Now that evidence has surfaced suggesting that Guardaley, a disgraced firm of German copyright trolls, is secretly behind the legal actions of notorious US trolls like Malibu Media, the US plaintiffs are running scared, asking judges to dismiss their cases before they can be dragged into a discovery process that might confirm the link.
Guardaley is seriously toxic in the USA, and any suggestion that they were pulling the strings of US plaintiffs would likely be enough to get any case booted -- and possibly result in sanctions for the lawyers representing the trolls.
The defendants in a case over downloading the B-movie Elf-Man has presented evidence that not only links Guardaley to the suit, but also suggests that Guardaley was one of the seeders of the Elf-Man bittorrent file. In other words, they were sharing the file while acting as representatives for the copyright holders, making the downloads they're suing over authorized, and not infringing.
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Yesterday, a federal judge in the DC circuit court of appeals handed Prenda law -- the most loathed and evil porno copyright trolls in the business -- its own ass on a plate, and struck a blow against copyright trolling everywhere. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mitch Stoltz has a deep dive into the case, which EFF participated in.
Prenda (previously) is one of the leaders in the shady practice of accusing people of downloading pornographic films with embarrassing titles and then demanding money in exchange for not filing a lawsuit against them, using the threat of having your name associated with "Anal Invaders XII" in public records forever as a lever to get you to settle even if you've done nothing wrong. In AF Holdings v. Does 1-1058, Judge Tatel struck an important blow against this practice by ruling that trolls have to file cases in the same jurisdiction as their victims in order to get court orders to reveal the victims' names and addresses, without which the cases cannot proceed. But filing cases in the correct jurisdiction will likely cost more than the average blackmail payment that Prenda extorts from its victims, making the whole thing into a losing business.
The court also held that merely being accused of having, at some point, participated in a Bittorrent swarm does not join you with everyone else who ever joins that swarm, and that there is only joint liability for people who download from one another, as part of the same swarm at the same time. Read the rest
Remember the copyright trolls at Prenda Law
, the slippery crooks who claimed that no one actually owned their extortionate racket, that no one made any money from it, and that no one was responsible for it? Yet another judge has called bullshit on them
, insisting that they produce financial statements prepared by a chartered public accountant, and dismissing their objections as "attorney speak." Read the rest
Things aren't looking good for copyright trolls Prenda Law -- they've been ordered to pay $261K
in opponents' fees, and the judge has made all three of Prenda's principles -- Paul Hansmeier, John Steele, and Paul Duffy -- jointly liable for the sum. He also called them liars. They're much worse than that
. Read the rest
John Steele is one of the shadowy figures behind the notorious porno-copyright-trolls Prenda Law, about whom we've written rather a lot, as they are a colorful bunch of grifters. Steele had previously been accused of stealing the identity of Alan Cooper, the caretaker of one of his properties, making him the CEO of one of the shell companies behind which Prenda hides.
But that identity theft is hardly as damning as the latest revelation: Steele's mother-in-law has accused him of forging signatures in the course of Prenda's dirty business.
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Malibu Media is a notorious porno-copyright-troll, a company whose business-model is sending blackmail letters to Internet users threatening to sue them for downloading pornographic movies (and forever link their names to pornography) unless they pay up. They invented a particularly loathsome tactic that sets them apart from other pornotrolls: their blackmail letters make a point of mentioning extremely explicit pornographic titles associated with films that they have no interest in -- basically, a sideways way of implying that any legal action eventually taken against you will include a bunch of humiliating and embarrassing movie-titles, when nothing of the sort is possible, since they don't represent those rightsholders and can't take legal action on their behalf.
Finally, a court has seen fit to sanction Malibu for this tactic, after an amicus brief by the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued against it. The judge went so far as to call it extortion.
Mike Masnick points out that other copyright trolls like Prenda and Righthaven have flamed out after the courts caught on to their shady tactics and started issuing sanctions and ruling for defendants. We can only hope that this will be Malibu's (near) future.
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In an article published last week, TorrentFreak reproduced Comcast's response to a subpoena regarding the copyright troll Prenda Law. Since then, Comcast's agents Cyveillance have sent a series of escalating legal threats to TorrentFreak and its hosting provider, LeaseWeb, asserting copyright over a document that is not copyrightable, and whose reproduction would be Fair Use in any event. TorrentFreak's hosting provider has given them 24 hours to resolve the issue or face shutdown.
Update: Comcast has changed its mind. Here's an email I just received:
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Remember Jacques Nazaire? He's the lawyer who represented notorious, disgraced copyright trolls Prenda Law (who victimized thousands of Americans by threatening to link them to spurious lawsuits over downloads of pornography with embarrassing titles unless they paid hush-money). He got written up here when he told a judge in Georgia that a California judge's rebuke of Prenda should not be taken into consideration because California is a horrible, strange place where gay people get married.
