This could be an important story for brand professionals. County star Luke Combs won a $250K copyright judgment against an ailing fan. Now, the fan says she didn’t know about the suit (sic), and he says he didn’t know about the suit (sic)
If you’ve been following U.S. TM and copyright litigation trends, then you guessed correctly that this was a SAD (for Schedule A Defendant) lawsuit – called that because so many defendants are lumped together (often over a hundred), that they are not individually identified in the caption, but are instead listed in a schedule attached to the complaint (and the suit is referred to as, for example, Luke Comb vs. Schedule A Defendants).
The significance of SAD suits are severalfold. First, they’re efficient and cost-effective for plaintiffs, allowing them to knock out numerous bad guys in a single suit (sometimes seizing significant amounts of illegal proceeds in the process).
However, speaking generally, these suits take some procedural short cuts. If plaintiff establishes that the bad guys will flee the jurisdiction (or more accurately, will likely withdraw funds from its U.S. accounts), then the plaintiff may be allowed to freeze the defendants’ U.S. assets on an ex parte basis. I
If the plaintiff can establish that normal service of process is not possible (because, for example, defendant operates under a fake persona) the plaintiff may be allowed to serve process via email.
Also, joinder requirements seem to be, uh, relaxed. The plaintiff alleges that all the defendants are related, and that seems to be that.
Taken as a whole, these short-cuts add up to a boon for plaintiffs, but also poses enough due process questions that it seems very few courts allow them. An overwhelming majority are brought in only two federal judicial districts – those in Chicago and Miami. For more info on SAD suits, see Professor Goldman’s paper “A SAD Scheme.”
Which brings us to Luke Combs. He is “heart sick” that he sued an ailing fan who sold $380 worth of alleged infringing merchandise. He says he didn’t know about the suit (brought in his name). His management company takes care of these things. Defendant says that the service email went to her spam folder. He says he will raise funds for her. The judgment, however, has already been “rendered.” (raised eyebrow emoji).
SAD suits have been going on for ten years or so but their existence has percolated into main-steam awareness slowly. To the extent that there have been any due process corners cut – the victims tend to be non-U.S. infringers (who don’t tend to have good U.S. PR help).
However, if there are more sad SAD stories like this one, involving U.S. defendants (and U.S. plaintiffs who have been “victimized” by their cold and unfeeling brand protection counsel) then we may see heightened scrutiny of these suits.