EFF responds to DC judge’s support for mass P2P litigation

The EFF (Electronic Freedom Foundation), a high-profile digital civil rights organization, has responded to a decision made last week by Washington DC Judge Beryl Howell, which approved of a prosecuting attorney’s joining together hundreds or thousands of anonymous copyright defendants in a single lawsuit. Predictably, the organization is not pleased.

The case was initiated by film companies Call of the Wild Movie LLC, Maverick Entertainment Group, and Donkeyball Movie LLC, accusing multiple John Doe defendants across the United States of illegally sharing their movies online with peer-to-peer networking applications. Early on in the court proceedings, EFF attorneys filed an amicus brief supporting the defendants by pointing out potential rights violations.

Judge Howell stated in a 42-page opinion filed Tuesday that the plaintiffs met the requirements under the Federal Rules of Procedure Rule 20(a)(2) to join the defendants together, and that not allowing the plaintiffs to do so would “debilitate” their efforts to protect their copyrights.

“We are deeply disappointed by Judge Howell’s decision,” EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry told MyCE via email Friday. “As we explained in our amicus brief, these mass copyright cases are deeply flawed.  Every defendant has a right to individual justice and due process, and copyright cases are no exception.  By suing thousands of people at once, in a court they have good reason to know lacks jurisdiction, the plaintiffs are seeking to game the system and deprive the defendants of those traditional protections, causing real and immediate harm.”

“Unfortunately, the court did not agree with us,” McSherry continued. “However, other courts around the country (such as federal courts in Texas and West Virginia) have taken another view and recognized the fundamental problems with these lawsuits.  We hope courts confronted with similar suits will follow this other, better reasoned approach.”

Indeed, Judge Howell’s decision bears a striking contrast to other recent decisions which have denied mass copyright litigation in favor of giving consumers a better chance at a fair defense, though placing a larger expense burden on the plaintiffs. Rules of jurisdiction obviously remain a gray area when dealing with alleged online crimes.