M. Keith Lipscomb is an “intellectual property” attorney some of his adversaries refer to as a “copyright troll.” He recently filed a lawsuit in Dade County, Florida Circuit Court, styled Patrick Collins, Inc., et al. v. John Does 1-347, in which he alleged that 347 unnamed defendants had illegally downloaded a pornographic video called “The Girl in the Shower;” thereby violating his client Malibu Media LLC’s copyright on the video.
Representatives of Malibu Media then starting calling various “prospective defendants,” such as Louisville’s Jennifer Barker, 44, and threatening them that if they did not “settle out of court,” with a payment of $2,000.00, their names would be added to the John Doe list in the lawsuit, subjecting them to potential liability of $150,000.00 per video downloaded.
But Ms. Barker told Malibu that she had never downloaded “The Girl in the Shower,” or any other such video from the internet, and refused to send in her two grand hush-money. When Malibu started pestering her at work, she contacted a Louisville lawyer, and started to fight back. Last week, she filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Louisville, alleging that Malibu and four other studios tried to extort money from her and others they claim have downloaded pornography from the Internet.
Copyright trolls attempt to game the legal process, using improper claims and procedures to pressure alleged copyright infringers into settling lawsuits against them even where they have legitimate defenses. Trolls threaten to sue a person for an insane $150,000 allowed by the statute; they promise to drag his or her name through the dirt by calling families, neighbors and businesses to tell them the names of allegedly infringed pornographic works.
Jennifer Barker and her attorney Ken Henry allege six counts, starting with civil RICO Act violation. The other allegations are fraud, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and unjust enrichment. Five porn purveyors have been named as defendants; all of them are well-known serial public assailants: Patrick Collins, Inc., Malibu Media, LLC, Raw Films, Ltd, K-Beech, Inc., and Third Degree Films. Together, these five companies, out of California and London, have filed more than 500 lawsuits in 17 states against John and Jane Does in recent years.
We spoke recently to another local victim of these copyright trolls; a Louisville businessman whom we agreed to keep anonymous. “Mr. Jones” (not his real name) showed us a copy of a letter he received from Florida attorney Joseph Perea, in which the lawyer threatened to add Mr. Jones’ name to a list of John Does in a Texas lawsuit, and claiming Mr. Jones had illegally downloaded a video called “Shemale Yum.”
Perea indicated to Jones that he faced potential civil damages of $150,000.00, but that he could settle out of court—and not have his name listed publicly in the lawsuit—for a quick payment of $3,400.00 (check or money order).
We spoke with Mr. Perea on the telephone, from his Miami Beach law offices, and inquired as to whether his client had any proof that Mr. Jones had ever downloaded any porno video copyrighted by Perea’s client (Jones adamantly denies having done so), or any proof that Mr. Jones had ever been present within the Texas court’s jurisdiction (he hasn’t). Lawyer Perea became very agitated, and—before slamming down the telephone—referred to your humble reporter in categories unfit for publication in a family web site.
These copyright troll lawsuits all follow the same pattern. A porno film company files a civil lawsuit against a group of "John Does" identified only by Internet provider numbers (ISP), then seeks to subpoena the Internet provider for the subscriber's name. Once the company has the names, representatives call the subscribers and ask for a settlement ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 and threaten to file a $150,000 lawsuit for each copyrighted download that would name them publicly as someone who downloads dirty movies.
The best thing to do if you find yourself victimized by one of these copyright trolls is to refuse to discuss their allegations over the telephone, and contact your attorney immediately.
Full disclosure: The author—a practicing attorney in Louisville—is currently representing one of the defendants in Millennium TGA, Inc., vs. John Doe, U.S. Dist. Ct., So. Dist. Texas, No. 4:11-cv-04501.
Read more: Furious judge decries "blizzard" of copyright troll lawsuits