Tag Archives: Malibu Media

Lying is Still Bad

In the long fought BitTorrent infringement case of Malibu Media v. Tashiro, (S.D. Indiana) the court appears to be close to closing this case with a resolution in favor of Malibu Media. As with just about every other case that has gone through substantive proceedings, the results appear to be either a finding of infringement, or defendants who lie and destroy evidence, resulting in a verdict in favor of the plaintiff.

This case, fought longer and harder than most, has resulting in a few extra points, one being with respect to a long fight about Plaintiff’s expert Patrick Page and efforts to discredit Mr. Paige. Curiously, these seem to have backfired as the court found Plaintiff’s expert Mr. Paige more credible than the expert offered by Defendants.

Based on the relative credentials of the parties’ experts, the Court concludes that Patrick Paige’s testimony is more accurate and more credible. As such, the Court finds it highly likely that thousands of files were deleted and were unrecoverable. This confirms that Defendant Charles did not temporarily delete relevant evidence; instead, he permanently destroyed that evidence. As a result, Charles is liable for spoliation.

But the real substance of this case relates to a husband and wife who the court found lied and destroyed evidence. Much has been written on this case about the lack of evidence, but the heart of the case deals with why the evidence was missing. As summarized by the Court:

Discovery in the federal system is intended “make a trial less a game of blind man’s bluff and more a fair contest with the basic issues and facts disclosed to the fullest practicable extent.” United States v. Procter & Gamble Co., 356 U.S. 677, 682 (1958) (emphasis added). The rules governing discovery contemplate that parties will “obtain the fullest possible knowledge of the issues and facts before trial,” such that “civil trials in the federal courts no longer need be carried on in the dark.” Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 501 (1947).

[Defendant’s] conduct is simply not consistent with these principles. By deleting files from the Stover drive, [Defendant] chose to conceal—not disclose—potentially relevant information. And by doing so, [Defendant] deprived Plaintiff of the ability to gain the “fullest possible knowledge” of the facts relevant to Plaintiff’s underlying copyright claim. [Defendant] thus flouted the important principles underpinning litigation carried on before this Court and other courts in the federal system, and his decision to do so cannot go unpunished.

In this case it was more than just the husband that got in trouble, but the Court specifically found the wife at fault as well.

[Defendant Wife’s] own testimony thus demonstrates that she repeatedly failed to discharge her duty to reasonably investigate whether her discovery responses were complete and accurate, and sanctions against [Defendant Wife] are therefore appropriate.

Additionally, [Defendant Wife’s] failure to investigate was especially egregious in light of her attorney’s representations to the contrary. … These misrepresentations are hardly consistent with a party’s duties to investigate and disclose relevant facts, confirming that sanctions against [Defendant Wife] are appropriate.

In essence, the court found the husband-wife team acted together on many fronts and they were liable for the bad acts of the other.  Protecting a family member may seem like a good idea, there are consequences when doing so involves lying or hiding evidence.

Based on these considerations, the Court concludes that the [Defendants] have the sort of “close family relationship,” Sebastian, 2008 WL 2875255, at *33, that would support extending a Fifth Amendment adverse inference from one party to another. Thus, when Plaintiff’s counsel asked whether [Defendant] had agreed with his wife to hide the truth in this case, the Court may infer that [Defendant] refused to answer not only to protect himself, but also to protect his wife.

And while the court found also fault with the Defendants’ attorney, he managed to escape without sanctions.

[Defendant’s attorney’s] conduct in this case borders on sanctionable. …. In these circumstances, the Court will exercise its discretion to refrain from sanctioning [Defendant’s attorney].

In summation, the court found the Defendants guilty of perjury with respect to hiding evidence, hiding hard drives and lying about the use of BitTorrent and directed that both husband and wife be found liable under Plaintiff’s claims.

Here, the Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that Defendants have engaged in a similar pattern of misconduct. Defendants spoiled evidence, committed perjury, and failed to discharge their duties to conduct discovery reasonably and in good faith. They lied to the opposing party; they withheld the existence of material evidence; and they deleted potentially damaging computer files the very night before they were to relinquish such files for discovery. Just as in the cases cited above, this extensive pattern of conduct warrants the harshest of sanctions, and the Magistrate Judge accordingly recommends that the Court enter default judgment against both Defendants.

