DC attorney Mike Meier once worked with EFF to fight copyright trolls, whom he called "bill collectors for the movie industry...extorting money" -- now he's joined the trolls as a professional "bill collector," and now he wants evidence of his past life censored and is prepared to send outrageously bogus copyright threats to get his way.
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I've covered Prenda Law off and on here for quite some time; they're the sleazy "law firm"/copyright trolls who use the courts to get the names and addresses of people whom they allege have downloaded pornographic videos with embarrassing names, and whom they then threaten with public humiliation and a lawsuit unless the victims pay a quick cash settlement. One of the great mysteries about Prenda is who the firm actually is -- which individuals are behind it? In past, Prenda's representatives have claimed to be working for "Alan Cooper" -- a former caretaker for one of the Prenda reps who claims they have stolen his identity.
A recent deposition in the Northern District of California of Morgan Prietz Paul Hansmeier -- another Prenda rep, apparently -- sheds no light on the mystery. Indeed, Hansmeier's deposition is a wonder of obfuscation, coyness, and mind-boggling protestations of ignorance that will baffle and delight you. Ken from Popehat has teased out the juciest bits:
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In reviewing this deposition, bear Pietz' theories in mind. he alleges that (1) Prenda Law is secretly both lawyer and client — that its principals are behind the entities purportedly owning the copyrights it is suing upon, and that Prenda Law is concealing its lawyers' interest; (2) that Prenda Law has concealed who is actually running and directing its cases; (3) that Prenda Law is not actually vindicating copyrights of valuable properties, but is using copyright to extort defendants, and (4) that Prenda Law has defrauded courts with fabricated executives by, for instance, stealing the identity of "Alan Cooper" and using the identity as a fictitious client representative.
Prena Law, a notorious porno copyright troll sent out a blackmail letter to victims that included the URL of a TorrentFreak article describing one of the rare cases in which someone stood up to a troll and lost. TorrentFreak felt that this was misleading, and resented being used as part of a sleazy scheme, so they replaced the article with a page explaining how copyright trolls work, and how to defend yourself against them.
Porno copyright trolls are companies that sends out legal threats to people, claiming they were downloading porn with embarrassing titles and demanding money not to permanently associate their names with porn by naming them in lawsuits. Thousands and thousands of people have been victimized by them.
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We redirected the URL referenced by Prenda to a page with information about these mass-BitTorrent lawsuits.
So, instead of being scared by an article about a $1.5 million judgment, Internet bill payers can inform themselves about the steps they can take to respond to the settlement letter.
The page in question explains that increasingly judges are condemning the practices of copyright trolls, and that many mass lawsuits have been thrown out. Just recently a judge designated Prenda’s ways as a “bad faith effort,” and dismissed one of their mass-BitTorrent lawsuits.
In addition to some much-needed balance we also included links to attorneys who are familiar with these lawsuits, plus links to other useful resources. Hopefully, this will enable a few of the victims to respond properly and resolve the matter without having to pay up.
Judge Beryl Howell used to work for the RIAA as a lobbyist. Or perhaps she still does. How else to explain her totally bizarre courtroom appearance in a copyright troll lawsuit -- where ISPs are arguing that they shouldn't have to turn over their customer data to discredited, laughable copyright troll John Steele, who can't get a break in any of the many other courtrooms where he's trying the stunt.
Mike Masnick has a highlight reel. The tl;dr is that Howell thinks that ISPs should bear responsibility for figuring out how to stop piracy on their networks (in the same breath in which she admits that the law says the opposite), and because they haven't taken this step, their customers have no right to privacy. Then she cites a GAO report on piracy (which actually says that all the RIAA's and MPAA's piracy numbers are total bullshit) and says it proves that piracy is a problem.
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But apparently copyright trolls have found a friend in Judge Howell, who not only is welcoming them with open arms, but seems to be using these trolling cases to further the goals of her former employer. She's released her decision on the motion to quash the subpoenas, and it's basically a 42-page screed on the evils of infringement and how ISPs should be responsible for stopping piracy (much of which has absolutely nothing to do with the case at all). The only nod towards the other side seems to be a weak acknowledgement that "the Court recognizes that other Judges on this Court have reached different conclusions with respect to the legal questions posed by the ISPs" and thus she's agreed to stay her decision until the appeals court weighs in.
