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.
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.
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. Read the rest
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.
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.
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.
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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.
If you've been following the sad saga of the porno copyright trolls Prenda Law, you'll know that Alan Cooper is the former caretaker of John Steele, who is apparently the man behind a spiraling series of ever-scammier attempts to get people to pay money in order to keep their names out of embarrassing court filings over alleged illegal porn downloading. And you'll know that Alan Cooper has says that John Steele stole his identity and put his name down on various corporate and legal filings, identifying the former caretaker as the head honcho of the whole corrupt empire.
Now, a new filing in the court docket includes transcripts of threatening, bullying voicemails that Steele left for his alleged victim, trying to scare him into silence. Here's a taste, courtesy of TechDirt, which has more context:
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From second voicemail:
It's like if you refuse to, you know, return my calls or -- or engage in mandatory conference, then I'm going to have to be forced to ask the judge to, you know, force you to do things and it just gets ugly from there.
So if you do decide to get an attorney in either of those matters or in the other cases which we're filing against you in the upcoming weeks, please let them -- have them give me a call. This number's fine. Otherwise, I expect to hear from you shortly.
From third voicemail
Alan, this is John Steele again.
You have not responded or contacted me regarding litigation you're involved in.
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. Read the rest
Prenda Law is the notorious, scandal-haunted copyright trolling lawfirm that represents various pornography producers, sending extortionate letters to people allegedly detected illegally downloading videos, demanding money to go away -- the alternative being to have your name linked with embarrassing pornography titles in a public record forever.
Prenda made headlines lately for claiming that it was working for a man called Alan Cooper, allegedly the CEO of offshore companies that had hired Prenda to send legal threats on their behalf. Only one problem: Cooper says he has nothing to do with the companies or Prenda. When they were caught in this bit of alleged in-court identity theft, Prenda's lawyers complained that their judge was being mean to them and tried to get him taken off their case. When this gambit failed, they tried several others -- everything, in fact, except for admitting what seems obvious on its face: they'd misrepresented the facts to the court and stolen Cooper's identity.
In my opinion, Prenda is a shitshow from stem to stern. From absurd claims like the existence of an adolescent male in a household is proof that illegal porn downloading must be taking place to weird legal theories about BitTorrent users being in conspiracy with one another despite never having met, communicated, and not being aware of one another, every one of Prenda's actions smacks of utter desperation.
But Prenda's desperation has reached new depths with its latest gambit: filing three defamation lawsuits each against people who called them out for their bad behavior, including Alan Cooper (the man whose identity was allegedly stolen in Prenda's court filings) and his lawyer; and, apparently online news sites like Fight Copyright Trolls (who've tirelessly chronicled Prenda's misdeeds), and message-board commenters who expressed shock at the bad behavior on exhibit in Prenda's deeds. Read the rest
Michael Geist sez, "Over the past couple of days, there have been multiple reports about the return of file sharing lawsuits to Canada, with fears that thousands of Canadians could be targeted. While it is possible that many will receive demand letters, it is important to note that recent changes to Canadian copyright law limit liability in non-commercial cases to a maximum of $5,000 for all infringement claims. In fact, it is likely that a court would award far less - perhaps as little as $100 - if the case went to court as even the government's FAQ on the recent copyright reform bill provided assurances that Canadians "will not face disproportionate penalties for minor infringements of copyright by distinguishing between commercial and non-commercial infringement.""
Urmann is a German copyright troll law firm that represents hardcore pornographers, sending shakedown notices to accused downloaders, threatening to publicly link them with porn unless they pay "settlements" to make it all go away. They've revealed that the core of their strategy will be the publication of accusations against police stations, churches and the embassies of conservative Arab nations:
According to comments an Urmann insider made to Wochenblatt, the law firm is planning to target the most vulnerable people first – those with IP addresses registered to churches, police stations and – quite unbelievably – the embassies of Arab countries.
Urmann insists that it is completely entitled to take this action because the law is on its side. The company is leaning on a 2007 Federal Constitutional Court ruling that deemed it legal for law firms to publish the names of their clients’ opponents in order to advertise their services. However, there is some debate if the ruling applies since it was targeted at commercial opponents, not regular citizens.
Bernd Schlömer of the German Pirate Party describes the law firm’s threats to undermine the privacy rights of individuals as “shocking” and says that Urmann’s actions could be construed as “legal coercion.
A group of notorious copyright trolls from the pornography industry are the defendants in a new class action suit that alleges that they have violated the RICO Act (the law regarding organized crime syndicates), as well as "fraud, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and unjust enrichment."
The trolls are pornography companies that accuse people of having downloaded movies with titles like "Blumpkin Blowjobs, "Teen Anal Sluts," "Jeff cums in Colby’s mouth," etc, and threaten lawsuits that will forever join the victims' names with these films, unless the victims cough up a quick settlement payout. The victims are chosen on the basis of very sloppy Internet sleuthing that is meant to produce a list of IP addresses that correspond to illegal downloaders.
Historically, the trolls have faced no penalty for getting their detective work wrong -- if they finger an innocent bystander, either the bystander pays up anyway (just to avoid the hassle), or s/he pays her own lawyers enough money to mount a spirited defense, at which point the trolls withdraw their threat and walk away.
With this class action suit, it's possible that the trolls will finally see a real penalty for tossing around sloppy accusations -- and with any luck, it'll be a penalty that will wipe them off the face of the earth, to the whole planet's betterment.
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Henry and Associates, PLLC, a lawfirm from Louisville, Kentucky, filed a class action lawsuit against five porno purveyors — well-known copyright trolls. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Jennifer Baker, one of the victims who did not want to forgive an unprovoked assault by a copyright troll M.