Based on the long record of this case and likely hundreds of thousands in attorney fees, this may result in one of the most significant awards against defendants in any BitTorrent litigation.

 

The case and relevant opinion: Malibu Media, LLC v. Tashiro, et al. 1:13-cv-00205, (S.D. Indiana, May 18, 2015)

 

Internet Subscriber Liability For BitTorrent Use

In a default judgment opinion, Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr., carefully scrutinized and questioned plaintiff’s motives and actions. After reviewing a number of the criticisms against BitTorrent infringement claims the Judge concluded:

Plaintiff, however, does more than merely identify Defendant as the account holder at the relevant IP address. It also offers evidence linking that IP address to bit-exchanges involving hundreds of digital media files in just three months. Taken together, these facts plausibly suggest that Defendant—the controlling account holder of an IP address associated with frequent BitTorrent use—is the infringing user. See Malibu Media, LLC v. Doe, 2015 WL 857408, at *4 (D. Md. Feb. 26, 2015) (“That the Defendant’s IP address was used to obtain 2,034 other third party files through BitTorrent over an 18–month period supports the reasonable inference that the Defendant-and not some other person using the Defendant’s IP address—was the infringer.”). The Court therefore finds a plausible claim of direct copyright infringement.

The court went on to find that even if the infringer was not the defendant, the defendant was still liable as the subscriber finding:

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.” Monotype Imaging, Inc. v. Bitstream, Inc., 376 F. Supp. 2d 877, 883 (N.D. Ill. 2005) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted); see also PHE, 2014 WL 1856755, at *2.

And while declining to find willful infringement, contra Derek Andrew, Inc. v. Poof Apparel Corp., 528 F.3d 696, 702 (9th Cir. 2008)(In a default, “all factual allegations in the complaint are deemed true, including the allegation of [] willful infringement …”) the court did award all costs and fees and entered an injunction against the defendant and awarded plaintiff $11,525.00.

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 full opinion is: Malibu Media v. Funderburg, 1:13-cv-02614, N.D. Ill. (April 24, 2014)

### UPDATE:  On review of the Amended Complaint it appears the Judge’s finding of contributory infringement was not plead by plaintiff.  The Judge appears to have brought an alternative finding of contributory infringement to this opinion on their own based on the evidence.

The filed Amended Complaint is: Amended Complaint : Malibu Media v. Funderburg, 1:13-cv-02614, N.D. Ill.

Naming IP Address Subscriber “Objectively Reasonable”

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that naming an IP address subscriber as a defendant is “objectively reasonable.”

In the case of Malibu Media v. Pelizzo the defendant demanded costs and fees after being named in a BitTorrent copyright case. A key issue was whether or not Malibu Media named the defendant in good faith when his IP address was shown to have been the source of notable infringing activity. Later evidence indicated that Pelizzo himself might not be the infringer.   Once it appeared Pelizzo might not be the infringer, Malibu offered to dismiss the case but Pelizzo rejected Malibu’s offer and demanded costs and fees. The District Court denied Pelizzo his attorney fees under the Copyright Act and Pelizzo appealed. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court and stated:

We find no abuse of discretion in the district court’s conclusion … that Malibu’s subjective motivation for filing suit was not improper or that the suit was not frivolous… To whomever the subject IP address was subscribed, it is undisputed that a genuinely phenomenal number of films was being downloaded using it. …   Because of the nature of the films, Pelizzo justly was ashamed to be a part of the litigation, but the magistrate judge found no record evidence that Malibu sued him for that reason, and Pelizzo has not presented any such evidence. Using detection methods it had used hundreds of times before, Malibu determined that the IP address apparently assigned to Pelizzo was the vehicle for the infringements and acted accordingly.

We also find no abuse of discretion in the district court’s conclusion that Malibu, up to a point, acted in an objectively reasonable manner and in a manner that served the purposes of the Copyright Act: compensation and deterrence. Contrary to Pelizzo’s assertion, Malibu could not have been expected simply to take his word for the fact that he had not infringed Malibu’s copyrights, given the substantial evidence implicating Pelizzo.

 A ruling that Pelizzo should be awarded $6,815.50, for what the Court called a “knee-jerk” reaction to Pelizzo’s initial demand for fees was not changed, but the court verified that the $24,000 in attorney fees sought by Pelizzo was properly denied.

