasis is mine):
In light of Malibu’s history of abuse of court process and its failure to show “good cause,” I decline to give it the benefit of an exception to the normal rules of discovery. Plaintiff’s motion for leave to serve a subpoena on Time Warner Cable is denied. The case will proceed in normal fashion.
I really hope that other New York Judges will adopt this extremely well-researched opinion and oust the abuser from their state, this time for good:
An Ohio Judge Timothy Black clearly understands the shakedown nature of the Malibu Media/XArt pornotrolling cases, and he is irritated. Judge Black admonished the troll on more than one occasion in the past, and I find it astonishing that Malibu’s local, telephonophob Yousef Faroniya, and his puppeteers in Miami continue playing games with this judge.
Today Judge Black issued orders to show cause in two Malibu Media v. Doe cases assigned to him (OHSD 14-cv-00707 and 14-cv-00718). This is the third OSC in each case. The first one was about Malibu not serving the defendants timely. The second OSC dealt with Malibu’s delay to apply for entry of default. And the third one was issued today — to show cause why these two cases shouldn’t be dismissed for failure to timely move for default judgement — despite explicit orders to file such motions within 21 days.
Judge’s patience is surprising, borderline frustrating, but as we read past the first three pages, it becomes clear that his patience is so thin that the next violation, no matter how small, will be disastrous for Faroniya and Lipscomb. What started as a narrow, case-related stuff, developed into a holistic, damning description of the troll’s modus operandi:
The Court does not view Malibu Media’s conduct in this action in isolation. Rather, the Court views it as part of an unmistakable pattern that has emerged in other actions before this Court and in context of observations made by multiple other federal judges in cases involving Malibu Media.
This Court has observed the conduct of Malibu Media and its counsel of record in over 60 cases filed in this District in the past twelve months. This is not the first case in which Malibu Media has filed a summons return well after the date of service. Counsel appears to have made a misrepresentation in seeking an extension of time to complete service in two cases. The Court also issued an order to show cause after counsel publicly filed a defendant’s name in direct violation of two orders unambiguously ordering counsel to file that information under seal.
Judge Black outlines every questionable conduct he is aware of (and makes a note that it may be just a tip of the iceberg):
The Court is not blind to the reality that these allegations likely substantially underrepresent the amount of misconduct that goes unreported by defendants who simply pay Malibu Media’s settlement demand rather than face the prospect of expensive and extensive litigation regarding their purported interest in pornography.
The judge unapologetically calls Malibu Media ”copyright troll” amid Lipscomb’s comical protestations and his reliance on Judge Baylson’s “not a troll” indulgence issued during the shameful Bellwether Settlement Conference:
The Court is aware that Malibu Media, through separate local counsel, has filed thousands of similar cases in federal courts across the country. A copyright troll has been defined as “an owner of a valid copyright who brings an infringement action not to be made whole, but rather as a primary or supplemental revenue stream.” […] Under this definition, Malibu Media certainly qualifies. However, Malibu Media generally responds to this allegation by pointing to comments of the trial judge in the so-called bellwether trial as unassailable proof that its intentions and tactics differ from other entities that bring copyright infringement actions related to pornographic movies. […] The greater weight of experience suggests otherwise.
Judge Black calls out at length Malibu’s abusive tactics of filing inadmissible, scandalous “third party infringement evidence” — the infamous “Exhibit C,” for which Malibu and its local Mary K. Schulz were sanctioned twice in Wisconsin.
It is heartwarming to see that this judge can recognize when Lipscomb adapts his tactics ostensibly to comply with orders, but in reality — to smuggle the old sleaze under the guise of novel approaches:
Malibu Media is a sophisticated litigant, so it should not be allowed to avoid sanctions simply by adapting its tactics after being questioned by multiple federal judges.”
As an example of such “adaptation,” the judge presents his own experience of striking certain paragraphs from a complaint, having found those paragraphs to be “Exhibit C” in disguise:
Instead of attaching Exhibit C, Malibu Media adapted its practice and now made an explicit reference to a document with “additional evidence” that the defendant had distributed a large number of third-party files through BitTorrent. Malibu Media disingenuously offered to produce this document to the Court with the seemingly off-handed remark that “many of the titles to the third party works may also be relevant to proving Defendant is the infringer because they correlate to the Defendant’s hobbies, profession, or other interests.” Id. Citing the two Wisconsin district court cases that imposed sanctions for attaching Exhibit C, the Court struck the offending paragraphs from the complaint and ordered Malibu Media to file a conforming amended complaint forthwith. Two months later, Malibu Media voluntarily dismissed the action without filing an amended complaint.
