Nearly a dozen Internet account holders are fighting to keep their identities from entering the St. Clair County public record and from becoming defendants in a civil case along with an Illinois man accused of hacking into a computer system that supplies content for adult Web site operators.
In motions to quash subpoenas issued to their Internet service providers (ISPs), some of these “John Doe” targets argue that the litigation is “extortion” and a “shakedown” designed to coerce settlement.
According to background information in the lawsuit filed Jan. 9, plaintiff LW Systems LLC claims defendant Christopher Hubbard installed malware on its computers which allowed Hubbard unauthorized access to content. The company also claims that Hubbard “belongs to a community of individuals who have agreed to assist one another in gaining unauthorized access to computers and then share with one another the information stored on those systems.”
LW Systems, which was incorporated in Delaware in 2009, but is not registered in Illinois – is represented by Chicago attorney Paul Duffy.
Duffy’s firm – Prenda Law - is currently embroiled in controversy in a copyright infringement case ongoing in a California federal court. Under questioning from U.S. District Judge Otis Wright of the Central District of California on April 2 over the firm’s ties to the plaintiff in the underlying case, several Prenda attorneys invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege, according to a local news report.
Duffy said by phone on April 3, “I don’t have any comments. Thanks for calling.”
Ars technical blog, which covered the hearing, reported that Wright said, "It should be clear by now that this court's focus has shifted from protecting intellectual property rights to attorney misconduct. Such misconduct brings discredit to the profession.”
Less than two weeks after the LW Systems case was filed in St. Clair County, Chief Judge John Baricevic signed an agreed order which has allowed LW Systems to subpoena the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and Media Access Control addresses from more than 300 ISPs of their subscribers who have Internet Protocol (IP) addresses listed in the subpoena.
The order says that the "personally identifying information of defendant’s alleged co-conspirators is relevant and material to this matter and there is good cause for discovery of this information.”
Chicago attorney Adam Urbanczyk represents Hubbard. He has been contacted for comment but had not returned a phone call by press time.
Circuit Judge Andrew Gleeson presides over the case and will hear motions to quash or vacate the subpoenas on June 27.
Defense attorney Laura Beasley of Belleville said she represents either directly or as local counsel approximately 22 “John Doe” targets – individuals who have received letters from their ISPs informing them of the litigation and subpoena. She said that roughly 1,500 individuals could be targeted as John Does in this case.
As of April 3, approximately 10 individuals identified by their IP addresses have filed motions to quash or vacate subpoenas either pro se or through their attorneys.
One John Doe wrote on March 28: “From accounts of previous defendants in similar suits, these subpoena notifications are followed by demand letters. These letters demand thousands of dollars to avoid dealing with their frivolous lawsuit and telephone calls which are persistent, and the reason I am filing this motion. If plaintiff obtains my personal information, I will be another target of this extortion process."
He also wrote, "...John Does are threatened with judgments unless the party settles the case. None of these cases have proceeded to trial.”
Beasley wrote on behalf of several John Does on March 13: “Plaintiff’s counsel has a long history of filing similar complaints, which have been acknowledged by numerous courts as ‘shakedowns’ and mere constructs in a scheme to coerce settlements from people under pain of the threat that, whether they committed any wrongdoing or not, they will be publicly accused of being lawbreakers and consumers of pornographic films.
“The entire lawsuit is part of a nationwide scheme under which Plaintiff’s lawyers harvest identifying subscriber information based on one-sided papers, unchallenged evidence (as in this matter), and ex parte orders, and then contact the identified subscribers to threaten them with public exposure for alleged unauthorized access to pornographic content.”
In Gleeson’s April 1 scheduling order, he wrote that plaintiffs will have until May 20 to respond to movants’ motions to quash. Movants will then have until May 27 to reply to plaintiff’s response.
Belleville attorney Kevin Hoerner is local plaintiff’s counsel. He had not responded by press time to a phone call seeking comment.