The case is Malibu Media v. Leo Pelizzo, 14-11795 (11th Cir, 2015)
(S.D. FL. D.C. Docket No. 1:12-cv-22768-PAS)

MISGUIDED BITTORRENT DEFENSES / OHIO AND OREGON MISFIRES

A standard defense in BitTorrent cases is that the defendant is the victim of abuse by the copyright holder and the whole process is nothing more than a shakedown scheme and a fraud on the courts with plaintiffs filing cases and settling for money. But there is a problem with this, and that is that our entire litigation system is based on reasonable people settling most cases and this overlooks the fundamental facts of the case: a copyright claim is premised on the defendant being the bad actor – for the case to exist the defendant must have first stolen from the plaintiff.

This trend of defenses that try to paint the plaintiff as the bad guy in an effort to divert attention from their own copyright theft sounds good to someone looking for an easy way out, but it does not hold up to scrutiny and the courts are shutting this defense down with painful results for some defendants. Thousands of dollars are being spent on these arguments and in the end, the defendants who might have been able to settle their clams for $5,000, have to pay not only their own attorneys thousands more, but as per the copyright law, also have to pay more to the rights holders that brought the case. A bad defense quickly turns a $5,000 case into a $50,000 case, and that is starting to sound like abuse, but for defendants who run up the legal bills, it is self-inflicted.

Two recent cases point this out. One in Ohio and a second in Oregon.

In Malibu v Doe, S.D. Ohio, 14-cv-00821, the defendant tried to assert counterclaims, arguing the copyright holder (Malibu) had committed bad acts and therefore could not enforce its claims and that the claims of Malibu were abusive and brought in bad faith.

As per the opinion –

[Defendant] alleges that Malibu brought the claim to humiliate him and extract money from him. … [but] even if Malibu brought the lawsuit with the intention of settling the case short of litigating it to conclusion, that purpose is not an ulterior motive because many claims are settled. A successful copyright lawsuit would result in money damages, so seeking a settlement by filing a complaint does not qualify as an ulterior motive…[the defendant] does not identify any act committed during the process that was improper …

 In other words, the defendant argued that Malibu was a bad person and that Malibu’s methodology of filing suit and demanding settlements for money was somehow improper. As the court correctly points out, there is not only nothing improper about Malibu’s conduct, but this is exactly how things should work when someone commits copyright theft.

In another recent case, Voltage v. Revitch, Oregon, 14-cv-00301, the defendant argued essentially the same type of thing, but brought in a lot of additional accusations claiming copyright misuse and unfair business practices, raised the “IP address is not a person defense,” and making several accusations related to the investigators and other parties working with Voltage. One of the key elements in the counterclaims of the defendant was an argument that Voltage had an improper claim that the defendant, by paying for Internet service was liable for providing the Internet access to another person who might be the actual infringer.

As per the opinion –

Defendant’s claim seeks to resolve the “continuing threat posed . . . by plaintiffs’ theory that their copyright registration imposes on [defendant] a “duty to police” the internet access he obtains as an Oregon consumer.” As noted above, plaintiffs’ allegations seek to hold defendant liable for alleged willful copying and distribution and do not assert some sort of strict liability. To the extent defendant asserts that plaintiffs have engaged in such conduct with others and that conduct bars enforcement of the copyright against him, the claim stretches the theory of copyright misuse beyond its contours.

. . .

This is not to say the issue of whether defendant is in fact liable for copyright violations engaged in by others may not be litigated, only that defendant may not properly allege a counterclaim for copyright misuse. Accordingly, defendant’s counterclaim for copyright misuse is dismissed.

Both cases support plaintiff’s right to legitimately enforce their copyrights and discard the copyright misuse defense. And in an interesting turn of events, the “IP address is not a person” defense has now been discarded so thoroughly that the courts are recognizing that someone that pays for Internet service may be “liable for copyright violations engaged in by others.”

Relevant court orders:

Malibu v Doe, S.D. Ohio, 14-cv-00821, Feb. 4, 2015

Voltage v. Revitch, Oregon, 14-cv-00301, Jan. 23, 2015

 

BitTorrent Defendant Tries to Hide Record From Public – Denied

In a BitTorrent-Infringer lawsuits that is advancing to trial, a defendant accused of downloading material has tried to seal portions of the record they would like to keep secret and hidden from the public and been denied across the board.

