×

Voltage Pictures Lawyer Renounces ‘Unethical’ BitTorrent Copyright Suits

An attorney who filed dozens of BitTorrent copyright cases on behalf of Voltage Pictures and Millennium Films has renounced the practice, saying he was duped into participating in unethical copyright “trolling.”

James S. Davis filed suit against his former legal partner and his former clients in San Diego Superior Court in July. In the complaint, he says that he was recruited into the BitTorrent litigation by a former law school classmate, Carl Crowell, who told him he had a “good litigation business opportunity.”

Crowell, based in Salem, Ore., has filed hundreds of copyright infringement lawsuits against users of torrent sites. Crowell typically files against “John Doe” defendants who are identified solely by their IP address. He then obtains a court order forcing the internet service provider to identify the subscriber. He then demands a settlement — usually about $7,500. Though some defendants allege that someone else was using their IP address, it is often cheaper to settle than to fight the claims in court.

Davis was practicing immigration law in San Diego when Crowell asked him to help with the copyright cases in March 2015, according to the suit. Soon, Davis began filing federal suits for illegal downloads of “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Cobbler,” both produced by Voltage Pictures, among other films.

In one of those cases in San Francisco, the defense attorney, Nicholas Ranallo, filed a motion asking the plaintiffs to post a $50,000 bond. In the motion, Ranallo blasted Davis for “copyright trolling,” and raised questions about whether Davis’ client — Dallas Buyers Club LLC — actually owned the copyright to the film. Ranallo also claimed it was impossible to know whether his client, Ryan Underwood, was actually responsible for the illegal downloads.

“The plaintiffs’ goal in these matters is not to reach a judgment on the merits, but rather to secure a dubious settlement with onerous terms that accrue primarily to the benefit of attorneys and other non-parties,” Ranallo alleged. Ranallo also cited litigation filed against Voltage by Dallas Buyers Club LLC, in which the latter stated that it had no knowledge or control over the copyright litigation being carried out in its name.

In response, Davis argued that the copyright owners were engaged in a sincere effort to combat piracy, and would only target “the worst of the worst” violators. Davis alleged that Underwood’s IP address was used to distribute “Dallas Buyers Club” over 400 times, along with 2,000 other titles.

Davis prevailed on the motion, and the case was later dismissed by mutual agreement of the parties. But in his recent lawsuit, Davis now says that in the course of preparing his response, he began asking questions and uncovering facts that undermined “his belief in the value and ethical propriety” of the copyright suits.

In a separate copyright case in San Diego, Davis says he uncovered additional troubling facts in the course of drafting a response to a judge’s threat to dismiss the case. He says he had a meeting in Santa Monica with the key figures on the plaintiff’s side, after which he “concluded that both the legal and factual basis of the Copyright Litigation campaign were unsound, and that each had been misrepresented to him.”

At that point, Davis had filed 58 copyright cases for downloads of two Voltage films (“Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Cobbler”), three Millennium films (“London Has Fallen,” “Criminal,” “Septembers of Shiraz”) and two Benaroya Pictures films (“Queen of the Desert,” “Cell”). He dismissed the cases or turned them over to other counsel and withdrew from the copyright enforcement campaign.

He then retained Ranallo — who had blasted his San Francisco case — to sue Crowell, as well as Millennium, Voltage and other entities. In the suit, Davis seeks at least $300,000 to compensate him for hours spent working on cases that were “legally and factually infirm.”

Crowell declined to comment.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger Rufus Wainwright Sam Smith

    Renée Zellweger: Judy Garland Was 'My Childhood Hero'

    Awards buzz is building around Renée Zellweger for her performance as Judy Garland, emerging as a frontrunner in the Oscar race for best actress. But for her, the real prize was paying tribute to Garland, of whom she’s been a lifelong fan. “Nobody was prettier, nobody sang prettier…the adventures she had, [she was] my childhood [...]

  • Topic Studios

    Layoffs Hit Topic Studios as TV Division Relocates to West Coast (EXCLUSIVE)

    A small round of layoffs has hit Topic Studios this week in the television division, insiders familiar with the company told Variety. One of the insiders said three executives at the New York-based producer and distributor are out: senior vice president of scripted programming and Viacom alum Lisa Leingang, vice president of development Mona Panchal [...]

  • 'Downton Abbey' Music Gets 'Bigger, Better,

    As 'Downton Abbey' Hits the Silver Screen, the Music, Too, Gets 'Bigger, Better, Grander'

    When “Downton Abbey” fans hear that familiar strings-and-piano theme, a Pavlovian response ensues: Get to the television immediately, because you don’t want to miss a minute of the addictive Crawley family melodrama to follow. This week, with the “Downton Abbey” movie reaching theaters on Friday, fans can’t wait for their fix of Lady Mary and [...]

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content