Now Mr Nazaire has asked the court to seal the rest of the proceedings from the case, because he's worried that people might make fun of him on message boards. Because someone who thinks ZOMGCALIFORNIAGAY is a legal argument clearly has something to worry about on that score.
By the way, lawyers for one of Prenda's victims are fundraising to get the money to depose the Prenda team. I pitched in.
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Yesterday, I wrote about an expert witness's report on Prenda Law (previously), the notorious porno copyright trolls (they send you letters accusing you of downloading porn and demand money on pain of being sued and forever having your name linked with embarrassing pornography). The witness said that he believed that Prenda -- and its principal, John Steele -- had been responsible for seeding and sharing the files they accused others of pirating.
After hearing about this, the administrators for The Pirate Bay dug through their logs and published a damning selection of log entries showing that many of the files that Steele and his firm accused others of pirating were uploaded by Steele himself, or someone with access to his home PC.
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The Pirate Bay logs not only link Prenda to the sharing of their own files on BitTorrent, but also tie them directly to the Sharkmp4 user and the uploads of the actual torrent files.
The IP-address 22.214.171.124 was previously used by someone with access to John Steele’s GoDaddy account and was also used by Sharkmp4 to upload various torrents. Several of the other IP-addresses in the log resolve to the Mullvad VPN and are associated with Prenda-related comments on the previously mentioned anti-copyright troll blogs.
The logs provided by The Pirate Bay can be seen as the missing link in the evidence chain, undoubtedly linking Sharkmp4 to Prenda and John Steele. Needless to say, considering the stack of evidence above it’s not outrageous to conclude that the honeypot theory is viable.
The saga of porno-copyright-trolls Prenda Law (previously) just keeps getting more tawdry. Prenda is a mysterious extortionate lawsuit-threat-factory that claimed to represent pornographers when it sent thousands (and thousands!) of legal threats to people, telling them they'd get embroiled in ugly litigation that would forever tie their names to embarrassing pornography titles unless they paid hush money.
Their con has unraveled in a series of legal losses. Now, one of their victims has had an expert witness file an affidavit in First Time Videos vs. Paul Oppold, a case in Florida. The expert fields an astonishing accusation: Prenda Law's principle, John Steele, is the person who uploaded the infringing pornography in the first place, listing it on BitTorrent index sites with information inviting people to download it -- people whom he then sent legal threats to for downloading those selfsame movies.
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Among other things, sharkmp4 seemed to be able to post these works on The Pirate Bay before the works were even mentioned anywhere else, and in at least one case, "sharkmp4" put a video up on The Pirate Bay three days before Prenda shell company Ingenuity 13 had even filed for the copyright. On top of that, the "forensics" company that Prenda uses -- which is supposedly run by Paul Hansmeier's brother Peter, but which had its domain registered and controlled by (you guessed it) John Steele -- apparently identified "infringements" almost immediately after the videos were placed on The Pirate Bay -- meaning they were likely looking for such infringement in conjunction with the upload.
When US Federal Judge Otis Wright ruled against Prenda Law (a gang that used sloppy accusations of illegal downloads of pornographic movies to extort millions from people who didn't want the embarrassment of being publicly sued), he ordered Prenda's lawyers to give copies of his ruling to judges in all the other places where they were suing their victims. Judge Wright's ruling called Prenda a "fraud" and said its lawyers engaged in "moral turpitude."
One of Prenda's most colorful lawyers is Jacques Nazaire. He's asked a judge in Georgia to ignore the Judge Wright's order, because Judge Wright is a California judge, and California has gay marriage.
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It doesn't stop there. It notes that California courts have different immigration rules and (randomly) that NY has different gun rights. Basically, it throws out every hot button issue that stereotypical conservatives might disagree with stereotypical liberals on.
Of course, all of that is meaningless. While it's true that Judge Wright's ruling is in no way a precedential ruling for the Georgia court, it's still a ruling about federal law, not any specific state law. And the ruling itself is about flat out misconduct (including potential racketeering and tax evasion claims) by the plaintiff in this case, because of actions in a nearly identical case. That's not about California having a "mandate" over Georgia. It's about very relevant additional information that the court should know about.
Nazaire then goes on to list out a ridiculous parade of horribles that he claims would happen if the Georgia court "followed the aforesaid California Order" including that law firms wouldn't be able to use boilerplate text any more.
As the saga of the porno copyright trolls Prenda Law moves into its end-game (likely to involve disbarments and jail time for the fraudsters behind the multimillion-dollar scheme that relied on bogus legal threats and sloppy accusations of copyright infringement), it's worth asking, how, exactly, this scam was able to go on for so long, and what can be done to prevent it in the future.