United States courts have a long tradition of being open keeping with the notion that justice is best administered in the light of day, not hidden from view. The judge noted the public at large has an interest in what happens in any judicial proceedings and that the defendant should not be able to hide matters from the public unless there is “good cause” and the matters to be sealed are “bona fide” confidential matters.

Finding he failed to present any good cause or have any legitimate confidentiality in the documents he wanted to keep secret, the judge denied all requests by the defendant.  The judge has asked the plaintiff Malibu Media and Comcast to comment if they would like any of the matters sealed before the Judge makes the defendant’s filings public.

The case is: Malibu Media v. Harrison, 1:12-cv-01117, Southern District of Indiana.

The opinion may be read here: Order on Defendant’s Motion to Seal, Dec. 23, 2014, Dkt. 297.

MALIBU MEDIA – Looking Under The Hood of Infringement

One of the most active parties in enforcing against BitTorrent downloads is Malibu Media, who releases adult content under the X-Art brand. While the standard mantra is BitTorrent is largely innocent and about ‘file sharing,’ this is like calling a typhoon ‘rain sharing.’ The level of content distribution is far from trivial or inconsequential.

In a recent filing in the Southern District of Ohio (1:14-cv-493-TSB, Dkt. 9), Malibu Media has let the court see under the hood at some of what is going on. Depending on how you look at the data, Malibu has records of about 12,000 distinct IP addresses in Ohio sharing and distributing their content through BitTorrent. Based on this number, when compared to the population of Ohio (~12 million), there is evidence that approximately 1 in 1000 people in Ohio are ‘sharing’ X-Art’s media through BitTorrent.

Chart of Malibu Infringement Actions, p. 4 of 14-cv-493, Dkt. 9.

Malibu Media is by all accounts one of the most active copyright enforcement litigants in the United States with some sources reporting they filed 40% of all copyright suits in 2014. But with 172 suits in Ohio, and 12,000 known infringers, Malibu’s prolific filing of complaints is addressing less than 2% of the people stealing their work. Some may complain there are too many copyright suits filed (usually those who are being sued / have been caught) but the ratio of infringers to lawsuits is a disproportionate 70:1.  For any other kind of theft, 1 in 70 would lead to the calls for more enforcement, not complaints about excessive enforcement. If one in 70 cars were stolen, or if your car were stolen every 70 days, there would be a national call to action.

With respect to damages claimed and awarded, many may argue the $750.00 statutory minimum for copyright enforcement is draconian, but a one-month subscription to Malibu Media’s web site is $29.95. If Malibu Media’s claims are against 1 in 70 infringers, then the numbers pencil out to damages of at least $2,000 per defendant just to break even ($29.95 x 70 = $2,096.50).   In light of the extensive nature of the problem, the $750.00 statutory minimum starts to seem very reasonable.

Court Document:  Malibu Media v. John Doe, 1:14-cv-493-TSB, Dkt. 9 (S.D. Ohio Sept. 12, 2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper Fences / Bad Defenses – Assumption of Risk

In Chinese they have a phrase zhilaohu (紙老虎) which translates to paper tiger. This phrase stands for something that seems fierce and powerful, but is really no more threatening than a piece of paper. The paper tiger is about imagery and illusion that is only meant to fool the gullible.

In litigation, there seems to be a growing trend to the use of affirmative defenses which are really just paper tigers, these might be called paper fences. These paper fences are not real defenses, just extra words that someone can throw on a page to justify their bill. Sometimes I wonder if even the people that file them on behalf of their client’s believe the false hope these paper fences represent.

Where these seem to be showing up more frequently are in the BitTorrent copyright cases. There are blogs and message boards where such things get shared and passed around among attorneys, and while everyone likes to share an idea, rarely does anyone share its failure. Someone dreams up an idea that sounds good, then word gets passed around and pretty soon everyone is adding the newest paper fence to his or her filings without paying attention to the rulings of the courts.

Assumption of Risk is one such paper fence that has no place in BitTorrent copyright defense. First, it is good to understand what the defense really means. An assumption of risk defense essentially states the plaintiff is involved in such risky behavior that it is expected that defendant will be reckless, as such the plaintiff accepts a possibility of injury.