In one of the cases Judge Black also threatens Rule 11 sanctions for apparent false statements about the service (this is not the first Malibu service-related lie):
The affidavit of process server Kevin Allen states that he personally served Defendant at Defendant’s home on January 26, 2015. This directly contradicts counsel’s representation in the February 10, 2015 motion that “despite the process server’s efforts, the Defendant has not been served.”
The harsh language of these orders suggests that if young Faroniya and/or his Miami curators manage to annoy this judge just a bit more, the force of his hammer descending on the troll’s head will be as large as his enormous patience.
Remember the case where defendant’s identity was revealed in violation of the court order? On the same day Judge Black addressed three pending issues there, and while he ruled essentially in favor of the plaintiff, the tone was basically the same as in the orders discussed above (“further games won’t be tolerated”). Scroll down to the 5/27/2015 update.
Keith Lipscomb, Malibu Media’s general counsel and founder of the Miami firm Lipscomb Eisenberg & Baker, said in an interview that there have been many other judges who have “rejected the accusations” that Malibu Media used abusive tactics.
Didn’t John Steele say something similar a couple of years ago?
In the one case that has gone to trial so far, in which three defendants admitted liability, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson in Pennsylvania said in 2013 that the company was not a troll. “Rather,” Baylson said, “Malibu is an actual producer of adult films.”
This is astonishing: Judge Black specifically referred to “so-called bellwether trial” (Black’s words) as “is of little relevance to the present inquiry,” and Lipscomb continues to stubbornly pound that table. Facepalm.
Well, well… One day after the deadline (of course!) the troll responded to Judge Black’s scolding Orders to Show Cause.
If you have neither law nor facts on your side, and pounding the table would inevitably prompt judge’s wrath, run with your tail between the legs.
Last month I wrote about a default judgement in a Malibu Media case: an Illinois judge expressed a concern that all these lawsuits are designed to be a secondary revenue stream for rightsholders rather than a legitimate recovery of lost sales. As a result, he awarded the minimum amount allowed by law, $750 per work, $9,000 in total (plus attorney’s fees).
Regarding the “per work” part of the law, I noted that
[…] Lipscomb found a bonanza in the fact that for the purpose of the statutory award the law doesn’t differentiate between a multi-million full-budget movie and a cheap, plotless porno flick illegally filmed at the pornographers’ home in a course of hours. Thus, the judge couldn’t award less even if he wanted. This loophole guarantees that the shakedown business stays profitable no matter what.
US Federal Judge
Sheri Polster Chappell
It seems that I was too pessimistic: today Judge Sheri Chappellawarded a $6,000 default judgement (plus $1,657.00 in fees and costs) for 47 “works” in Malibu Media v. Danford (FLMD 14-cv-00511). She reasonably ignored the overblown claim of multiple infringements, thus patching a loophole Keith Lipscomb has been abusing for years. In addition, the judge questioned the “lost revenue” hype copyright trolls are so accustomed to pulling out of thin air (emphasis is mine):
Malibu Media asserts in this instant case, the infringement was committed willfully. Specifically, Malibu Media seeks $1,500 per work in statutory damages. Since Malibu Media alleged Danford infringed 47 works, Malibu Media seeks a total of $70,500 in statutory damages. Malibu Media argues this amount is reasonable because Danford aided other participants through the BitTorrent system to infringe its copyright and caused the lost sales of its content which likely exceed lost sales of $70,500 or more.
The Court, however, finds a statutory award of damages of $70,500 would provide Malibu Media a windfall and therefore is not warranted here.Clever Cover s, Inc., 554 F. Supp. 2d at 1313 (“statutory damages are not intended to provide a plaintiff with a windfall recovery.”) […]. Here, Malibu Media failed to provide any evidence of its own lost sales, profits, or licensing fees as a result of the infringement to assist the Court in determining the appropriate amount of statutory damages to award.
Similarly situated courts addressing statutory damages where a defendant has downloaded copyrighted materials through a BitTorrent system have assessed damages of approximately $6,000 based on an inference of willfulness.
The judge refers to three non-porn cases where there was an award of $6,000 per a single movie, and concludes:
Nothing about this case materially distinguishes it from cases in which damages in the range of $6,000 have been awarded. In light of the facts and circumstances in this case as well as other similarity situated cases within this district, the Court finds a statutory award of $6,000 is appropriate.
I hope that this is the beginning of a pattern that will bring more or less reasonable numbers into the game, thus rendering the shakedown business model less profitable.
It is worth repeating that while in this particular case the default judgement was far less than a typical settlement demand in a Malibu Media case, relying on a favorable default is not a good idea. We saw default judgments that exceeded $100K.
