For more than four years, we've been writing about Prenda Law, a prolific copyright troll (that is, a company that sends dire legal threats and demands for money to people they accuse of copyright infringement, based on the flimsiest of evidence), whose conduct is so breathtakingly illegal that it feels like satire or performance art (but it's not).
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Copyright shakedown company Rightscorp, which threatens suspected music sharers with lawsuits unless they give Rightscorp money, has agreed to pay $450,000 to settle claims it illegally targeted thousands of people with recorded messages.
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Morgan Pietz, an attorney who played a key role in bringing down Prenda Law, sued Rightscorp in 2014, saying that the company's efforts to get settlements from alleged pirates went too far. Rightscorp's illegal "robocalls" violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a 1991 law that limits how automated calling devices are used. The class-action lawsuit claimed that some Rightscorp targets were receiving one robocall on their cell phone per day. It's generally illegal to have automated devices call cell phones.
Earlier this week, Pietz and his co-counsel filed court papers outlining the settlement. Rightscorp will pay $450,000 into a settlement fund, which will be paid out to the 2,059 identified class members who received the allegedly illegal calls. Each class member who fills out an "affidavit of noninfringement" will receive up to $100. The rest of the fund will pay for costs of notice and claim administration (about $25,000) and attorneys' fees and costs, which cannot exceed $330,000. Rightscorp will also "release any and all alleged claims" against the class members. The company had accused the 2,059 class members of committing 126,409 acts of copyright infringement.
Mark wrote about the "just works" movie app a while ago, but if you're a fan, you're on a lawyer's hitlist. Read the rest
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.