Now look at why this does this not belong in a BitTorrent copyright defense or any copyright defense for that matter.

– Assumption of risk first dictates that the defendant injured the plaintiff.   The argument is the plaintiff, whose rights were infringed knew or should have known people would try and copy their work. To its logical conclusion the defendant comes to court and says, “I did it, but they should have expected me to do it.”  To allow an assumption of risk defense in copyright law would negate all copyright law.

– Assumption of risk is only valid against reckless conduct. A defendant will still be liable for any willful conduct. In BitTorrent infringement there is no reckless conduct. A defendant does not accidentally download a torrent file. All BitTorrent copyright infringement is willful.

There are other reasons, but suffice it to say assumption of risk has no place in copyright infringement cases and is nothing more than a paper fence that sounds good enough only to be sold to client to justify a bill. Just a little research reveals that assumption of risk has never prevailed as a copyright defense. As Judge Hegerty recently ruled, “Because an “assumption of risk” defense does not apply to copyright infringement claims, this defense cannot succeed as a matter of law and should be stricken.” Malibu Media, LLC v. John Butler, 1:13-cv-02707, (D. Col. Aug. 13, 2014).

As I review these cases look for future notes on other paper fences that often show up in BitTorrent Copyright cases including: Failure to State a Claim, De Minimis Infringement, and the counter claim of Non-Infringement, all of which seem to be making the rounds and do little more than run up costs and fees.

There really is only one defense to the copyright infringement claim, and that is the defense that the defendant did not do it and was not involved in any way. The rest and often just paper fences and, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” – Macbeth.

For the full opinion of Judge Hegarty cited above: Malibu Media, LLC v. John Butler, 1:13-cv-02707, (D. Col. Aug. 13, 2014).

Reinventing a Broken Wheel – International Investigations and Bad BitTorrent Defenses 

“There is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:4-11

An attorney’s job is to know the facts and law and argue the facts and the law. But if the facts are against you and the law is against you, then you need to be creative. If not to win, to at least justify the time and billing for your actions. And this leads to a lot of creative arguments, and sometimes plagiarism, even if only to plagiarize other failed arguments.   It is hard for an attorney to make a living telling clients, “You don’t have a case, and there is nothing I can do.” (Or more accurately, nothing I can bill you for…) So an attorney needs to come up with something that at least looks good on paper. After all, a client is rarely able to do the proper legal research to know that an attorney only managed to dig up a dead argument, polish it off, and sell it again as new.

An instance of this recycling can be seen in a recent spate of filings in BitTorrent litigation arguing investigations need to be licensed by the state of the defendant or the case should be thrown out on a technicality.

The argument goes something like this: Since most states have laws that require an investigator be licensed for their investigations to produce admissible evidence, an unlicensed investigator’s evidence should not be admitted.

This argument sounds good, but like many of the other defenses that get sold to defendants it does little more than provide temporary false hope and drive up legal fees that are usually then paid by the defendant. The courts that have looked at this have universally rejected this argument on a number of grounds. The internet does not recognize a state line, so such limitations are largely meaningless in the digital world.

As stated several years ago by Judge Nancy Gertner in SONY BMG Music Entertainment v. Tenenbaum:

“The Defendant raises a number of arguments why MediaSentry’s monitoring was illegal under state and federal wiretap laws, as well as state licensing requirements for private investigators. See Mass. Gen. L. ch. 272, s. 99(A); Mass. Gen. L. ch. 147, s. 22. Given that MediaSentry did not conduct its monitoring from Massachusetts, does not maintain a presence in the state, and the computer on which MediaSentry detected Tenenbaum’s file-sharing was located in Rhode Island at the time, Massachusetts’ wiretapping and licensing provisions would not seem to reach the conduct at issue at all. See Connelly Aff. (document # 866-5); Cox Comm. Subpoena Resp. (document # 866-9). Regardless of which state’s licensing requirements are invoked, the Court previously considered a similar motion to strike in London-Sire Records, Inc. v. Arista Records LLC, Case No. 04-12434, holding that “[n]either the rules of evidence nor the Fourth Amendment bar the use of evidence arguably unlawfully obtained by private parties in their private suits.” Jan. 9, 2009 Mem. and Order at 3-4 (document # 230). Tenenbaum’s remedy for a search he believes illegal under state laws is not exclusion of this evidence, but a separate action against MediaSentry or its employer under the state statutes he identifies. That leaves only the federal wiretapping provisions. See Electronic Communications Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. 2510 et seq. Here, Tenenbaum proposes a difficult analogy when he compares MediaSentry’s activities to illegal eavesdropping. The Defendant made his computer’s “shared folder” visible to the world of KazaA users, for the very purpose of allowing others to view and download its contents — an invitation that MediaSentry accepted just as any other KazaA user could have. The electronic communications that ensued were conducted with the consent of both parties. As a result, it is bizarre indeed to describe MediaSentry’s decision to examine and record its counterpart’s IP address as eavesdropping, as though federal law prohibited MediaSentry from determining where the data sent to it from Tenenbaum’s computer originated. It is as if one received a letter in the mail, but was not allowed to look at the return address.This principle makes no more sense on the internet than in the non-digital world, and it is not encompassed by the Act. The type of IP information transmitted by KazaA and recorded by MediaSentry is accessible to almost anyone with a computer. Even if viewed as an “interception” — a characterization that the Court accepts here only as a hypothetical — MediaSentry’s monitoring activities fall within the statute’s safe harbor for interceptions by a party to the communication. See 18 U.S.C. 2511(1), 2511(2)(d); see also R.I. Stat. s. 12-5.1-1 et seq. (one-party consent rule parallel to the federal statute). Tenenbaum transmitted the digital files at issue to MediaSentry, making it a party to the communication, and he has not shown here that any interception occurred with the purpose of committing a “criminal or tortious act” under state or federal law. Id.; see also Order on Motions in Limine, Capitol Records Inc. v. Thomas-Rasset, Case No. 06-1497 (D. Minn. June 11, 2009).
The Motion to Suppress MediaSentry Evidence [853] is DENIED.” (Gaudet, Jennifer)

In the Tenenbaum case the defendant fought to the bitter end, even trying to take their arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court, but still ended up owing $675,000 in damages.  Since Tenenbaum no judge has held differently. But the argument still sounds good and attorneys are still trying to sell it to their clients.

Exemplar Recent Opinion: Malibu Media, LLC, v. John Doe subscriber assigned IP address 24.94.99.165, 8:14-CV-659, Dkt. 16, (M.D. Fla. July 29, 2014) :

Excerpt:

Plaintiff’s claim is plausible on its face and should not be dismissed. Furthermore, Doe Defendant does not have standing to challenge the subpoena issued by Plaintiff to ISP Time Warner Cable as there is no right or privilege associated with an internet service subscription. Finally, a protective order is inappropriate as sufficient safeguards were put in place when the Court granted Plaintiff leave to conduct early discovery.
Accordingly and upon consideration, it is RECOMMENDED that:
(1) Doe Defendant’s Omnibus Motion to Dismiss Action with Motion to Quash Non-Party Subpeonas or Enter Protective Order, with Incorporated Memorandum of Law (Dkt. 8) be DENIED.

Who’s Trolling Who?

In the world of online media rights, few issues are met with more religious zeal than the issue of the copyright troll.   On the one side there are the parties labeled as trolls who sue people who download movies. And on the other are those who claim to be innocent, or as is more often the case, claim they only downloaded a crappy movie that was not even worth the price of a theatre ticket and the attorneys that defend the “free internet.” But it occurs to me, the troll in this paradigm may be mislabeled.

With growing online rights enforcement by parties such as X-Art, filing thousands of Malibu Media v. Doe cases nationwide, and other parties such as Voltage Pictures (The Company You Keep, Dallas Buyers Club, Killer Joe, etc) there are also a growing number of attorneys that claim to be defenders of those that get caught up in cases like this with their marketing promise to defend and save the free internet from the trolls.

But what is really going on? First look at the name, copyright troll or just troll. Slurs and broad derogatory titles are at their base discriminatory and dehumanize their targets. More commonly found in the context of racial or ethnic slurs, they permit the user to maintain a perceived position of superiority in their beliefs regardless of facts and law to the contrary. After all, how could anyone be wrong when the other side is a troll?