Hard Drive Productions is a pornographer that has switched business models, shifting its focus from making dirty movies to making sleazy lawsuits. It collected IP addresses of people who were supposedly downloading its movies over BitTorrent, then sent their ISPS legal demands to reveal their names. The next step would be demanding cash settlements from the named persons, threatening to name them in embarrassing lawsuits if they didn't pay up. Many of the victims of the sloppy data-gathering methodology have protested their innocence, but would like to remain anonymous in the court record, rather than having their names associated in a public document about pornography consumption.
Unfortunately the federal court judge in the case has ruled that in order to request anonymity, the 1495 defendants will have to have their names entered into the public record. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has asked the judge to reconsider.
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The case is one of a growing number of mass copyright lawsuits that do not appear to be filed with any intention of litigating them. Instead, once identities of suspected infringers are obtained from ISPs, the plaintiffs send settlement letters offering to make the lawsuit go away for a few thousand dollars. A ruling on whether a film company may obtain identities of anonymous Internet users may be the last chance for defendants to be heard by the court.
EFF's brief explains both the speech implications of the ruling and the importance of the court rules that protect defendants, given the numerous ways these mass lawsuits violate due process.
Copyright troll Righthaven was conceived of as a way of extorting money from websites on behalf of newspaper owners when quotations from those newspapers were posted to the web. The idea was that the newspapers would assign "the right to sue" to Righthaven, which would pursue lawsuits on their behalf, and share the take. Righthaven's primary tactic was to shotgun legal threats to everyone they could find, regardless of whether their claims had merit, and then withdraw the threat when someone stood up to them -- classic copyright trolling.
Over the years that followed public interest groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation worked with Righthaven's victims and won a string of victories, in which Righthaven's ass was repeatedly handed to them (the death blow was probably when judges began to affirm that there is no licensable "right to sue" separate from other parts of copyright).
Now Righthaven is pretty much dead. They've lost control over their domain (assigned to one of their victims, who has become a creditor of theirs, since the court awarded him costs), gone broke, and are just waiting for someone to dump them in a pauper's grave. It's possible that one of their early investors will come back and rescue them, but that would be a miracle as implausible as the climax of the Smurf's Family Christmas.
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Records at Network Solutions, which tracks domain names, showed control of Righthaven’s website domain name was transferred Wednesday to Randazza Legal Group, which represents Righthaven creditor Wayne Hoehn.
However, attorney Marc Randazza said that information was incorrect and that a court-appointed receiver, attorney Lara Pearson of the Rimon Law Group in the Reno area, had control of it.
Righthaven, the copyright trolling organization that misrepresented its title to the copyrights of many of the newspaper articles at issue in its lawsuits against website operators, is now on the brink of bankruptcy. The US Marshals in Nevada have been authorized to seize $63,720.80 from it in cash or assets to pay the fines and fees owed for one of its failed legal actions. For more of Righthaven's keystone kops antics, see our earlier stories.
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In August, the case Righthaven v. Hoehn was tossed by a federal judge in Nevada, who went a step further and declared that defendant Wayne Hoehn's complete copy of a newspaper article in a sub-forum on the site "Madjack Sports" was fair use. On August 15, the judge awarded $34,045.50 to the Randazza Legal Group, which represented Hoehn. Righthaven, which had spent so much time thundering to defendants about just how badly the federal courts would make them pay... didn't pay.
Instead, it filed a flurry of appeals alleging (among other things) that having to pay the money would involve "the very real threat of being forced out of business or being forced to seek protection through bankruptcy." Righthaven contended that it could eventually win the case on appeal and thus should not be bankrupted before it had the chance to make its case.
But the increasingly disorganized organization couldn't even get its appellate filings in on time. Yesterday, Righthaven had to admit that it missed the October 31 deadline for its opening brief in the case.
