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Porn copyright troll drops suit against 670 nervous 'Does'

Latest in a string of legal victories for those opposing 'pay-up-or-else' litigation

By Paul McNamara on Tue, 02/01/11 - 11:31am.

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation this morning is trumpeting a legal victory in behalf of 670 anonymous file downloaders who stood to have their taste in pornography publicly revealed by an adult movie producer's questionable strategy and dragnet subpoena underlying a copyright lawsuit.

The EFF and other consumer rights advocates have been pushing back against these types of tactics that have come to be known as "pay-up-or-else" litigation.

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From today's EFF press release announcing that the lawsuit has been dismissed:

The notice of dismissal came after EFF and Public Citizen argued that Mick Haig (Productions) should not be allowed to send subpoenas for the Does' identifying information, because it had sued hundreds of people in one case, in the wrong jurisdiction and without meeting the constitutional standard for obtaining identifying information.

"Copyright owners have a right to protect their works, but they can't use shoddy and unfair tactics to do so," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry.  "When adult film companies launch these cases, there is the added pressure of embarrassment associated with pornography, which can convince those ensnared in the suits to quickly pay what's demanded of them, whether or not they have legitimate defenses.  That's why it's so important to make sure the process is fair."

You can read the movie producer's whiny surrender notice here.

Among the interesting twists in this case is the purported fact that Mick Haig Productions failed to officially register a copyright for its film before initiating legal action against the 670 "John Does," an oversight that can be legally significant, according to this story on TorrentFreak.  Moreover, the work of "art" in question, "Der Gute Onkel," shares that name with a 1912 short film that is in the public domain and could well have offered those who downloaded the raunchy one plausible (if not exactly compelling) deniability.

Late last year, there were rulings against the plaintiffs in similar lawsuits in West Virginia, California and the District of Columbia. In the West Virginia case, it was Time Warner Cable that sought to quash subpoenas from a 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.

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