Mass BitTorrent case judge is ex-RIAA lobbyist, DMCA drafter

Last week Judge Beryl Howell filed a 42-page opinion on why movie studios like those previously involved in a copyright infringement case surrounding the illegal distribution of the  film “The Hurt Locker” and others should be free to lump together a group of defendants instead of filing against each individual John Doe. The approval of mass litigation was certainly a blow to the defendants and the lawyers who represent them as it falls squarely on the side of prosecutors.

Reports soon surfaced of a possible conflict of interest in regards to Judge Howell’s ruling. Are they serious accusations, or just baseless knee-jerk reactionaryism?

Some digging by TorrentFreak turned up interesting information on Judge Howell that speaks to a long history of experience in the anti-piracy movement.

Prior to her appointment to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. this past December, Howell helped draft the DMCA and other cyber theft-deterring acts. Furthermore, she was an executive at Stroz Friedberg – a firm which specializes in digital crimes and consultation. The company’s boast “we get it right” takes on another meaning altogether when one considers that during her time there Howell apparently raked in over $400,000 lobbying for the RIAA.

Judge Howell’s ruling supported the plaintiffs (Call of the Wild Movie LLC, Maverick Entertainment Group and Donkeyball Movie LLC) in part due to how troublesome it would be for them to properly guard their copyrights otherwise.

“Given the administrative burden of simply obtaining sufficient identifying information to properly name and serve alleged infringers, it is highly unlikely that the plaintiffs could protect their copyrights in a cost-effective manner,” she wrote in the ruling.

Online rights advocate the EFF deemed the ruling overwhelmingly unfair to defendants and beneficial to plaintiffs who could “game the system” — an allusion in part to the amnesty offers and ‘pay or else’ schemes which some lawyers have carried out on behalf of their employers.

As for why Howell did not recuse herself from the case – thus avoiding speculation over her objectivity, Ars Technica figured it out: she didn’t have to. Outside of a clandestine check made out to her and signed by the movie studios she essentially ruled in favor of, there is simply no wrong doing. Moreover, the site provides a deeper look into her background that demonstrates a career not relegated to only serving the whims of greedy corporate masters.

This is likely not the last we’ve heard about this case or the ramifications of Howell’s opinion on future cases, despite the fact the USCG effectively dropped its legal pursuit of defendants last week.