Surprise, surprise… Lipscomb moves for reconsideration. “Your Honor, please, please don’t destroy our gravy train; I was so clever to discover that four dozens of plotless, cheap, criminally produced home clips depicting teenagers having unprotected sex should be treated separately for statutory purposes. Each of this shitty clips is equal to a blockbuster.” You think I’m exaggerating? Lipscomb indeed said this (emphasis is original):
The cases cited indeed assessed damages at $6,000.00, but each such case involved only one copyrighted work.
Since Countryman Nevada, TCYK, Thompson, and Bait Production each involved only one copyrightable work, the $6,000.00 award granted in those cases was within the permissible per work range of $750.00 and $150,000.00.
Your Honor overlooked, however, that Defendant infringed not merely one (1), but forty seven (47), of Plaintiff’s works. Adopting the $6,000.00 per work analysis utilized in Countryman Nevada, TCYK, Thompson, and Bait Production, the proper award here would be $282,000.00.
This default judgment is an existential threat to shakedown artists, so I expected this missive to be filed sooner rather than latter.
The judge says “oops” and sides with Lipscomb
This order could put an end to Lipscomb’s extortion racket, but at the same time it looked too good to be true. Some attorneys I talked to were skeptical that this order would stay. Alas, they were correct: yesterday the judge reconsidered her order and increased the award to $35,250 (statutory minimum per title) from the original $6,000.
Despite the odds, I hoped that Judge Chappell would stick to her order, arguing that the copyrights-in-suit can be interpreted as “compilation” for the statutory purposes according the language of the 17 U.S. Code § 504 (c)(1):
Except as provided by clause (2) of this subsection, the copyright owner may elect, at any time before final judgment is rendered, to recover, instead of actual damages and profits, an award of statutory damages for all infringements involved in the action, with respect to any one work, for which any one infringer is liable individually, or for which any two or more infringers are liable jointly and severally, in a sum of not less than $750 or more than $30,000 as the court considers just. For the purposes of this subsection, all the parts of a compilation or derivative work constitute one work.
I think that the ease of the change of judge’s opinion was partially due to the fact that it was a default judgment, i. e. Lipscomb’s motion for reconsideration was uncontested. In other words, Lipscomb came for the defendant — and there was no one left to speak for the defendant.
I am requesting a Pro Bono attorney because I am unemployed and on Medicaid. For the last 28 years I have been suffering from chronic Lyme disease and now cancer as well. I cannot afford an attorney and this case has been causing me a great deal of additional emotional stress. Please help.
I am willing to provide tax returns and any doctor’s documents showing the state of affairs that I’m in. Keep in mind I am not even the subscriber of the IP address in question.
You know what… I don’t have an illusion that the crooks will drop this lawsuit. This is not the first time a disgrace like this happened (and continues to happen). Sure, according to Keith Lipscomb, “Prenda’s story [is] not Malibu Media’s story by any stretch.”
Today the crooks let this guy go. Did this post help? I don’t know… While I hope it is the case, it is rather irrelevant: what’s important is that the nightmare is over for Andrew. I wish him all the best.
On Friday 4/24/2014, ILND Judge Robert M. Dow Jr granted the plaintiff’s motion for default judgement¹ in Malibu Media v. Jack Funderburg (ILND 13-cv-02614). While default judgments are (sadly) not really big news these days (such outcomes are an integral part of XArt’s secondary revenue stream), this order stood out for a couple of reasons.
US Federal Judge
Robert M. Dow Jr.
In addition to the attorney fees ($2,525), the judge awarded the minimum statutory damages possible: $750 per work ($9,000 total), despite the fact that the plaintiff asked for three times more. The explanation of why the plaintiff doesn’t deserve more is heartwarming (citations omitted, emphasis is mine):
Plaintiff requests $27,000 in statutory damages, which amounts to $2,250 per film. It argues that this request is reasonable, as Defendant’s alleged willful infringement permits the Court to impose statutory damages as great as $150,000. See 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(2). In addressing Plaintiff’s request, the Court notes growing judicial concern with “the rise of so called ‘copyright trolls’ in the adult film industry, meaning copyright holders who seek copyright infringement damages not to be made whole, but rather as a primary or secondary revenue stream and file mass lawsuits against anonymous Doe defendants with the hopes of coercing settlements.” As an actual producer of pornographic films, Malibu Media is unlikely a non-producing troll that purchases the right to bring lawsuits against alleged infringers. As an enforcer of pornographic copyrights, however, Plaintiff is among the entities that courts are concerned may be “inappropriately using the judicial system to extract quick and quiet settlements from possibly innocent defendants paying only to avoid embarrassment.” The Court is aware of Plaintiff’s extensive history of litigation in the last three years alone. Without drawing any conclusions as to this Plaintiff’s business model, the Court considers the concerns that other courts have expressed in evaluating requests to enter large damage awards with no relationship to actual damages sustained by a plaintiff. To the extent that these concerns reflect industry-wide trends, they counsel against awards that are triple the statutory minimum, as a default judgment imposing significant statutory damages may overcompensate plaintiffs in these circumstances.
