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Smut-spreading copyright trolls lose John Doe case

US Appeals Court smacks down AF Holdings

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Notorious copyright troll AF Holdings has had a second “copyright shakedown” smacked down, with the US Court of Appeals denying it access to end user data.

The decision seriously undermines the model by which many copyright trolling operations function. AF Holdings had sought the names and addresses of more than a thousand John Does on the basis of IP addresses it claimed had downloaded copyrighted porn movies.

The next step of the operation is to send letters to the targets demanding payment, with a threat to commence court action in a jurisdiction of AF Holdings' choice. Faced with both the likely cost of legal action and the remoteness of the court, many of the targets would simply pay up.

According to Bloomberg, the appeal court decided that the attempt to sue users for downloading the skin-flick Popular Demand in the District of Columbia because few of the targets lived in that jurisdiction, and because “it’s unlikely any connection exists among all of the Internet addresses subject to the subpoena”.

As the Electronic Frontiers Foundation says in this media release, AF Holdings had won the approval of a lower court to obtain the identities it sought, but the EFF, the ACLU, Public Citizen and Public Knowledge joined forces to take the case to appeal.

The EFF release notes that “it is unfair to sue thousands of people at once, in a court far from home, based on nothing more than an allegation that they joined a BitTorrent swarm”.

AF Holdings' last smackdown was in November 2013, when the US District Court of Minnesota found that it hadn't demonstrated ownership of the content claimed in a previous shakedown. That court ordered that the company return the money it had obtained from punters, as well as paying their legal costs.

That ruling, however, didn't stop one of the two movies, Popular Demand, being the subject of the Columbia and then US Court of Appeals case.

AF Holdings was represented by Paul Duffy, who at the previous lower court hearings as associated with Prenda Law. ®

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