Hard Drive Productions is a pornographer that has switched business models, shifting its focus from making dirty movies to making sleazy lawsuits. It collected IP addresses of people who were supposedly downloading its movies over BitTorrent, then sent their ISPS legal demands to reveal their names. The next step would be demanding cash settlements from the named persons, threatening to name them in embarrassing lawsuits if they didn't pay up. Many of the victims of the sloppy data-gathering methodology have protested their innocence, but would like to remain anonymous in the court record, rather than having their names associated in a public document about pornography consumption.
Unfortunately the federal court judge in the case has ruled that in order to request anonymity, the 1495 defendants will have to have their names entered into the public record. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has asked the judge to reconsider.
The case is one of a growing number of mass copyright lawsuits that do not appear to be filed with any intention of litigating them. Instead, once identities of suspected infringers are obtained from ISPs, the plaintiffs send settlement letters offering to make the lawsuit go away for a few thousand dollars. A ruling on whether a film company may obtain identities of anonymous Internet users may be the last chance for defendants to be heard by the court.
EFF's brief explains both the speech implications of the ruling and the importance of the court rules that protect defendants, given the numerous ways these mass lawsuits violate due process.
"All that the plaintiffs need here to pursue their settlement shake-down scheme is the identity of the anonymous defendants," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "These defendants have a First Amendment right to argue for their anonymity without the court forcing them to moot that argument from the start. We're asking for these motions to quash to go forward without requiring them to be unsealed, and we're also asking the court to throw this case out given the basic due process flaws."