Star Trek 11: The Wrath of Judge

A litigation strategy the judge thought went too boldly beyond ...

A litigation strategy the judge thought went too boldly beyond …

In an order littered with Star Trek references, a litigation strategy involving obtaining the copyright to pornographic movies and then suing people for illegally downloading them irked U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright (C.D. Cal.) to the extent that he levied hefty sanctions against those involved in various misdeeds.

According to Judge Wright, the plaintiffs had outmaneuvered the legal system:

They’ve discovered the nexus of antiquated copyright laws, paralyzing social stigma, and unaffordable defense costs. And they exploit this anomaly by accusing individuals of illegally downloading a single pornographic video. Then they offer to settle—for a sum calculated to be just below the cost of a bare-bones defense. For these individuals, resistance is futile; most reluctantly pay rather than have their names associated with illegally downloading porn. So now, copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow, starving attorneys in this electronic-media era to plunder the citizenry.

The following findings of fact flesh out the situation a bit more:

2. AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13 have no assets other than several copyrights to pornographic movies. There are no official owners or officers for these two offshore entities, but the Principals are the de facto owners and officers.

3. The Principals started their copyright-enforcement crusade in about 2010, through Prenda Law, which was also owned and controlled by the Principals. Their litigation strategy consisted of monitoring BitTorrent download activity of their copyrighted pornographic movies, recording IP addresses of the computers downloading the movies, filing suit in federal court to subpoena Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) for the identity of the subscribers to these IP addresses, and sending cease-and-desist letters to the subscribers, offering to settle each copyright infringement claim for about $4,000.

4. This nationwide strategy was highly successful because of statutory copyright damages, the pornographic subject matter, and the high cost of litigation. Most defendants settled with the Principals, resulting in proceeds of millions of dollars due to the numerosity of defendants.

An apparent Star Trek fan, Judge Wright began his order imposing sanctions by quoting Spock from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Not sure of the exact relevance of this quotation.  Was he referring to the needs of the many for illegally downloaded porn?

He continued mining the Star Trek vein at various parts of the order, stating, for example, that “though Plaintiffs boldly probe the outskirts of law, the only enterprise they resemble is RICO. The federal agency eleven decks up is familiar with their prime directive and will gladly refit them for their next voyage” and “[i]t was when the Court realized Plaintiffs engaged their cloak of shell companies and fraud that the Court went to battlestations.”

Order Issuing Sanctions, Ingenuity 13 LLC v. John Doe, Case No. 2:12-cv-8333-ODW(JCx), May 6, 2013, U.S. District Ct., Central District of California.  Thanks to Michael Kong.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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