The first good thing is that the judge clearly articulated a concern regarding Malibu Media’s abuse of the court system — the abuse that another judge called much less politely: “essentially an extortion scheme.” Judge Dow specifically called Malibu Media / XArt a “troll” (albeit not a “non-producing troll”), a title Lipscomb & Co and their “clients” so comically claim doesn’t apply to them.
The second good thing is that given his concern about “overcompensation,” the judge seemingly remembers that the rationale behind the statutory damages is to approximate real losses (when it is difficult to assess them) — the fact that many judges forget about.
There are two bad things I want to mention, and both are not related to this particular ruling, but to every default judgement in Malibu Media cases.
The first is the default judgement per se. Judgements like this make me sad because defaults are easily avoidable. While in this particular case the judgement is approximately equal to a typical Malibu’s ransom demand, playing this lottery is dangerous for defendants: default judgements around the country lack consistency, and there were cases when some judges awarded more than $100,000.
The second bad is that Lipscomb found a bonanza in the fact that for the purpose of the statutory award the law doesn’t differentiate between a multi-million full-budget movie and a cheap, plotless porno flick illegally filmed at the pornographers’ home in a course of hours. Thus, the judge couldn’t award less even if he wanted. This loophole guarantees that the shakedown business stays profitable no matter what.
Now, the worst part of this order. For some unexplainable reason Judge Dow decided to resurrect the zombie of contributory infringement (citations omitted, emphasis is mine):
Lastly, Plaintiff also asks the Court to (a) permanently enjoin Defendant from directly or contributorily infringing Plaintiff’s copyrights under federal or state law […]
Plaintiff also states a plausible claim for contributory copyright infringement. “A defendant is liable for contributory copyright infringement when it with knowledge of the infringing activity, induces, causes, or materially contributes to the infringing conduct of another.” Plaintiff alleges that Defendant contributed to the infringing conduct of other BitTorrent users by participating in the BitTorrent swarm—a group of users uploading and downloading bits from each other simultaneously. Plaintiff contends that Defendant’s knowledge can be inferred from his use of the platform, as it is frequently used to share unlicensed content, and the fact that the film was free. Based on these allegations, Plaintiff alleges a plausible claim of contributory copyright infringement.
The eye-popping fact here is that the plaintiff never pled contributory infringement (here is the amended complaint).
The only explanation I can think about is that Judge Dow’s clerk, while preparing this order, dropped all his papers, and the pages from different complaints by different plaintiffs ended up shuffled.
Once again the courts continue to extend liability for BitTorrent infringement to the account holders and subscribers. The lesson: If you pay the bill, make sure no one is using BitTorrent.
The Judge appears to have brought an alternative finding of contributory infringement to this opinion on their own based on the evidence.
I have no idea what evidence the author is talking about, and the card sharping here is astonishing: it’s an impossible stretch from “contributing” by actively participating in a swarm as the judge said (essentially directly infringing) to an Orwellian notion that those who pay the bill have a duty toward porn purveyors and may be held liable.
I understand that Lipscomb would be happy to be able to shake down account holders without a need to prove anything… However, I think that this strange paragraph in the judge’s order is an isolated hiccup, most likely an error, and not a trend: any defense attorney will be able to kill the contributory infringement zombie for good in adversarial proceedings… which brings us to the same conclusion over and over again:
If a lawsuit is filed against you, ignoring it won’t make it go away, and you may end up dealing with collection agencies, which have much sharper teeth than our petty extortionists.
This time Lipscomb’s local representative in New York, Jacqueline M. James, “on behalf” of a serial filer of shakedown lawsuits, purveyor of illegally filmed “barely legal” pornography Malibu Media/ XArt, did something so overreaching that I think that the involvement of civil liberty groups such as EFF is warranted.
I don’t know if it was Ms. James’s idea or something cooked in the Miami kitchen, but a few weeks ago she started faxing and mailing proposed orders to the NYSD courts where more than a hundred of Malibu Media cases were pending.
The orders in question directed putative defendants to preserve evidence. Some law clerks and judges rightfully ignored such blatant shortcut attempts, but other lazy ones simply signed them without even reading (otherwise I can’t explain how a legal professional can possibly miss the last paragraph — I’ll get to it shortly).
To say that the language of these orders is grossly overreaching is an understatement. First of all, such orders are not necessary because any defendant, once aware of a lawsuit against him or her, already has a duty to preserve all the relevant evidence. So one of the apparent goals of smuggling this travesty was inducing FUD on the Does, innocent or not, strong-arming them to settle out-of-court.
