Because software-based copyright infringement cases are especially concerning the John Doe Defendants who are accused of using pirated software (such as what is going on right now with the Siemens PLM Software v. Does [4:16-cv-03552] case in Texas), I thought it would be beneficial to take a few moments and simplify the process. That way, when you pay an attorney, you will know exactly what the attorney will be doing.
Here are the steps your attorney (us, or anyone else) should be taking on your behalf — specifically with the Siemens Product Lifecycle Management Software Inc. v. Does 1-100 (Case No. 4:16-cv-03552) case:
STEP 1) STOP PLAINTIFF FROM CONTACTING YOU OR ANYONE ELSE ON YOUR BEHALF (WORKPLACE) ABOUT THE CLAIMS AGAINST YOU.
Once your plaintiff attorney learns that you are represented by an attorney, all communication must be with that attorney alone. Phone calls or letters to client directly once a notice of representation is provided can jeopardize that attorney’s law license.
STEP 2) RESEARCH AND DISCUSS CLAIMS COMPARING PLAINTIFF ATTORNEY’S DATA OF USE VERSUS ACTUAL USE OR NON-USE.
Siemens PLM likes to research the claims, and they take their time in getting the entire picture before discussing settlement. It is important to share truthful information with your defense attorney so that claims against you can be disputed with facts and dates. And obviously, your attorney should have the common sense to discuss the claims without admitting guilt on your behalf.
STEP 3) DISCUSS AND NEGOTIATE SETTLEMENT OPTIONS WITH PLAINTIFF ATTORNEY, WHETHER A SOFTWARE PURCHASE, A LICENSE, A SETTLEMENT FEE, OR NO SETTLEMENT (PROCEED WITH LAWSUIT).
Normally the plaintiff attorneys in a copyright infringement lawsuit (or more frequently, a bittorrent-based “copyright troll” lawsuit) will immediately approach a settlement regardless of guilt or wrongdoing. This is not the case with the Siemens PLM Software lawsuits. Rather, it appears as if they are seeking to convert those using unlicensed versions of their software into paying customers. For this reason, once the investigation is completed and claims are discussed, settlement options are discussed as well. This might include purchasing software, paying a settlement, or negotiating a license based on the limited past use of the software.
The “no settlement” option is obviously the scenario where the client did not do the download. Because Siemens PLM software is expensive (costs can range from a few thousand dollars to over ten thousand dollars), there is no reason to negotiate a settlement if the accused John Doe Defendant did not download or use the software. Rather, the alternative is to provide proof that the John Doe Defendant is not the individual Siemens PLM is looking for (it is difficult to prove a negative, but it is doable), or to help Siemens PLM come to the realization that the actual software user is the engineer next door running his business from his home.
Obviously if neither side can agree on anything, then yes, it makes sense to proceed to allow the plaintiff attorney to name and serve your client, file an answer with the court, and proceed with defending your client’s interests in the courtroom.
STEP 4) NEGOTIATE PRICE (IF BENEFICIAL, CONSIDERING CLIENT’S ABILITY TO PAY). PROVIDE DOCUMENTATION OR STATEMENT IF NECESSARY TO SUBSTANTIATE CLAIMS.
Many accused defendants installed the software for educational purposes — to ‘tinker’ with the softare, to learn the software, or to become conversant with the software. While the intention of the unlicensed use is noble (e.g., that user would later be working with a licensed version of the software at their workplace or in their business), for the moment, there was folly in their initial use of the software. This is our goal — to have these specifics be relevant and useful in a negotiation with Siemens PLM to arrave at a settlement price the client can afford.
STEP 5) NEGOTIATE TERMS OF SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT. NEGOTIATE A SOFTWARE LICENSE IF NEEDED OR REQUIRED.
These are two separate steps. The settlement agreement should be specific to the claims of copyright infringement, and they should include the nuances of Texas contract law in order to ensure the agreement is enforceable. The software license also is full of nuances and words that requires an attorney who knows what terms mean in software licenses (because certain words have meanings in the context of a software license which are contrary to the plain meaning of the word), and who is forceful enough to be willing to argue for terms or clauses which protect the client’s rights. Lastly, the software license should provide the accused John Doe Defendant the right to use the software in the way the accused defendant wants or needs to use the software in the future. It makes no sense to negotiate a limited software license to cover only past use when the defendant is an engineer and will be needing to use the software again in the future.
STEP 6) HAVE PLAINTIFF ATTORNEY SIGN AGREEMENT(S), THEN HAVE CLIENT SIGN AGREEMENT(S) AND PROCESS SETTLEMENT PAYMENT.
This is self explanatory. Siemens PLM is not bound to an agreement until they sign it (or until their attorney with authority to sign signs it on their behalf as their agent). Attorneys generally try to get the John Doe Defendant to sign first and pay their settlement fee, and then ‘maybe’ the plaintiff attorney will sign it, and ‘maybe’ the attorney will accept the payment, and ‘maybe’ the attorney will release that defendant from liability once the settlement is received. These are games a plaintiff attorney may play, and for this reason, it is advisable to have the defense attorney insist that the plaintiff attorney sign the agreement first in order to bind their client to the terms of the agreement… before their client signs the agreement or pays a penny in settlement of the claims against them.
STEP 7) FOLLOW-UP WITH PLAINTIFF TO HAVE CLIENT’S “JOHN DOE” ENTITY DISMISSED FROM CASE.
Once again, this is self explanatory, but unfortunately, it must be a step. Too often, plaintiff attorneys have the clients sign first and pay first, and then when they get around to it, they’ll sign the agreement and release that defendant from liability. However, this could take weeks or months.
The reason for this is because once their client has their money, without being contract-bound to release the defendant from the lawsuit, the John Doe Defendant who paid their settlement fee becomes a lower priority to the busy plaintiff attorney (who is juggling sometimes hundreds of defendants in multiple cases) who is more worried about the due dates for their other cases, or who is more worried about extracting settlements from other defendants. This is why it is important in STEP 6) for the plaintiff attorney to sign the agreement first.
Nevertheless, even with a signed agreement, sometimes the plaintiff attorneys need ‘reminders’ to do what they are duty-bound to do. Thus, your attorney should not close the client’s file when payment is sent, but rather, the attorney should stay on top of the plaintiff attorney until the dismissal is actually filed in the court dismissing that John Doe Defendant from liability.
In sum, copyright infringement cases are all similar, but each one has its nuances. The steps described in this article apply to any John Doe Defendant in any copyright infringement lawsuit, and for this reason, I wrote this article 1) to not only give the client an understanding of the steps which are required in representing a client prior to being named and served in a John Doe lawsuit, but more importantly, 2) to allow that client to hold their lawyer’s toes to the fire and make sure they are being represented carefully and individually.
ONE LAST THING — I wanted to discuss LEVERAGE. A copyright infringement lawsuit is in federal court, which means that out-of-state attorneys may attempt to solicit clients to engage in settlement negotiations only. However, with a client as large as Siemens PLM, especially with the financial backing of the corporation and the millions of dollars they can pour into their lawsuits, it is probably a good idea to retain an attorney who can step foot into the courtroom if something goes wrong (and things DO go wrong). The Siemens PLM attorneys can recognize an out-of-state attorney who has little leverage to negotiate versus an in-state attorney who is willing to pull the settlement off of the table and proceed with defending the case if the plaintiff is not being cooperative in resolving the claims against the client. In short, an attorney with leverage will get a better result for his client as compared to an out-of-state attorney without leverage.
OTHER ARTICLES ON THE SIEMENS PLM SOFTWARE CASES:
Siemens Software Case IS a Bittorrent Case, on 6/20/2016.
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