EFF Asks Courts Not to Unmask 'Does' in Copyright Lawsuits

SAN FRANCISCO—The Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) has asked courts in Texas and West Virginia to prevent the identities of thousands of “John Does” from being made public in copyright infringement lawsuits filed on behalf of adult content producers.

In the Texas case, a motion was filed to quash discovery into the Does' identities in Mick Haig Productions v. Does, a lawsuit in which EFF and Public Citizen are acting as counsel for the defendants following a request by the court. In West Virginia, an amicus brief was filed in a series of seven similar cases, supporting a Nov. 15 motion by Time Warner Cable to niullify subpoenas seeking the identities of the alleged pirates. The EFF brief argues that the “plaintiffs should re-file their actions against each defendant individually and bring suit in courts that appear likely to be able to properly exercise personal jurisdiction.”

In a press release issued by EFF today, senior staff attorney Matt Zimmerman wrote, “The cases were filed by two different companies and involve different copyrighted adult material. However, the tactics are the same. In both cases, 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 lump hundreds of defendants together regardless of where the IP addresses indicate the defendants live. Consistent with a recent spike in similar ‘copyright troll’ lawsuits, 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.”

The “predatory” suits, he continued, amount to an end run around the due process rights of the John Does, and “seem designed to ensure that few, if any, defendants will fight back, given the risk of shame from being publicly identified."

Clearly unimpressed with the legal acumen behind the lawsuits, Zimmerman also had choice words for the content producers who brought the suits.

"Some producers of adult content have apparently come to the conclusion that filing shoddy mass lawsuits under the assumption that the defendants will be too intimidated to fight back is a good business strategy," he said. "It is our hope that courts will quickly see through these tactics and ensure that the right to a fair process is ensured for every defendant."

The motion to quash in the Texas case can be read here.

The amicus brief in the West Virginia cases can be read here.