Judge: Over 99% of 'Expendables' pirates are untouchable

By on August 2, 2011, 6:30 PM

US District Court Judge Robert Wilkins has all but dismissed the massive piracy case brought against some more than 23,000 alleged infringers. In early May, the now infamous US Copyright Group (front name for the law firm Dunlap, Grubb & Weaver) acquired subpoenas forcing Internet service providers to reveal the accountholders behind 23,322 IP addresses (PDF) caught downloading and sharing "The Expendables." At the time, it was the largest filesharing case in US history, but was trumped soon after by an update in the Hurt Locker case.

The firm (who represents various smalltime filmmakers -- "NU Image" in this particular case) targeted those individuals in a "pay-or-else" scheme, demanding filesharers pay a settlement fee (often $1,500 to $3,000) or risk facing greater penalties at trial. Such tactics are extremely profitable for the effort required as one can target a boatload of people with the convenience of a single suit and then scare a percentage of the accused into paying the settlement. Unfortunately for the US Copyright Group, things won't be that simple this time around.

Judge Wilkins ruled that the plaintiffs overextended their reach by suing many individuals who aren't within the court's jurisdiction. "Plaintiff has only shown good cause for, and will only be entitled to discovery related to, those John Does for whom there is a good faith basis to believe may reside in the District of Columbia," Wilkins wrote. As such, only about 84 of the original defendants (less than 1%) remain relevant to the suit according to TorrentFreak, who determined how many of the IP addresses were actually in the District of Columbia area.

"The court understands why, for the sake of convenience and expense, the plaintiff would desire to use this single lawsuit as a vehicle to identify all of the 23,322 alleged infringers...Furthermore, the court understands and is sympathetic to the need to combat copyright infringement. However, it is not appropriate, and there is not good cause, to take third-party discovery in this case solely to obtain information that will be used in another lawsuit in a different venue." 

If this sets a precedent for similar suits, it would require firms like the US Copyright Group to file separate cases in various districts, which may become too expensive and unwieldy to remain a viable business model. It's worth noting that we're not sure if the original 23,322 subpoenas were ever served (we don't believe so). Wilkins revoked the subpoenas about a month ago (two months after approving them) because the US Copyright Group was taking its sweet time issuing them to alleged offenders. He called the delayed action "inexcusable."

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