Virginia district court Judge John A. Gibney has threatened to sanction D. Wayne O'Bryan, a personal injury lawyer with a sideline in copyright threats on behalf of pornographers. O'Bryan used subpoenas to get the personal information of people who allegedly downloaded pornographic movies over BitTorrent, then called the accused at home and threatened to sue them if they didn't settle with his clients for cash (he even shook down his computer repairman!). When the victims asked for a day in court, O'Bryan dropped the matter, which suggests that he wasn't interested in winning cases, just extracting easy cash from frightened people. Ars has a good story on the scammy tactics, and EFF is quotes the judge at length:
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The Court currently has three similar cases before it, all brought by the same attorney. The suits are virtually identical in their terms, but filed on behalf of different film production companies. In all three, the plaintiffs sought, and the Court granted, expedited discovery allowing the plaintiffs to subpoena information from ISPs to identify the Doe defendants. According to some of the defendants, the plaintiffs then contacted the John Does, alerting them to this lawsuit and their potential liability. Some defendants have indicated that the plaintiff has contacted them directly with harassing telephone calls, demanding $2,900 in compensation to end the litigation. When any of the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss or sever themselves from the litigation, however, the plaintiffs have immediately voluntarily dismissed them as parties to prevent the defendants from bringing their motions before the Court for resolution.
Kurt from the Electronic Frontier Foundation sez, "A judge the the Northern District of Texas writes a blistering opinion, sanctioning Evan Stone, attorney for porn studio Mick Haig Productions, $10,000 for improperly issuing subpoenas to ISPs without court permission in order to obtain the identities of alleged p2p file sharers. The Court had appointed EFF and Public Citizen to represent the alleged file sharers."
Gotta love copyright trollery that causes a judge to use the term "Staggering Chutzpah" in his official communications from the bench.
To summarize the staggering chutzpah involved in this case: Stone asked the Court to authorize sending subpoenas to the ISPs. The Court said “not yet.” Stone sent the subpoenas anyway. The Court appointed [EFF and Public Citizen] to argue whether Stone could send the subpoenas. Stone argued that the Court should allow him to – even though he had already done so – and eventually dismissed the case ostensibly because the Court was taking too long to make a decision. All the while, Stone was receiving identifying information and communicating with some Does, likely about settlement. The Court rarely has encountered a more textbook example of conduct deserving of sanctions.
Judge Sanctions Copyright Troll Attorney for "Staggering Chutzpah"
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Everyone's favorite copyright troll Righthaven has once again had its ass handed to it. The company, which was spun out of a Nevada newspaper, sublicenses the right to sue people from copyright holders, then sends legal threats to bloggers and website owners who publish articles or images from newspapers, including short quotations or thumbnails. Judges keep telling Righthaven that this isn't legal -- there's no such thing as a sub-licensable right to sue -- but Righthaven keeps on keeping on.
This time, they sued a user on a sports-book message board, who pasted two complete op-eds into a sub-sub board on the system. Not only did the judge rule that this was fair use (an eye-popping precedent in its own right), but it also ruled that, as usual, Righthaven didn't have any business suing the poster because they didn't own the copyright.
Here's where it gets even sadder: Righthaven then argued that it shouldn't have to pay the defendants' attorney fees because it didn't have standing to sue, so the court didn't have standing to order it to pay. The judge laughed and laughed and laughed. And told them to cough up $34,045.50.
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Defense attorney J. Malcolm DeVoy was furious. "Righthaven deserves some credit for taking this position, as it requires an amazing amount of chutzpah," he wrote to the judge. "Righthaven seeks a ruling holding that, as long as a plaintiff’s case is completely frivolous, then the court is deprived of the right to make the frivolously sued defendant whole, whereas a partially frivolous case might give rise to fee liability.
John Steele, a notorious US lawyer who sent out thousands of extortionate copyright threats to alleged Bittorrent infringers, has been found to be in breach of copyright himself. Steele's website contains a FAQ for his victims, allegedly explaining US copyright law and why it means they should pay him (or else). This stilted text is a direct lift from one of Steele's competitors, The Copyright Enforcement Group, another leading copyright troll. CEG have vowed to pursue Steele for his infringement, and I can only hope that the two of them keep each other occupied for a good, long time.
A notorious anti-piracy lawyer who claims to have spent as much as $250,000 to develop a BitTorrent tracking tool, doesn’t even bother to write his own settlement letters. In theory one could argue that he’s profiting from infringing the work of others, something that’s not taken lightly by the courts nowadays.
Anti-Piracy Lawyers Rip Off Work From Competitor
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A quick search further reveals that Steele and his partner are not the only one who ripped off the FAQ from the Copyright Enforcement Group. Another group, operating under the name Copyright Action Network has done the same, again without permission from the copyright holders.