Internet Providers Appeal Order to Reveal Names of Porn Movie Pirates

Internet Piracy
Variety

Cox Communications, AT&T, Bright House Networks, Verizon and Comcast contend that a company’s effort to find the names of IP addresses that downloaded pirated copies of a porn movie is really a case of copyright trolling in order to extract settlements before revealing users’ names.

That’s one of the reasons the Internet giants are appealing a D.C. federal judge’s order that they comply with a subpoena to reveal personal information behind some 1,058 IP addresses named as John Does in plaintiff AF Holdings’ copyright infringement suit. AF Holdings is the named company behind the adult movie “Popular Demand.”

Studios and record labels abandoned the idea of suing individuals who download pirated content, in part because it proved to be poor public relations but largely because it is extremely costly. That hasn’t stopped individual producers from suing users on their own — the makers of “Hurt Locker” did just that — and adult filmmakers have done the same thing. But their efforts have also proved incredibly complex as courts have required them to pursue individual cases for each user or IP address, rejecting efforts to move cases forward with an en masse group of defendants.

Yet last year, U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell rejected the Internet providers’ attempts to avoid AF Holdings’ subpoena to find the names behind the IP addresses. She said that “in circumstances where the plaintiff knows only the IP addresses associated with computers being used allegedly to infringe its copyright, the plaintiff is entitled to a period of discovery to obtain information to identify the ISPs’ customers who may be using those computers in order to determine whether to name those individuals as defendants.”

The Internet providers, however, contend in an appeal brief that AF Holdings is “using these cases primarily to expand a national database of Internet subscribers who will be subject to pre-suit ‘settlement’ demands that use the threat of public identification with pornography to coerce substantial payments. AF Holdings then typically abandons or dismisses all claims, preventing the merits of its cases or the legal issues presented here from reaching final adjudication, contrary to the role of federal courts to decide actual cases and controversies.”

They argue that the “overwhelming recent authority” of courts across the country has been to require that plaintiffs prove that the IP addresses are likely to be found within a court’s jurisdiction, something that forces those suing to file individual lawsuits. If Howell’s decision stands, they say that the DC Circuit will become a “unique venue for mass-Doe lawsuits.”

There’s another twist in the case. In a scathing order in May, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright ordered a group of attorneys for AF Holdings and another company, Ingenuity 13, to pay attorneys fees and costs of $81,319.72 as sanctions for their role in what he characterized as a “porno-trolling collective.” He wrote that “copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow, starving attorneys in this electronic media era to plunder the citizenry.” Among the attorneys named was Paul A. Duffy, a Chicago attorney who has been representing AF Holdings in the D.C. case. The decision is being appealed to the 9th Circuit.

The Internet giants quoted from Wright’s order in arguing that they have been engaging in “serious misconduct and fraud.” Wright wrote that the principals behind AF Holdings “fraudulently signed” the copyright assignment for “Popular Demand” using the signature of a groundskeeper for an attorney involved in the litigation, John Steele.

In an AF Holdings brief from Oct. 11, Duffy writes that “the horribles paraded by the ISPs are entirely unrelated to the issues” before the appellate court, noting that the Internet providers are “going to great lengths” to cast the company and adult film copyright holders as “unsavory.” They also point to a district court in Minnesota that allowed information about settlements with Internet users to be filed under seal, challenging the notion that pornography plaintiffs engage in “coercive” tactics.

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  1. Frank W says:

    The only person who should be sued is the guy who posted the movie online. Who is not to say that AF Holdings didn’t post the movie themselves just to attract the trolls who want everything free?

    • that anonymous coward says:

      Funny you should mention that… it appears that the “firm” behind this was actually the source of some of the movies they have sued over. Oh and the fraudulent signatures on the copyright assignments… and the around $250,000 in sanctions and attorney fees they owe across the country. The have been referred to the US Attorney General, IRS Criminal Investigation Division, and state bars for what a Federal Judge found was fraud upon the courts.

      Judge Howell should have recused herself from this case originally, but I guess when your a “former” lobbyist for the RIAA there can not be a conflict of interest… even if she willfully ignored the lack of jurisdiction of the court over many of the does, and stated from the bench that ISP’s and customers had greater duty to protect the copyright holders… funny there is nothing supporting that in the actual law.

      You also missed that some of the ISPs have had to resort to filing suits to be paid by the firm, as well as making sure that customer data that was turned over was destroyed.

      And yes, I am THAT That Anonymous Coward you can find referenced in the defamation lawsuits filed against the people opposing them. I might know a thing or 3 about these cases.

      • Frank W says:

        Thanks for the detailed reply. I wouldn’t be as concerned over the fines IF the money was actually going to the infringed artists and as far as I know from the RIAA, no such thing was happening and the fines were outrageous compared to actual loss ($1 a song).

        A college friend owns a successful Indie record label and constantly has to monitor YouTube and such sites looking for music that he represents or owns from his own band. He recently discovered samples from one of his most popular musicians in a rising band’s song. Of course letters went out, but the RIAA isn’t protecting him like they are the majors.

        I’m a photographer and I’ve just done a halloween charity event where for $3 I would shoot the parent’s costumed children and then send it to them electronically. One parent came over to ask if they were allowed to print the picture! I was thrilled that he knew enough to ASK. I give full licence to them to print and post online, they just can’t make money from it (like contests) or publish in print. It’s great to find an educated consumer.

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