A judge in Ohio recently told three movie production companies they could not sue hundreds of anonymous alleged copyright infringers at the same time.
The reason we are telling our Los Angeles audience about this is that this technique, called "mass joinder," was once seen as an economically viable way of pursuing alleged copyright infringers. Normally, it is not economically worth it to pursue evident copyright infringers individually, and that has posed a very real problem for movie studios. Without legal action as an option, what other useful tools do they have to recover damages and deter further piracy?
Here's how "mass joinder" would typically work: Movie studios and production companies would file suit again copyright infringers using the ISP numbers that were employed to download the movies, then subpoena the names behind those ISPs and finally send those people a cease-and-desist letter. In many cases, the defendants would settle with the studios. Thus, the studio could wind up with a sum roughly equivalent to the harm it endured and justice was done.
However, the judge in this case ordered the defendants to be severed because suing them all at once "violates a spirit of fairness." The movie production companies argued that allowing mass joinder would save them $67,000 in legal fees and court costs, but the judge was unmoved.
The judge in this case is not the only one to disallow mass joinder. Others have also said they think the technique is unfair.
So, have movie studios and production companies lost the ability to pursue alleged copyright infringers using mass joinder? Not entirely, although it may be losing favor as a legal instrument. It seems to us this is an entertainment law development worth paying attention to.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Judge Won't Allow 'Mass-Suing' Of Movie Pirates," Eriq Gardner, April 5, 2013
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