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Whitfield Bryson & Mason

Anti-Piracy or Anti-Consumer?

By Gary E. Mason | 

The door to the courthouse for consumers may have been closed by the Supreme Court's opinion in Concepcion, but the key is still under the mat for corporations looking to sue consumers en mass.

In a burst of creativity that rivals anything the plaintiffs' bar has ever seen, the DC law firm of Dunlap Grubb & Weaver has come up with a strategy to sue thousands of consumers at once and force them to cough up thousands of dollars to shake themselves lose of the case and the threats of judgments in the tens of thousand of dollars.

The scheme works something like this. First, the lawyers at DGW file a copyright on their clients' previously unprotected films.  Next, a complaint is filed naming thousands of unidentified John Doe defendants who unwittingly watched the films after the copyright date.  Now comes the clever part.  A "mass subpoena" is served on various ISPs, requiring them to produce the names of the persons who downloaded their client's movies, otherwise identifiable only by an IP address.  Finally, actual names and addresses in hands, DGW sends out letters demanding payment of thousands of dollars to settle the case, or face significant financial consequences.

And did we mention that DGW's clients seem largely to be pornographers and the films such titles as Cougar Creampies?

Sadly, despite the best efforts of  The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Citizen, the ACLU and the the American Civil Liberties Union to quash these mass subpoenas, Judge Rosemary Collyer of the D.C. District Court allowed these cases to proceed.

Do these actions abuse the legal process?  Should the consumer-defendants fight back en mass with a class action?  We think so and applaud the lawyers of Booth Sweet LLP who have already brought the first class action against DWG.