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US Magistrate Judge Provides The Template To End Copyright Trolling With Ruling Against Strike 3

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While we've been busily pointing out that the practice of copyright trolling is a plague across the globe, it seems there is something of a backlash beginning to build. For far too long, copyright trolls have bent the court system to their business model, with discovery requests and subpoenas allowing them to unmask internet service account holders on the basis of IP addresses, and then using that information to send settlement/threat letters to avoid trials altogether. Put simply, that is the business model of the copyright troll. The backlash against it has been multi-pronged. Canada has begun restricting what types of threat letters trolls can force ISPs to send to their customers, for instance. Elsewhere, Swedish ISPs have have led something of a legislative crusade against copyright trolls. In the US, some courts are finally realizing how bad IP addresses are as evidence, pushing trolls to get something better.But the key to ending the plague of copyright trolling has probably been best outlined in a recent decision by a US Magistrate Judge against Strike 3 Holdings, in which the judge argues using Strike 3's own statistical analysis that it is abusing the court system to the detriment of innocent people.

Judge Orenstein denied motions for expedited discovery in thirteen cases. This means that the adult video company can’t get a subpoena to identify the alleged pirates. While we have incidentally seen similar decisions, the motivation, in this case, is worth highlighting.  In his order, the Judge writes that allowing Strike 3 to obtain the identities of the account holders creates a risk.Specifically, it will put Strike 3 “in a position to effectively coerce the identified subscribers into paying thousands of dollars to settle claims that may or may not have merit, so as to avoid either the cost of litigation or the embarrassment of being sued for using unlawful means to view adult material.”
In other words, the Judge is noting that Strike 3's copyright troll business model is, by nature, one that should disallow it from the kind of unmasking of account holders it so desperately needs to do to make any of this work. Essentially, granting these motions in favor of Strike 3 would have the court endorsing, if not actively participating in, the systematic extraction of money from people based on fear and embarrassment. Whatever that is, it sure ain't justice.The court doesn't stop there, however. The order continues by noting that granting the discovery of account information would almost certainly not result in Strike 3 actually bringing any cases to trial. Trial proceedings are supposed to be the point of such subpoenas, but Strike 3's own statistics prove it's not after trials at all.
Since 2017, Strike 3 has filed 276 cases in the district, but zero have gone to trial.Of the 143 cases that were resolved in the district, 49 resulted in a settlement and 94 were voluntarily dismissed. The latter number includes 50 cases where Strike 3 wasn’t confident that the defendant is the infringer. In other words, people who are likely wrongfully accused. This means that in one-third of the resolved cases, Strike 3 has likely targeted the wrong person. This number is “alarmingly high,” according to the Magistrate Judge. “Strike 3 acknowledges that in many cases, the ‘Doe’ it has sued – that is, the subscriber – will prove to be someone other than the person who engaged in the allegedly unlawful conduct the Complaint describes,” the order reads. “And as it has now revealed in response to my inquiry, the proportion of such unprovable cases is alarmingly high,” Judge Orenstein adds.
None of this is surprising to readers here, of course. This is how Strike 3 operates. The entire business model relies on a scattershot approach to threat letters, in which some percentage will comply and pay out of pure fear. The problem is and has always been that too many courts don't actually consider this fact when granting subpoenas to unmask account holders. Here, the court manages to put that thought into its decision.And, as a result of these "alarming" statistics, the judge has denied the motion to unmask the account holders in these cases. It's not exaggerating to say that if all, or even most, courts took the same route as this one, copyright trolling as a business model would completely fall apart.And that would be a very good thing.

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posted at: 12:00am on 22-May-2019
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Government Generously Hands Back Two-Thirds Of The $626,000 It Stole From Two Men Driving Through Missouri

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A case out of Missouri is highlighting yet again the stupidity and vindictiveness that defines civil asset forfeiture. In January 2017, law enforcement seized $626,000 from two men as they passed through the state on their way to California. According to the state highway patrol, the men presented contradictory stories about their origin, destination, and the plans for the money found during the traffic stop.The complaint filed against the money made a lot of claims about the government's suspicions this was money destined for drug purchases. Supposedly evidence was recovered from seized phones suggested the two men were involved in drug trafficking, utilizing a third person's money. Despite all of this evidence, prosecutors never went after the men. They only went after the money.

Records searches of both state and federal courts did not identify any criminal charges against Li, Peng or Huang.
Even the speeding that predicated the stop (in which a drug dog "alerted" on the rental vehicle that contained no drugs) went unprosecuted.This is where the stupid begins: alleged drug dealers allowed to continue their drug dealing by state and federal agencies more interested in the men's cash.But it gets stupider. This was offered up in the complaint against the seized money as evidence of the men's criminal activities.
Authorities noted in the complaint he lived “9 houses” away from the site of a residence where drug transactions were occurring and a contact in his phone was recently the subject of a civil forfeiture action.
That's some mighty fine evidence. If you happen to live in the same neighborhood as a known criminal, I guess you're a criminal, too. That's just how society works, ladies and gentlemen. Move to a better neighborhood if you don't want to be lumped in with your worst neighbors.The other part is stupid, too. According to this line of thought, if law enforcement has stolen cash and property from someone in your Contacts list, you must be a criminal. Only criminals would associate with people whose stuff has been taken by the government but have never been convicted of criminal activity.Also apparently suspicious: traveling and not attempting to avoid mandated IRS reporting.
Peng had a number of bank transactions the complaint states were “highly unusual” including multiple deposits and wire transactions for about $100,000 each. Financial records also showed three trips between Chicago and California and one from Chicago to New York in a three-month period between November 2016 and January 2017.
You just can't win. Keep deposits too low (under $10,000) and the federal government thinks you're engaged in structuring. Keep them well above the mandatory reporting mark and you're probably a drug dealer.It appears the agencies involved in this seizure didn't think they had enough real evidence to follow through on this forfeiture. More than two years after the $626,000 was seized, the government is returning it to its rightful owners. That's where the vindictiveness comes in. The government hasn't won a criminal or civil case against any of the people involved, but it's still going to keep a third of the cash just because.
U.S. District Attorney for Western Missouri Tim Garrison, in a settlement agreement dated April 25, wrote the government will return almost $418,000 to claimant Lu Li, of Chicago, and will keep almost $209,000.
Even when the government loses, it still wins. One-third of $626,000 remains in the hands of a government that couldn't prove anything it alleged, even in a civil case where the standard of proof is considerably lower.In the end, we have three people short $200,000 and a government that can't competently prosecute people or their money, even when the latter can't defend itself in civil forfeiture litigation. [waves American flag with one blue stripe frantically while humming 'The Ballad of the Green Berets" for some reason]

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posted at: 12:00am on 22-May-2019
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