A pair of articles -- one by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mitch Stoltz, the other by Ars Technica's Nate Anderson -- delve into this in depth.
First, Anderson explains how Prenda hit on a cunning legal strategy that allowed it to try out variations on its scam, looking for the right combination of tactics to extract maximum revenue from its victims, without risking its own finances. This strategy cost the public a fortune in court costs and cost the victims another fortune in their legal costs, but Prenda didn't bear any of that. In effect, the public subsidized its brute-force attack on the American legal system:
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How could the scheme go on for so long even as federal judges complained about fraud, as "John Doe" defendants complained repeatedly that they had no idea what the cases were about, and as critics complained about the injustice of the entire business model? The answer is that federal judges aren't generally investigators. Prenda had gone to great lengths to obscure what was really going on, who was doing what, and where the money went. Judges want to clear cases off their dockets and in rare cases will entertain sanctions motions, but to unravel something as complex as Prenda's behavior required a real investigation.
Judge Wright has issued his long-awaited ruling in the case of Prenda Law, the notorious porno copyright trolls who used fraud and bullying to extort millions from Internet users by threatening to sue them for downloading pornography videos with embarrassing titles. Prenda used a combination of offshore shell companies, obfuscation, and even identity theft to disguise the ownership of their con, and when they landed before Judge Wright, it all started to unravel.
The judge has fined Prenda $80,000 ($40K in fees, doubled for punitive measure) and asked the FBI to investigate them for racketeering. He held that their operation was a fraud, that they had committed identity theft, and, importantly, identified Steele, Hansmeier, and Paul Duffy as the "de facto owners" of Prenda. He's asked the lawyers' bar associations to have them disbarred. And he made a lot of Star Trek references!
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Nevertheless, it is clear that the Principals’ enterprise relies on deception. Part of that ploy requires cooperation from the courts, which could only be achieved through deception. In other words, if the Principals assigned the copyright to themselves, brought suit in their own names, and disclosed that they had the sole financial interest in the suit, a court would scrutinize their conduct from the outset. But by being less than forthcoming, they defrauded the Court. They anticipated that the Court would blindly approve their early-discovery requests, thereby opening the door to more settlement proceeds.
As for penalties, they begin with attorneys' fees. Prenda will have to pay these to the two defense lawyers who have been instrumental in this case: Morgan Pietz and Nicholas Ranallo.
Earlier this week, I blogged Andy "Waxy" Baio's speech on fair use, called "The New Prohibition." Andy got hit with a legal threat for making a limited edition 8-bit remix of a famous photo and ended up paying $35,000 to settle the claim, even though he thought he had fair use on his side. As Andy explained, he thought that winning the court case would cost so much that it was cheaper to lose for a mere $35k.
But as Pat Aufderheide from American University's Center for Social Media writes, "Andy Baio's a brilliant geek, and an artist, but I'm afraid he's inadvertantly generating a chilling effect all his own, with fair use misinformation. Ouch! Here's why."
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Andy warns ominously that “anyone can sue you for anything, always, and even without grounds.” Yup. That is true, and just as true for obscenity, libel, or treason charges, and in a million other places in life. If someone slips on the sidewalk in front of your house after a snowstorm, or chokes on an appetizer at your dinner party, or objects to your choice of lawn furniture, they can sue you. Copyright trolls like Prenda are suing people who have done nothing at all. But we somehow conduct our lives and even have dinner parties knowing this ugly reality.
He warns fellow remixers everywhere, “fair use will not save you,” and “nothing you have ever made is fair use.” Whoa. Neither of these statements is true.
Fair use is riding high in the courts.
Today marked the long-awaited courtroom showdown of notorious copyright porno trolls Prenda Law (previous posts) and United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II, the judge who figured out that Prenda was running something that looked a blackmail racket that involved systematic fraud against courts around the country. After stalling and fum-fuhing, Prenda's lawyers and principals were dragged before Judge Wright, where they sat for a hearing that ran for 12 whole minutes before Wright furiously banished them from his courtroom. Ken "Popehat" White was there, and sent tantalizing tweets about the total trainwreck he'd witnessed, which he has now had a chance to write up in full.
In a nutshell, the Prendateers showed up and took the Fifth, refusing to speak. Their lawyer tried to enter some argument into the record, but the judge didn't allow it. Prenda had filed no briefs, and had been called to answer basic, factual questions about lawsuits. Wright wasn't happy about it. Ken has written up a list of likely consequences Prenda will now face. It's not pretty. At very least, the firm and its activities are at an end. At most (though not likely), this could end in prison for the principals here.
Read the rest
Judge Wright grew steadily and visibly more outraged. "I want to know if some of my conjecture is accurate — and the only way to know is to have the principals here and ask them questions. This is an opportunity for them to protect themselves," he said. But Steele's lawyer confirmed his client would exercise his right to remain silent.