Porno-copyright trolls Prenda Law get hauled in front of a very angry judge

Popehat's Ken White attended a hearing in United States District Court Judge Otis D. Wright II's California courtroom. Judge Wright is the judge most likely to put a halt to the astounding shenanigans of the notorious porno-copyright trolls Prenda Law, who have been accused of lying to the court; blackmailing thousands of people with legal threats ("pay up or we'll file a lawsuit that will forever associate your name with pornography with an embarrassing title"); and, incredibly, stealing the identity of a humble caretaker and naming him the CEO of a semi-fictional company that allegedly hired the firm to make all those legal threats.

Judge Wright ordered all the parties to show up in his court yesterday -- the Prenda lawyers, the caretaker, defendants' lawyers, and more -- but not everyone obeyed his order. The main party in the courtroom was Brett Gibbs, a junior-seeming lawyer who appears to have been made bagman for a big con that he was only dimly aware of. White's writeup is somewhat sympathetic ("a young attorney out of his depth who fell in with the wrong crowd and made bad choices") but remember: he was a knowing part of a racket that terrorized thousands and thousands of people with what amounted to legal blackmail, where the demand came to "Guilty or innocent, you need to pay up or have your life ruined."

White is an excellent writer, and his account of the hearing is riveting. Now we're all waiting to hear what the judge's order will be. My guess is that it will go very badly for Prenda Law.

Brett Gibbs is in trouble. I buy him as a dupe here. Indeed, he admitted that "maybe" he felt duped. Yet though he pointed to Hansmeier and Steele as the decision-makers in this travesty, and disclaimed any knowledge of wrongdoing, he and his attorneys seemed oddly reluctant to throw Steele and Hansmeier all the way under the bus. It's more like he handed them a bus schedule and gave them a gentle shove in that general direction. Gibbs continued to argue that it wasn't clear until Cooper's testimony today that the Cooper signatures weren't genuine, a position that drew guffaws in the courtroom and an incredulous expression from Judge Wright. He and his attorneys seemed to want to suspend judgment about whether Prenda committed any misconduct at all -- a tactical error at this point, I think, and harmful to their credibility. The judge interrupted their closing arguing by asking pointedly whether a lawyer -- even if he is supervised by people out of state -- has an obligation to investigate facts himself. Ultimately, Judge Wright did not sound inclined to accept Gibbs' innocent stance.

Wright did not say, explicitly, what he would do about Steele, Hansmeier, Duffy, or the rest of the Prenda Law team. But when Pietz began laboriously to explain the basis for jurisdiction over each of them, Wright cut him short, suggesting that he found the evidence clear. (So, for the record, did I, given the evidence of Steele's contacts with California, Steele's and Hansmeier's supervision of Gibbs in California, and Duffy's substitution into cases in California and membership in the California bar. Their lack-of-jurisdiction argument is borderline frivolous.) I suspect, based on his comments, that Judge Wright will not let the consequences of this situation rest entirely on Gibbs' shoulders. What could he do? He could probably sanction the Prenda Law parties under his inherent authority based on their supervision of Gibbs. But I suspect Judge Wright will go further than that, with criminal referrals and messages to various state bars. There could also be further orders to show cause, or even bench warrants. Judge Wright didn't seem inclined to give them warning. But every indication is that they are in real legal peril.

There's been a lot of anticipation of today's hearing. The hearing lived up to it. It was a disastrous day for Prenda Law.

Deep Dive Analysis: Brett Gibbs Gets His Day In Court -- But Prenda Law Is The Star

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  1. I think Ken White’s opening words say it best:
    “There are few things more terrifying to a lawyer than a furious federal judge.
    Today I saw one of those things.”

    1. “It was a federal judge who was furious, intimately familiar with the case, and consummately prepared for the hearing.”
      Yeah, they were screwed from the start.

      1. I think my favourite part of this whole fiasco was the Prenda side arguing that the custodian was still the official owner or representative of the holding company… even if someone forged his signature on those documents.

        Please correct me if I mixed that up, somehow.  It would be pretty lollerskates if you could surreptitiously make someone own a company…

        “Honey?  When did I become president of Nothing Butt Scheisse Inc?”

        1. No, I don’t think you’ve mixed anything up.  You can make someone the owner of something without their knowledge.  It’s sort of like legal algebra; until the judge issues a ruling to the effect of “no, Cooper is not the official owner,” Prenda can argue that he still is.  So, X can be both true and untrue at the same time (i.e. that surreptitious ownership you are talking about).

          Once the ruling is made though, “X” becomes either true or untrue (my money is on “untrue”) and a bit more of the floor is eliminated for Prenda to tap dance on.

          1. If only it were that simple, and sweet.  I  mean, how the heck would you be able to stop it?  Sue the person for stealing money that you made theirs in the first place?

          2.  I’m having Shawshank Redemption flashbacks here… “His Justice cometh, and that right soon.”

  2. I loved the part that was described as a “Perry Mason moment.” That never happens in real life.

  3. “a young attorney out of his depth who fell in with the wrong crowd and made bad choices”

    His mother always worried about him hanging out with those no-good law school kids.

    1. MRS GIBBS: I told you, become an orthodontist, but no, you had to hang around with those leather-jacket wearing lawyers.  Smoking cigarettes, staying up all night, filing frivolous motions.  I always knew it would lead to no good!

  4. Regarding the fact that Prenda law is in deep doo-doo, I wonder if parents of lawyers ever try to strongly suggest that their offspring make sure they have a fallback career, the way sports players’ parents do?

    /sarcasm off

  5. I generally stay away from justice porn, but this is terribly good news. The capper would be passing the SHIELD act. There, you have your marching orders, ‘Merica. Get to it.

  6. Wow.  Read the whole thing, and the previous blogs.  Fascinating stuff, I look forward to the precedent this case will set.  I could wax poetic, but it’s really the equivalent of turning on a light and the roaches scurrying under the fridge only to find out that today, people are willing to move the fridge.

  7. Ohai Cory!
    Ohai SJD & Ken!
    Are we having fun yet?  :D

    The only sadness I have is that this was not televised.

    Remember campers you can learn more about Prenda and the other porn copyright trolls (there are more and some are just as ‘entertaining’) by visiting my friends…
    SJD – http://www.fightcopyrighttrolls.com
    DTD – http://dietrolldie.com
    They must be important, why else would Prenda have tried to silence them with lawsuits?

    And there are stories on BB, Ars, Popehat, Techdirt, Torrentfreak, Slashdot and a few other places but for the long term indepth coverage its FCT & DTD.

  8. I’m not an attorney, so forgive my ignorance here, but hypothetically… if the Judge brings down the “law-hammer” in full on Prenda Law… could this case establish some sort of case-law that other folks (like, hypothetically the EFF) to use in future lawsuits or defenses?

    1. It would allow those currently named in Prenda lawsuits to file Judicial Notice of the problems.
      Many of the questions about how the evidence is gathered and conclusions drawn from incomplete “facts” in these cases should raise red flags. 
      That they often can’t prove more than a single bit of data was sent to the alleged infringer, let alone the file was downloaded completely.  That showing “multiple” hits in a single day and counting each as a separate infringement is not the correct path.
      As Prenda gets investigated more by what looks like its going to be by several enforcement agencies questionable evidence gathering will come to light and help highlight how little an IP address alone proves and make it more difficult for these cases to proceed with only the basis of our expert saw and IP address they must be guilty!

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