So what is a troll, and in particular, what is a copyright troll? While a copyright troll has no formal definition, the related term patent troll has been defined in a number of states, starting with Vermont and at least 9 other states thought their anti-troll laws. In these laws, all basically based on the Vermont model, there is a general acknowledgement

“The protections afforded by the federal patent system create an incentive to invest in research and innovation, which spurs economic growth. Patent holders have every right to enforce their patents when they are infringed, and patent enforcement litigation is necessary to protect intellectual property.”

So as a baseline, everyone agrees rights are good and should be protected. And the law goes on to discuss that while patents are good, bad faith attempts to enforce patents, a/k/a “trolling” is bad and lists the factors to evaluate what should be considered trolling. And they are:

(1) The demand letter does not contain the following information:

(A) the patent number;

(B) the name and address of the patent owner or owners and assignee or assignees, if any; and

(C) factual allegations concerning the specific areas in which the target’s products, services, and technology infringe the patent or are covered by the claims in the patent.

(2) Prior to sending the demand letter, the person fails to conduct an analysis comparing the claims in the patent to the target’s products, services, and technology, or such an analysis was done but does not identify specific areas in which the products, services, and technology are covered by the claims in the patent.

(3) The demand letter lacks the information described in subdivision (1) of this subsection, the target requests the information, and the person fails to provide the information within a reasonable period of time.

(4) The demand letter demands payment of a license fee or response within an unreasonably short period of time.

(5) The person offers to license the patent for an amount that is not based on a reasonable estimate of the value of the license.

(6) The claim or assertion of patent infringement is meritless, and the person knew, or should have known, that the claim or assertion is meritless.

(7) The claim or assertion of patent infringement is deceptive.

(8) The person or its subsidiaries or affiliates have previously filed or threatened to file one or more lawsuits based on the same or similar claim of patent infringement and:

(A) those threats or lawsuits lacked the information described in subdivision (1) of this subsection; or

(B) the person attempted to enforce the claim of patent infringement in litigation and a court found the claim to be meritless.

(9) Any other factor the court finds relevant.

While it is easy to have a knee-jerk reaction and claim anyone and everyone that sues for copyright enforcement is a troll, (just as it is easy to claim everyone who is sued is a lying pirate and thief) the rules are more complex.  Trolling is a specific type of activity.

Similarly, the law outlines factors that weight against being considered a troll, those being:

(1) The demand letter contains the information described in subdivision (b)(1) of this section.

(2) Where the demand letter lacks the information described in subdivision (b)(1) of this section and the target requests the information, the person provides the information within a reasonable period of time.

(3) The person engages in a good faith effort to establish that the target has infringed the patent and to negotiate an appropriate remedy.

(4) The person makes a substantial investment in the use of the patent or in the production or sale of a product or item covered by the patent.

(5) The person is:

(A) the inventor or joint inventor of the patent or, in the case of a patent filed by and awarded to an assignee of the original inventor or joint inventor, is the original assignee; or

(B) an institution of higher education or a technology transfer organization owned or affiliated with an institution of higher education.

(6) The person has:

(A) demonstrated good faith business practices in previous efforts to enforce the patent, or a substantially similar patent; or

(B) successfully enforced the patent, or a substantially similar patent, through litigation.

(7) Any other factor the court finds relevant.

Key in this is that anyone that is an inventor or creator, or has a business related to the rights outside of litigation, or anyone that invested in the original rights being enforced is not a troll under the law.   Many of those that are labeled as trolls, Malibu Media, Voltage, etc. are by definition not trolls. These are companies that invest in films, make films and sell films. Under the law, the vast majority of rights enforcement actions are not troll actions and anyone that claims they will help you “fight a troll” falsely uses that term to support a claimed position of superiority in their beliefs regardless of the facts and law to the contrary.

When I see all the attorneys lining up offering to defend against the actions of copyright trolls, usually for what they claim to be a reasonable fee of a few thousand dollars, I wonder why they need to rely on the derogatory and legally false term of “troll” to solicit business. And while much can be said about lawsuits filed for thousands of dollars against thousands of infringers, I wonder how much money is taken in by those that claim they are defending the free Internet and claiming the mantle of moral superiority.

It occurs to me that there may be more money being paid to those that defend these cases than is paid by those that are filing them.

Who’s trolling who?