There is a lot to say about Ira Siegel’s On the Cheap, LLC dba Tru Filth, LLC v. Does 1-5011 case (Case No. 3:10-cv-04472-BZ) in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.
Ira Siegel appears to have been involved in enforcing copyright laws against internet users for some time now — his picture can be found among the other plaintiff attorneys in the various bittorrent cases (here). If you look him up online, you’ll probably read about DMCA notices he has sent to various internet users over the years saying, “we see you have downloaded XYZ video. Pay us $900 or else we might sue you.” This is what he has been up to while other copyright attorneys [perhaps unbeknownst to him] (such as John Steele, Nicholas Kurtz of Dunalp Grubb & Weaver, etc.) started suing people asking for $2,900 [these days, they are asking for amounts around $3,400].
I suppose the problem for Ira is that he did come late to filing these bittorrent cases, and by the time he started suing people in the California courts, attorneys such as John Steele, Gill Sperlein and others have already come and gone, and judges were already aware of these cases, and the problems inherent in them. Thus, as a result, it only makes sense that he is getting the brunt of the judges’ hostile inquiries (precipitated by the previous severed and dismissed cases). In my opinion it is no surprise that Siegel is facing various dismissals of his cases coupled with orders to show cause, along with the usual inquiries as to how he could possibly sue various Does in one lawsuit when they have absolutely nothing to do with one another.
To make all of Siegel’s cases more difficult for him (e.g., Evasive Angles, New Sensations, Patrick Collins, etc.), we are thankful that the EFF has interfered in this case to instigate a dismissal. On 8/18, EFF filed an amicus brief asking the court to take judicial notice of (and thus, to adhere to) all of the cases that have been dismissed because plaintiffs sued John Doe Defendants in the wrong courts.
That being said, even before EFF got involved, Judge Bernard Zimmerman already sensed there was something terribly wrong with these bittorrent cases and on 6/24/2011, he issued an “Order to Show Cause” why this case should not be dismissed. Siegel responded, but apparently he was not convinced. Then, on 8/24/2011, Judge Zimmerman held a hearing on his order where Stewart Keller brilliantly live-tweeted (see his twitter feed which was re-posted here). As a result of the hearing, the judge asked Siegel some pretty specific questions and ordered him to answer questions regarding his tactics (including settlement data) which would have been a first in uncovering the activities taken by these bittorrent plaintiff attorneys.
In the meantime, Sophisticated Jane Doe (a former defendant in one of Gill Sperlein’s Io Group, Inc. cases) did a write-up on Ira Siegel which caught his attention (see here). To everyone’s surprise, instead of submitting the required response on 8/30/2011 as the judge ordered, Siegel missed his deadline.
Today, 9/1/2011, I saw that he filed a response in which did not answer the judge’s pointed questions. Instead, he focused his response on attacking Sophisticated Jane Doe’s articles, and his response as a whole made no attempt to comply with the judge’s order and the content he was instructed to disclose. In addition, Siegel (perhaps correctly) applied the Federal Rules of Evidence (“F.R.E.”) § 408 to shield the court from learning how much he has collected thus far in settlements (remember, for a time, he was asking for $1,900; in his current settlement demand / “scare” letters, he is asking for $2,500). [As a mere side note, the one thing that Siegel might have missed is that even though he is correct that even though F.R.E. § 408 prohibits settlement negotiations from being admitted as evidence, most attorneys know that whenever evidence is prohibited from being admitted as evidence for one reason, that same information may be admitted into evidence for another reason.]
The question I keep asking myself is 1) was the late submission of a reply a purposeful attempt by Ira Siegel to give Judge Zimmerman a pretext to dismiss the case on grounds such as failing to properly respond? And, 2) would Siegel be willing to throw this case and risk it being dismissed in order to shield from the court how much money his client has made from settlements?
In sum, there is a lot that is going on in these cases, and some days it feels more like drama, deception, and posturing rather than discussing the case on its merits. Judge Zimmerman appears to be trying to remedy this. While we will now wait and see if and how Judge Zimmerman responds to what he will no doubt see as blatant disregard to his order, I expect that Siegel’s latest move will result in a dismissal of his case. Perhaps it will even create some ripples in his other cases as well.