Historically courts were more or less lenient to individual parties who continued using their computers during the course of litigation. Only specific, deliberate spoliation was frowned upon. For example, recently in Malibu Media v. Harrison (INSD 12-cv-117), Judge Dinsmore ruled that because the defendant destroyed his hard drive without intent to conceal his wrongdoing, he didn’t deserve sanctions:
[…] the Court concludes that Defendant did not destroy the hard drive in bad faith. No direct testimony establishes that Defendant did so, and the circumstances of the destruction as outlined above do no warrant an inference that Defendant destroyed the hard drive for the purpose of hiding adverse information. As such, Plaintiff has not carried its burden to prove bad faith destruction of evidence, and Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions is DENIED.
In any case, it is a common sense that good faith in preserving the data doesn’t require a Doe to stop using his computers, phones and other electronic devices. It would be simply unthinkable in this day and age. And the quote above indicates that even if a spoliation is alleged, it’s the plaintiff who bears the burden of proof.
Yet read one of the identical preservation orders smuggled by James. According to it, a Doe, innocent or not, should either pay thousands for hiring an imaging expert (or even tens of thousands if he/she has many devices/hard drives — more than a typical Malibu’s settlement offer!), or such an innocuous operation as deleting a browser cookie might result in sanctions.
But that’s not all. The most egregious is the last paragraph:
Defendant is also ordered to provide Plaintiff of a complete inventory of all Hard Drives and third party cloud storage services in Defendant’s possession, custody, or control.
This is nothing else but a discovery order issued prior to the Rule 26(f) conference. And that runs afoul of the Rule 26(d):
(d) TIMING AND SEQUENCE OF DISCOVERY.
(1) Timing. A party may not seek discovery from any source before the parties have conferred as required by Rule 26(f), except in a proceeding exempted from initial disclosure under Rule 26(a)(1)(B), or when authorized by these rules, by stipulation, or by court order.
(2) Sequence. Unless, on motion, the court orders otherwise for the parties’ and witnesses’ convenience and in the interests of justice:
(A) methods of discovery may be used in any sequence; and
(B) discovery by one party does not require any other party to delay its discovery.
Both conferring requirement and, more importantly, the motion requirement were ignored. This is mega overreaching. Arguably, the early discovery order exempts Malibu Media from the conferring requirement, but it is a stretch. In any case, such an Order has to be motioned: an answer has to have been filed (issue joined), so a Doe Defender can oppose such a motion for interrogatories.
In any case, this is inherently unfair. The order was issued when the Doe didn’t have a notice about a lawsuit filed against him yet, so he could violate it before even knowing it. Franz Kafka is rolling in his grave.
It is fair to note that at least one judge (or his clerk) paid attention to what was submitted via a back door: Judge Karas removed the offending paragraph before signing:
At this moment I don’t have time and energy to enumerate all the cases, in which this poisonous order was injected, maybe I will post an update tomorrow.
Shame to the judges and law clerks for signing this overreach, brazen orders. Shame… well, I almost automatically wrote “…to Lipscomb and James,” but stopped short: it would assume these guys have a quantum of dignity. They don’t.
Thanks to Raul and the community for contributing ideas/research/explanations for this post.
Malibu Media v. Tashiro (INSD 13-cv-00205) is an eventful case (228 documents so far), one of the few “cases to watch” — mostly copyright shakedown lawsuits in which defendants didn’t succumb to extortionists’ threats and decided to hire competent attorneys to fight back. Some of these cases (and this case in particular) have all the prospects to end up in front of a jury in the first trial of this kind¹.
Mark J. Dismore
I wrote about this case in the past: a sad story in which morally dead attorneys “on behalf” of jaded pornographers tried to extort money from an Indiana resident by threatening to destroy her life. Ironically, the defendant Kelly Tashiro is a nurse — a profession dedicated to saving lives.
After the trolls realized that their case against Kelley is weak, they pointed their finger at her husband Charles, adding him as a defendant on 5/15/2014. Phillips began representing Charles too, and the newly added defendant also maintained his innocence since then. No evidence of XArt’s smut was ever found on the household hard drives by the Malibu’s expert.
As in virtually every case, when it turned out that the trolls had neither facts nor law to pound, they universally played the spoliation/perjury card, dangerously moving into the criminal law domain. Apparently, alleging criminal actions has more leverage in wrestling defendants into submission than does weaponizing the stigma attached to “barely legal” hardcore pornography.
On 1/29/2015 a big milestone — an evidence hearing — was set to happen. Not trusting his stooge Paul Nicoletti to handle the matters, Keith Lipscomb himself (with an associate) flew to Indianapolis.
