MPAA Judge Finds ‘bulldozer’ approach ‘improper’

Last week, members of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) filed 11 lawsuits against hundreds of people they accused of using file-sharing networks to share infringing copies of movies. However, the Federal Judge ruled the ‘bulldozer’ approach improper, ordering that the case should be put on hold for all but one of the defendants.

The move by the MPAA to group defendants into arbitrarily-joined actions was probably thought of as a ‘neat’ and easy way to get the message across to other US citizens participating in file sharing. ‘Bulk’ suing could also save a heck of a lot of paper shuffling and administration work.

The MPAA sued groups of “Does” (John Doe) identified by numerical IP address and requested the discovery of names from the users’ Internet Service Providers (ISPs). However, Judge William Alsup ruled that because claims against the 12 defendants were unrelated, suing them together into one big case was improper. “Such joinder may be an attempt to circumvent the filing fees by grouping defendants into arbitrarily-joined actions but it could nonetheless appear improper under Rule 20,” the order states.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has filed friend-of-the-court briefs, objecting to similar misjoinder in many of the cases filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) against alleged infringers.

“This decision helps to give due process rights to the Internet users accused of infringement,” said EFF Staff Attorney Wendy Seltzer. “Lumping them together makes it more difficult for everyone to defend against these claims.” EFF is also concerned about the movie studios’ failure to produce evidence of infringement against even Doe #1 in this case.

In a separate case, Warner Brothers Entertainment has secured a $309,600 judgement against an actor for allegedly making promotional ‘screener’ copies of ‘The Last Samurai’ and ‘Mystic River’ available for bootleg DVD copying and unauthorised Internet trading.

Carmine Caridi, a former recurring actor on ‘NYPD Blue,’ is accused of copyright infringement and is facing a default judgement of $150,000 per film and $9,600 in attorney fees. Caridi and co-defendant Russell Sprague were caught because the screeners were individually watermarked for each recipient.

According to Warner Brothers, Carmine Caridi, as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, signed an agreement before he received the 2003 awards season screeners promising not to circulate them. It is believed that he immediately sent the VHS screeners to another address where they were copied onto DVD and converted to digital files that were posted on the Internet.