Virginia district court Judge John A. Gibney has threatened to sanction D. Wayne O'Bryan, a personal injury lawyer with a sideline in copyright threats on behalf of pornographers. O'Bryan used subpoenas to get the personal information of people who allegedly downloaded pornographic movies over BitTorrent, then called the accused at home and threatened to sue them if they didn't settle with his clients for cash (he even shook down his computer repairman!). When the victims asked for a day in court, O'Bryan dropped the matter, which suggests that he wasn't interested in winning cases, just extracting easy cash from frightened people. Ars has a good story on the scammy tactics, and EFF is quotes the judge at length:
The Court currently has three similar cases before it, all brought by the same attorney. The suits are virtually identical in their terms, but filed on behalf of different film production companies. In all three, the plaintiffs sought, and the Court granted, expedited discovery allowing the plaintiffs to subpoena information from ISPs to identify the Doe defendants. According to some of the defendants, the plaintiffs then contacted the John Does, alerting them to this lawsuit and their potential liability. Some defendants have indicated that the plaintiff has contacted them directly with harassing telephone calls, demanding $2,900 in compensation to end the litigation. When any of the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or sever themselves from the litigation, however, the plaintiffs have immediately voluntarily dismissed them as parties to prevent the defendants from bringing their motions before the Court for resolution.
This course of conduct indicates that the plaintiffs have used the offices of the Court as an inexpensive means to gain the Doe defendants' personal information and coerce payment from them. The plaintiffs seemingly have no interest in actually litigating the cases, but rather simply have used the Court and its subpoena powers to obtain sufficient information to shake down the John Does. Whenever the suggestion of a ruling on the merits of the claims appears on the horizon, the plaintiffs drop the John Doe threatening to litigate the matter in order to avoid the actual cost of litigation and an actual decision on the merits.
The plaintiffs' conduct in these cases indicates an improper purpose for the suits. In addition, the joinder of unrelated defendants does not seem to be warranted by existing law or a non-frivolous extension of existing law.