On the eve of this hearing, seemingly sensing the gravity of the accusations of potentially criminal conduct, Charles Tashiro rather unexpectedly invoked the Fifth Amendment right to avoid testifying about certain matters. As a result, the hearing was essentially cancelled.
The trolls went postal. A motion to sanction both Charles Tashiro and Jonathan Phillips was filed shortly thereafter. Lipscomb and Co accused Phillips of orchestrating the “sabotage” of the hearing and wanted more than $15,000 from the defendant and his former counsel.
After the botched hearing, citing the conflict of interest, Phillips withdrew as Charles Tashiro’s attorney. Erin Russell appeared on behalf of Charles shortly after.
On 3/16/2015 Phillips responded, calmly explaining the rationale behind the events that pissed off the trolls so much.
Russell’s straightforward response resulted in a pure hysteria: it is hard to read 4/13/2015 Malibu’s reply in support without experiencing pain from rolling eyes exceedingly hard. As Raul put it in 140 characters or less,
I didn’t elaborate the details of the original Malibu’s Motion for Sanctions. In short, the trolls threw everything they could at the wall in a hope that something would stick. They demanded sanctions based on FRCP 37, 28 U.S.C. § 1927, the court’s inherent authority, FRCP 16, you name it…
We anticipated that the motion would be denied as meritless, but in today’s Report and Recommendations, Magistrate Dinsmore exceeded our hopes: he denied each and every claim, sometimes harshly (“This argument borders on the absurd”), and his thorough arguments didn’t leave a lint of hope for success of possible trolls’ objections to this R&R and/or Bar complaints against Phillips.
Motion for sanctions: the pot calls the kettle black
What would arrogant megalomaniac like Keith Lipscomb do when he is royally fucked up? He’d blame the opposing counsel! It happened so many times that it’s not funny anymore. Jonathan Phillips and Morgan Pietz were accused of being members of a “fanatical Internet hate group,” Gabriel Quearry tweeted the fact that XArt owners are filthy rich to “pirates,” and Jason Sweet was declared a “well known anti-copyright lawyer.” It seems that daring to interfere with a well-oiled extortion machine while being ethically and professionally superior to crooks from 2 South Biscayne penthouse will most definitely result in a couple of disparaging labels.
On 3/25 Lipscomb filed a motion for sanctions against the defense counsel. You have to read it to believe. Meriam-Webster must consider another example to illustrate the entry for the word Chutzpah. Essentially, the troll claims that it was Conlin’s fault that her innocent client was humiliated by the accusations of torrenting “barely legal” pornography. It was her fault because… she withheld some of the exculpatory evidence proving her client’s innocence — in a conspiracy to ramp up attorney fees:
Unfortunately for Plaintiff, undersigned, and this Court, Conlin’s scheme caused a tremendous amount of wasted effort, time, and money. Through this motion, Plaintiff seeks compensation for its wasted efforts. Specifically, Plaintiff requests an order holding Conlin liable for the costs and fees Plaintiff incurred since September 2014, at which time Roberto would have been dismissed but for Conlin’s deliberate withholding of exculpatory evidence.
Really? We all know how Lipscomb behaves when clear and unambiguous prove of innocence is presented:
Respectfully, you should counsel [the defendant] that when he loses, he will lose everything he owns and owe my clients hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mark these words, your client’s decision to reject a walk away will be the worst decision he will ever make.
So, Mr. Lipscomb and Ms. Kennedy, cut he bullshit, please.
Suspiciously, this motion was promptly publicized by Law 360, a news outlet popular among lawyers. It was published at 12:37 PM without giving Conlin a reasonable chance to express her opinion: a request for comment was sent at 11:44 am, when she was on a deposition. Yet Keith Lipscomb was readily available for a comment:
M. Keith Lipscomb of Lipscomb Eisenberg & Baker PL, an attorney for the company, told Law360 on Wednesday he couldn’t comment on the specific case, but that “Malibu Media and other copyright owners pursuing BitTorrent infringement claims have expressed growing frustration with the very small minority of the BitTorrent defense bar who are litigating in bad faith and unethically.”
You now… unlike those defense attorneys, Keith Lipscomb and his minions abused local law loopholes, forged signatures, threatened to ruin a life of a wrongly accused person (knowingly), targeted a 75 years old who suffers from cancer and has mentally disabled children, not to mention myriad of derailed lives — many over illegally produced obscene videos. Yet according to our “hero,” if you go to 2 South Biscayne Penthouse you won’t be able to close your eyes and spit without surely hitting a paragon of ethics.
Ironically, this motion was filed without any attempt to confer with Conlin, in a clear violation of Rule 3.01(g), and as such I think it doesn’t have any chance of being granted.
