In a class action lawsuit against Warner Bros. and affiliated companies, the studio is using California’s anti-SLAPP legislation to defend the use of subpoenas issued for the personal information of potential copyright violators.
Warner Bros. and its copyrights watchdog companies Rightscorp and BMG Rights Management are being sued by multiple individuals who claim that the defendants abused the legal process by issuing subpoenas to get the contact information of people suspected of violating copyright laws by sharing movies and TV shows online.
According to the complaint, the companies used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) to issue subpoenas to internet service providers (ISPs), forcing these companies to turn over their clients’ information. The defendants then began an aggressive collections campaign, threatening copyright violators with lawsuits and other penalties if they refused a settlement agreement over the alleged copyrights violations.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuits allege that the companies used robo-calling services to contact them multiple times per day, offering settlements of $20 per copyright violation to resolve the case.
In its defense, Warner Bros. and the other defendants have claimed that they have a First Amendment right to freedom of speech, which the plaintiffs are attempting to stifle with their complaint. Under California’s anti-SLAPP law, lawsuits which are filed for the sole purpose of infringing on a person’s or entity’s right to free speech can be dismissed outright.
The defendants believe that the lawsuit is unduly burdening their efforts to identify copyright violators who are illegally distributing protected works including movies and TV shows. If the defendants are successful in their claims, the lawsuit is subject to being automatically dismissed under California’s Anti-SLAPP law.
Using the DMCA to issue subpoenas to obtain personal contact information is not a new tactic. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) notably attempted to use the maneuver over ten years ago to force Verizon to turn over the names of all customers who were illegally downloading and sharing music. That lawsuit ultimately failed after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the DCMA was never intended to force an internet service provider—who had done nothing wrong and had never stored copyright information on its own servers—to turn over its subscribers’ private information. Weighed against the need for privacy, the judge refused to re-write the law in order to serve the needs of the copyright holder.
In this case, Warner Bros. and company will likely run into many of the legal problems that the RIAA faced. However, California’s anti-SLAPP legislation may provide the defendants with a legal basis to keep the case alive.
Anti-SLAPP legislation can be a valuable tool for people who face lawsuits from others who want to stifle a person’s or entity’s freedom of speech or expression. However, the legislation can also be used by large companies who have the resources to avoid legitimate lawsuits altogether. By claiming that a person’s or entity’s First Amendment rights are being violated, large companies often buy themselves time to bully a plaintiff into submission.
Copyright law enforcement is an important legal topic. However, enforcing copyright law is not a license to ignore the general public’s right to privacy. There is a delicate balance between privacy and copyright infringement that must be maintained.
If you or your company has legal problems regarding copyright law or other entertainment law issues, you need the assistance of an experienced attorney. At Pierce Law Group LLP, our dedicated Los Angeles entertainment lawyers can help you fight for your rights. For a free initial consultation, contact us today by calling (310) 274-9191, or visiting us online at www.piercelawgroupllp.com.