Two Strikes Against “Troll Slayer”

In the closely watched case of Blaha v. Rightscorp, a prominent self-proclaimed “troll slayer” took on copyright enforcement firm Rightscorp and tried to argue that enforcing U.S. Copyright Law against those who commit theft was an abuse of process.

According to the class action complaint:

Rightscorp describes itself to investors as a “leading provider of monetization services” for copyright owners. Rightscorp’s business model involves using federal legal process and the threat of statutory damages for copyright infringement to engage in what some call “speculative invoicing” of consumers who it accuses of having engaged in file sharing.

The Plaintiff attempts to bring a class action on behalf of all those caught infringing on two basis, the first being for abuse of process, summarized in the complaint as:

To identify potential consumers to target, Rightscorp has willfully misused this Court’s subpoena power by issuing at least 142 special DMCA subpoenas, per 17 U.S.C. § 512(h), to various Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”). These subpoenas, which were issued on this Court’s authority, but procured outside of an adversarial proceeding and without any judicial review, are so clearly legally invalid as to be a sham and abuse of the legal process.

The second claim is related to the use of “robo-calls” made to identified infringers.

This action is pending in the Central District of California, a jurisdiction well known for being strict and firm in its protections against abusive copyright enforcement.

In defense, Rightscorp argued that under California’s anti-SLAPP law, which protects against abusive litigation, their actions were not only lawful, but legitimate in enforcing copyrights against acts of theft. (SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.) In essence, in this case a “troll slayer” accused Rightscorp of abusive litigation in the enforcement of copyrights against Internet pirates and Rightscorp countered with the claim that it was in fact the “troll slayer” that was litigating in an abusive manner and moved to strike Plaintiff’s claim under California’s anti-SLAPP law.

The court agreed with Rightscorp.

There is no question that the complained of conduct [by Rightscorp] satisfies the first prong of the anti-SLAPP statute. The entire claim is based on [Rightscorp’s] representations to various federal courts in order to convince those courts to issue subpoenas. This kind of action is specifically defined as protected action by § 425.16(e).

The court went on to affirm that while it was clear the Plaintiff and their counsel did not approve of Rightscorp’s enforcement of copyrights against pirates, simply not liking the law was not enough.

The first fatal deficiency in Plaintiff’s abuse of process claim is that Plaintiff raises no ulterior motive in [Rightscorp’s] use of the subpoenas….there is no allegation and no evidence that [Rightscorp] sought to do anything other than what their subpoena requests indicated – identify potential copyright infringers for the purpose of pursuing Defendants’ rights under the Copyright Act.

* * *

The second fatal deficiency in Plaintiff’s claim is that it is barred by the California litigation privilege…. Plaintiff provides no argument why those communications to the various courts in acquiring the subpoenas do not satisfy the four part test quoted above, perhaps because they obviously do.

The court summarily concluded with the biggest sting in the case:

The motion to strike is GRANTED. Attorney’s fees and costs must be awarded under California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16(c) and are granted subject to a properly noticed motion as to amount.

With a refrain of “I fought the law and the law won” (the Clash) playing quietly, a “troll slayer” must now pay.

In another motion, there was an attempt to bring in the attorney or “General Counsel” of Rightscorp as a member of the company’s “management.” The court dismissed this defendant finding:

There is no evidence that [General Counsel] was involved in any specific acts directed toward any of the class members in California. … Plaintiff has demonstrated nothing more than that [General Counsel] provides general intellectual property advice to Rightscorp, which happens to be based here. And while Rightscorp has taken certain measures in California, there is no evidence – or even an allegation – that [General Counsel’s] advice is somehow California-specific rather than advice that applies throughout the United States…. In short, [General Counsel’s] connection to California solely through his client, Rightscorp, is the kind of fortuitous contact with a forum that does not provide the kind of substantial connection with the forum needed for the exercise of personal jurisdiction.

With one claim gone, and a defendant dismissed, Rightscorp still faces a surviving claim directed at its use of “robo-calls” to infringer.  But they face this claim with an award of attorneys fees from the Plaintiff.

The case is John Blaha v. Rightscorp, Inc., et al., 2:14-cv-09032, Central District of California, (Judge Dale S. Fischer).

Relevant documents:

John Blaha v. Rightscorp, Inc., et al., 2:14-cv-09032, Dkt. 71 (C.D. Cal, May 8, 2015) – Order striking Plaintiff’s claim and awarding fees.

John Blaha v. Rightscorp, Inc., et al., 2:14-cv-09032, Dkt. 72 (C.D. Cal, May 8, 2015) – Order dismissing defendant

 

 

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