Judge agrees that trolls’ demands are overboard, grants protective order
Now, good news. As I reported a month ago, Cynthia Conlin and Brad Partick filed a motion for a protective order against a patently overboard request to access defendant’s parents’ electronic devices. Today this motion was granted, which means that the judge ultimately agreed that Lipscomb’s arrogant belief that he is entitled to rudely intrude citizen’s privacy at will is a delusion.
As set forth in the Motion and discussed at the hearing, neither Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34 nor governing Eleventh Circuit authority permit unrestricted access to a party’s database compilations and/or computer hard drives.
Over the next 10 days I will be on a vacation and most likely won’t be prompt in posting updates.
On 3/26/2015 Conlin withdrew the defendant’s Answer to Amended Complaint and Counterclaims. Here is why: she seemingly realized that while in the new complaint Lipscomb, per judge’s order, formally added Angel Roldan as a defendant, he de factosubstituted his son, as the entire complaints doesn’t mention Roberto at all (except in the caption).
[…] although Plaintiff created the guise of maintaining Roberto Roldan as a Defendant by keeping him in the caption, it effectively dropped him as a party — which is what the Court explicitly told Plaintiff to not do. This Court expressly had ordered: “[T]he Court will not permit Plaintiff to drop Roberto Roldan as a party to this action.” According to a reading of the second amended complaint, as well as the 11th Circuit jurisprudence as shown in Welch and Lundgren, Plaintiff did exactly what the court ordered it to not do. In other words, it violated the court’s order. As the second amended complaint speaks for itself, clear and convincing evidence is shown.
Conlin asks to strike the second amended complaint and enter a final judgment in favor of Roberto, thus declaring him a prevailing party: a necessary condition of eligibility to attorney fees.
Yesterday Cynthia Conlin responded to Lipscomb/Kennedy/Shatz’s motion for sanctions. Unlike the hysterical Malibu’s missive, this response is level-headed, argumentative and worth reading in full, so rather than re-telling it and pulling out blockquotes, I embed it below:
Malibu Media v. John Doe (OHSD 14-cv-00493) is one of the cases I list on the “Cases to watch” page. A mere fact that the defendant is represented by Jason Sweet means that it is worth attentively watching how this case progresses.
I wrote about this lawsuit half a year ago. That post was mainly about the defendant’s argument that the plaintiff didn’t need to know the Doe’s identity because his/her attorney would happily accept the service. The motion exchange revealed that Malibu’s local Yousef Faroniya is merely a stooge who files shakedown lawsuits and forwards email to/from the troll center in Miami. Not surprisingly, he avoids talking to the opposite party’s attorneys at all costs; hence I named the post “Copyright troll Yousef Faroniya and his telephonophobia.”
Normally I would edit the post to append a new information, but because at least three major events happened since my last update, a new article is appropriate. These events are:
the judge’s order denying the defendant’s motion to quash, and striking parts of the plaintiff’s complaint;
the defense’s motion to dismiss for failure to timely serve;
the plaintiff’s violation of the court’s order and the resulting motion to show cause.
The judge denies the motion to quash yet expresses concerns
US Federal Judge
Unfortunately, Judge Timothy Black was not persuaded by Sweet’s argument and on 1/21/2015 ruled that the plaintiff is entitled to know the defendant’s identity. Nonetheless, while the judge didn’t explicitly order not to identify the defendant publicly at that time, the tone of the order suggested the assumption that the defendant would proceed pseudonymously.
Denying the motion to quash didn’t mean that Judge Black was happy with the plaintiff’s conduct. The following paragraphs from the complaint piqued his attention:
25. IPP’s software also logged Defendant’s IP address being used to distribute third party files through BitTorrent. This evidence indicates that Defendant engaged in BitTorrent transactions associated with 2732 files between 06/23/2013 and 05/13/2014. Collectively, this evidence is referred as the “Additional Evidence”.
26. Plaintiff has the Additional Evidence on a document and can produce it.
27. The Additional Evidence demonstrates that Defendant is a persistent BitTorrent user.
28. Many of the titles to the third party works may also be relevant to proving Defendant is the infringer because they correlate to the Defendant’s hobbies, profession, or other interests.
Those who follow these cases remember that Malibu Media and its attorney Mary K. Schulz was sanctionedtwice in Wisconsin for filing an infamous irrelevant and scandalous “exhibit C” — the list of filenames, many of which are embarrassing, purportedly shared from the defendant’s IP address. The judge thought that the above paragraphs from the complaint are nothing but a concealed “Exhibit C,” so he sua sponte ordered to strike this travesty:
Finally, the Court sua sponte raises what appears to be a remnant of one of Plaintiff’s particularly controversial litigation practices. Plaintiff’s complaint makes the seemingly off-hand allegation that IPP International UG logged Defendant’s IP address distributing 2,732 third-party files through BitTorrent. Plaintiff euphemistically describes this as “additional evidence” that Defendant is a persistent BitTorrent user and that “[m]any of the titles to the third party works may also be relevant to proving Defendant is the infringer because they correlate to the Defendant’s hobbies, profession, or other interests.” Plaintiff advises that it has this “additional evidence” on a separate document and gratuitously offers to produce it upon request.
