Skip Links

Judge protects porn downloaders from 'copyright troll'

Court rejects film producer's embarrassment-based fishing-net approach

By Paul McNamara on Fri, 12/17/10 - 8:38am.

That enormous sigh of relief you heard yesterday was likely from 5,400 unidentified porn downloaders reacting to a West Virginia judge's ruling that an adult-film producer cannot force their unmasking in an effort to sue them for copyright infringement.

It's a case we first highlighted Nov. 29.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is calling the judge's decision "a big victory in the fight against copyright trolls."

From an EFF press release:

In these cases -- as in many others across the country -- the owners of the adult movies filed mass lawsuits based on single counts of copyright infringement stemming from the downloading of a pornographic film, and improperly lumped hundreds of defendants together regardless of where the IP addresses indicate the defendants live.  The motivation behind these cases appears to be to leverage the risk of embarrassment associated with pornography to coerce settlement payments despite serious problems with the underlying claims.

Earlier this month, there were similar rulings in California and the District of Columbia.

In the West Virginia case, it was Time Warner Cable that sought to quash subpoenas from the film producer demanding that it identify 5,400 individual "John Does" listed in seven separate lawsuits. EFF had filed a brief supporting Time Warner's refusal to comply.

The judge's rulings can be read here.

"This is the next nail in the coffin of the copyright trolls," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn in the press release. "Now that judges are starting to reject the shoddy and unfair tactics being used by the attorneys filing these cases and force plaintiffs to play by the rules, this type of mass litigation will no longer be a good business model."

Not everyone is necessarily off the hook, though. The West Virginia ruling did leave open the possibility of the film producer suing individual state residents if their residency can be reliably established.

Of course, that's probably not worth the lawyer's fees.

Welcome regulars and passersby. Here are a few more recent Buzzblog items. And, if you'd like to receive Buzzblog via e-mail newsletter, here's where to sign up. Follow me on Twitter here.