Over recent months, software titan Microsoft Corporation has filed a number of “Doe” lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.  The suits allege both copyright and trademark claims against anonymous defendants accused of efforts to activate unlicensed copies of popular Microsoft software products.

The products named in the complaints include various versions of Windows and Office suites.  The complaints further described how Microsoft uses unique “product keys” used in the installation and activation of its software by consumers:

A Microsoft product key is a 25-character alphanumeric string generated by Microsoft and provided to customers and OEMs. Generally, when customers or [Original Equipment Manufacturers] OEMs install Microsoft software on a device, they must enter a product key. Then, as part of the activation process, customers and/or OEMs voluntarily contact Microsoft’s activation servers over the Internet and transmit their product keys and other technical information about their device to the activation servers. The majority of the activations involved in this matter contacted servers that are physically located in Washington.

Using “cyberforensics,” Microsoft allegedly received and analyzed information the targeted IP addresses used in the activation of unlicensed software:

Microsoft’s cyberforensics have identified several thousand product activations originating from IP address[] (“the IP Address”), which is presently assigned to [ISP], and which, on information and belief, is being used by the Defendants in furtherance of the unlawful conduct alleged herein. A material percentage of these activations have characteristics that, on information and belief, demonstrate that Defendants are using the IP Address to activate pirated software.

The complaints go on to make claims for violations of the Copyright Act based on the unlicensed reproduction of the software products.  In addition, the complaint alleges trademark infringement arising from the infringement of Microsoft’s registered trademarks and service mark, claiming that “Defendants’ activities are likely to lead the public to conclude, incorrectly, that the infringing materials that Defendants are installing originate with or are authorized by Microsoft, thereby harming Microsoft, its licensees, and the public.”

UPDATE (5/19/17): Microsoft filed another similar lawsuit on 5/12/2017.

The suits seek declaratory relief, injunctions against the Defendants, damages, attorney’s fees and costs. The actions were filed by Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP in Seattle, Washington.  A case listing with links to complaints is below.

Parties and subscribers receiving ISP notices of these actions can contact attorney Benjamin Justus for a free consultation regarding possible options.

Filed: 02/25/2016
Case No. 2:16-cv-00276
Microsoft Corporation v. Does 1-10

Filed: 06/01/2016
Case No. 2:16-cv-00804
Microsoft Corporation v. Does 1-10

Filed: 06/01/2016
Case No. 2:16-cv-00807
Microsoft Corporation v. Does 1-10

Filed: 02/22/2017
Case No. 2:17-cv-00286
Microsoft Corporation v. Does 1-10

Filed: 05/12/2017
Case No. 2:17-cv-00747
Microsoft Corporation v. Does 1-10

Music Group Services, US and its offshore affiliate have filed a Seattle U.S. District Court lawsuit for a host of John Doe claims related to “unauthorized” statements made via Twitter feeds.

Music Group is a holding company for a number of different brands of professional-grade music production and performance equipment, including loudspeakers, amplifiers, mixers, computer-based recording and DJ products, microphones, headphones, wireless systems, musical instruments and lighting systems.   Among the several brands held by Music Group is Behringer, a company founded by Swiss musician Uli Behringer, who pioneered the development and China-based manufacture of professional-grade mixing equipment, making mixers available at more affordable price levels.

The Music Group lawsuit alleges that one or more Doe parties registered the Twitter accounts “Fake Uli Behringer” and “NotUliBehringer” and made various disparaging tweets against Music Group during early 2010.  This allegedly “included assertions that MUSIC Group supported tax evasion, domestic violence, child abuse, and misogyny,” as well as posting other damaging remarks about Music Group products, employees and contractors.  Music Group suspects that one of the Does is a current of former employee of Music Group.

Last month, according to the lawsuit, Twitter responded to Music Group’s notice and supposedly refused to remove the offending tweets or de-activate the accounts.

The complaint contains numerous counts including  violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C.A. § 1030; violations of the Lanham Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1125 (cyberpiracy, trademark infringement, trade name infringement and false designation of origin); unfair competition under state and federal law; copyright infringement; and breach of contract.

My initial thought upon understanding that the offending tweets were all made during early 2010 was whether the Does might argue for a statute of limitations defense.  Although the Lanham Act does not have its own statute of limitations, courts have used limitations periods contained in “related” contracts between the parties, or limitations periods in “analogous” state statutes.  In Washington State, a six-year statute of limitations applies to claims for breach of written contracts (RCW 4.16.040), while a three-year limitations period applies to general claims for injury to persons or property, fraud, and claims arising from oral contacts (RCW 4.16.080).  The Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 507) states a three-year limitations period for civil copyright claims.   It is possible that Music Group could claim to have “discovered” the tweets sometime later than the initial postings, and seek a delay or “tolling” of the running of the limitations periods.

The suit was filed by Seattle law firm Seed Intellectual Property Group PLLC under Case No. 14-cv-621 (W.D. Wash.)