Update: After we ran this story, we received word that the order we reported on has been vacated by Judge Schumacher. Ars Technica talked to Kubs Lalchandani, an attorney at the law firm of Lalchandani Simon, which represents defendants in copyright troll cases and has been involved in this case. He told Ars late on Wednesday that the order we reported on had been drafted by one of the defendants in the case. Because Judge Schumacher mistakenly believed that the order had been agreed to by both sides in the case, he signed off on it without (apparently) reading it carefully. When Schumacher discovered his mistake, he vacated the order. Original story appears below.
John Steele is one of the nation’s most prolific copyright trolls. Last year, an Illinois federal judge wrote that Steele had “abused the litigation system in more than one way.” Apparently undeterred by the thumping he received in Illinois federal courts, Steele has joined a new firm and shifted his litigation campaign to Florida state courts.
State courts don’t have jurisdiction over copyright law, but this fact didn’t deter Steele and his compatriots, who tried to use an obscure provision of Florida law called a “pure bill of discovery” to obtain subscriber information without actually filing a copyright lawsuit. As Princeton copyright scholar Bart Huffman explained last year, this ancient provision of Florida law wasn’t intended to be used this way, and the firm was forced to make a number of creative arguments to justify its request.
Florida Judge Marc Schumacher wasn’t impressed by the firm’s legal gymnastics. The phrase “copyright troll” appears in the second paragraph of Judge Schumacher’s decision, and things go downhill for Steele from there.
“The federal courts have shown extreme hostility to these suits, identifying them as fishing expeditions that improperly join numerous defendants, as failing to meet federal pleading standards, and as being used to extort settlements from defendants who are neither subject to the courts’ personal jurisdiction nor guilty of copyright infringement,” Schumacher wrote.
The plaintiffs had filed a a lawsuit against hundreds of anonymous “Does.” One of them, number 376, had responded to the lawsuit. Rather than trying to refute this defendant’s arguments, Steele’s firm asked the judge to dismiss Doe 376 from the case, while continuing the case against others who had not tried to defend themselves.
But obviously, Doe 376’s arguments applied to the other defendants in the case as well. So rather than dismiss just one defendant, the judge considered the arguments Doe 376 had raised and found them persuasive. He ruled that state courts do not have jurisdiction over the case (since copyright is a federal matter) and that Florida’s bill of discovery cannot be used to obtain information from a non-defendant such as the Does’ ISPs. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice.
The strong language in Schumacher’s decision reflects a growing awareness among judges of the abusive potential of copyright troll lawsuits. One footnote listing past cases in which judges dismissed copyright troll cases was more than half a page long. As lawyers try increasingly outlandish legal tactics to squeeze money out of supposed file-sharers, they’re likely to face an increasingly skeptical bench.