Plaintiff presumably did not attach this document to its complaint because its lawyers have been sanctioned for the same. This attachment, the sequentially numbered Exhibit C, “consistently includes far more disturbing lewd, unusual and unredacted titles of pornographic films allegedly downloaded by the defendant than those belonging to plaintiff.” Courts concluded that the sole purpose of this exhibit was to “harass and intimidate defendants into early settlements by use of the salacious nature of others’ materials, rather than the merit of its own copyright claims.”
Although Plaintiff did not attach Exhibit C to its complaint, references to its existence and thinly-veiled threats of its production demonstrate that “these cases are fraught with circumstances that could embarrass the putative defendant should they become public and strongly influence his or her decision to settle even a meritless suit just to make the case go away before being publicly associated with their client’s film.” The alleged infringement of third-party copyrights is “immaterial to the allegations in the complaint.” Further, “the exhibit is merely a list of filenames, and it likely constitutes ‘immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter’ that should be stricken from the complaint.”
Accordingly, the Court STRIKES paragraphs 25-28 from the complaint.
Service games and motion to dismiss for failure to serve
The judge’s order also gave the plaintiff additional 38 days to serve the defendant.
The troll got a hold on the defendant’s identity on 2/2/2015. A reasonable bystander would think that Malibu would rush to serve, right? Wrong. The defendant was not served by the 2/28/2015 deadline. Why? Maybe because Lipscomb’s back office is not that good with the logistics, maybe because the trolls are spoiled by the majority of gullible judges who rubberstamp extensions without asking questions, or maybe because Lipscomb was scared of the prospect of the defendant answering the complaint, which would close the backdoor of the voluntary dismissal cut-and-run.
Moreover, after an email sent to the defense attorney strategically on Friday night before the deadline, the troll had an audacity to ask the judge for another extension.
Note that this motion lists seven other Malibu cases from this district in which the deadlines to serve passed.
What judge immediately did is encouraging: not only did he sua sponte expedite the briefing of this motion, setting a tight schedule (troll’s memorandum contra due by 3/18/2015; defense’s reply memorandum — by 3/23/2015), he also issued an order to show cause in one of other Malibu cases assigned to him, in which the defendants were not served past deadline.
The troll reveals the defendant’s name and address in violation of the judge’s order
Two days after the defendant’s motion to dismiss, on 3/13/2015, Malibu filed an amended complaint, and the exhibits, purposefully or not, displayed the defendant’s name and address, which was a clear violation of the 2/26/2015 judge’s order granting plaintiff’s motion to file the amended complaint and summons:
[…]The Clerk is DIRECTED to issue the summons under seal. The Court establishes the following procedure to balance Defendant’s privacy interests with the presumption of open judicial proceedings. Simultaneously with filing its proposed summons under seal, Plaintiff shall also file a Reference List and an amended complaint. The Reference List, which shall be filed under seal, must contain Defendant’s name and any other identifying information that Plaintiff deems necessary to the prosecution of its case, as well as an appropriate identifier that uniquely corresponds to each item listed. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2(g). The amended complaint and all subsequent filings shall be publicly filed and must refer to Defendant only as John Doe and use the identifier provided in the Reference List for other identifying information. The Court reaffirms the other directives set forth in the 1/21/15 Order. (Doc. 20 ).
In his motion, Jason Sweet claimed that what happened was not a mistake, but a deliberate premeditated action:
On March 13, 2015, Plaintiff, in violation of the Court’s repeated Orders, filed an unredacted summons and reference list with John Doe’s name and address plainly visible. See Docs. 24 & 25. By choosing to file these documents at 8:00 PM on a Friday evening, Plaintiff intentionally chose a time when it would be difficult to correct, and the embarrassment alone might cause John Doe to seek a non-trial disposition just to end the matter. More so, the documents are dated March 12, 2015, further compounding the inference that Plaintiff intentionally waited until Friday evening to file them. Nor is this the first time Plaintiff has indicated a willingness to employ this tactic against Does who refuse to settle.
To substantiate his claims, Sweet listed three other Lipscomb’s cases, in which the defendants’ identities were “mistakenly” publicized.
Judge Black didn’t procrastinate, and today he issued an order to show cause why the troll shouldn’t be sanctioned for a blatant violation of the court’s order: