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Posts Tagged ‘Brett Gibbs’

It has been almost a full day since yesterday’s historic Prenda flop where the attorney for Prenda Law Inc. (formerly, Steele|Hansmeier, PLLC and before that, Steele Law Firm PLLC) appeared to be woefully unprepared to overturn the sanctions that were ordered against Prenda Law and their team. (Flashback: “The 12 minute hearing and the end of Prenda Law Inc.” on 4/3/2013)

For those of you who missed it, you can watch the entertaining video here (fast forward to the tall guy).

As a quick recap, two years ago, Prenda Law was caught forging the name “Alan Cooper” on the copyright assignment documents which gave them the apparent authority to sue on behalf of their clients. The “real” Alan Cooper (John Steele’s gardener) who was the victim of identity theft hired an attorney, showed up at one of Prenda’s hearings, and served John Steele with his own lawsuit.

I don’t know how to explain what happened in a recap other than that the whole “house of cards” that was Prenda Law Inc. was unraveled — not because of the Alan Cooper forgery issue, but because John Steele couldn’t stay away from the cases when he successfully made the courts believe that he sold his Steele Hansmeier PLLC law firm to Paul Duffy. Shortly afterwards, he resumed making phone calls and openly running things himself, and he started showing up at hearings and speaking to the judges. This is what tipped off Judge Otis Wright to ask who the real parties in interest were in these lawsuits.

Personally, it jaded me a bit to see that after being caught (having their grand scheme exposed by good lawyers), the lawyers for Prenda continued their stories of misinformation by lying under oath in their depositions and in court proceedings. Further, I was annoyed when I learned about the scheme unfold in its entirety, including the creation of various offshore entities created to funnel settlement payments, and where Prenda peddled the blatant lie that Mark Lutz (the paralegal) was the mastermind behind the lawsuits.

Being behind the scenes when all this was happening, I was also hearing about issues of Prenda Law lying to, not paying, and in one notorious case, turning against their own local counsel who put their law licenses in jeopardy to file the lawsuits on Prenda’s clients’ behalf. Lastly, there were even more issues that I was privy to that never even made it into the courtroom, namely what appeared to be a credible accusation that Prenda Law Inc. was uploading and seeding their own clients’ content on the bittorrent networks — the same bittorrent swarms in which they sued the internet users for downloading the content they uploaded.

My own thought process was that the proper judicial response was 1) for the federal judges to serve as the “guardians of the gates” of the federal courts [e.g., to kill the copyright infringement cases as they are filed based on principles of improper joinder, etc.], and 2) to prevent the attorney(s) at this point from practicing law through the remedies of suspension and disbarment through their local bar associations. If the attorney persists, the attorney(s) should be charged with the unauthorized practice of law. Yet none of this happened. A lawyer (who for the purposes of this article will remain private) filed ethical charges against John Steele to have him disbarred, and in return, Steele filed ethical charges against him [a story for him to tell, not my secrets to tell].  Then, Steele at some point appeared to have voluntarily disbarred himself and retired from the practice of law, and his organization went inactive in the Illinois state registry. Yet his involvement in the cases persisted.

Thus, I was not surprised when Judge Wright wrote his order sanctioning John Steele, the Hansmeier brothers, and all those involved in the conspiracy. What surprised me was their hubris in that they continued fighting after they already lost. This is why I call the Prenda Law fiasco a “circus.” Everybody continues to argue in circles, but nobody goes to jail.

So, getting back to yesterday’s hearing (YouTube Link), there were THREE ITEMS that I took note of in what was perhaps the most entertaining 3-panel judge hearing I have ever seen.

ITEM 1) John Steele and the Hansmeiers were quite upset that Judge Wright implicated them as having broken criminal laws, and even though they were never charged for the violation of those laws (which I could only guess include identity theft [forgery], extortion, perjury, fraud, and perhaps even money laundering and/or racketeering). [NOTE: There were other acts allegedly committed, including the unauthorized practice of law, violation of countless ethical rules including compensating a non-attorney as a partner of the law firm, alleged tax evasion, and misuse of corporate structures after they were dissolved, etc.] Many of these acts if looked into could make the principles of the law firm personally liable for any charges without the protection of a corporate entity.

They appear to have hired attorney Daniel Voelker for the sole purpose of disputing the $200K+ in sanctions awarded against them because Judge Wright implicated them in a lawsuit which they tried their darnedest to keep at an arms length through the use of legal structures, funneling money into offshore entities, using the paralegal as the “fall guy,” and through the use of local attorneys. But rather than arguing against the sanctions award on the merits of whether it was proper to award the sanctions, they appear to have been offended by the implication of having broken criminal law in what Judge Pregerson called “an ingenious extortion fraud [scheme].” Thus, they instructed attorney Voelker to request that the court REMAND (meaning, return to the lower courts as a “do over”) the case to the U.S. District Court so that they can properly defend the insinuation that they committed one or more crimes while running what was — at the time — the most successful copyright trolling extortion scheme in existence.

ITEM 2) Attorney Daniel Voelker appeared to be woefully unprepared for the hearing. When asked about the details of the various copyright troll lawsuits filed by Prenda Law Inc. / Steele Hansmeier PLLC / Steele Law Firm, PLLC, he was unaware of anything other than what was the subject of the appealed case. This was surprising to the judges, it was surprising to me, and I am sure it was surprising to the hundreds of “fans” who were watching the hearing live and streamed over the internet. How could this attorney not be aware of the hundreds of other filings that his client took part in?!?

I also want to point out that YET AGAIN, STEELE, HANSMEIER, AND MARK LUTZ THE PARALEGAL WERE NOTORIOUSLY ABSENT FROM THE PROCEEDINGS.

ITEM 3) Simplifying the discussions of damage multipliers and other damages issues that were discussed, the jist of what the judges needed to decide were 1) whether to uphold the sanctions award against Prenda Law and company, and 2) whether to remand the case so that the questions of criminal conduct could be hashed out.

IN MY OPINION, again, this whole Prenda Law fiasco is a circus. John Steele and his buddies have been “gaming” the system since they began, and even when their whole scheme came tumbling down around them, they turned to lying, cheating, and misdirection in order to get around the rules.

Nothing will right the wrongs that were inflicted on tens of thousands of internet users except seeing each of these attorneys disbarred and jailed for criminal conduct. Yet I cannot see this happening because notorious criminals today too often go uncharged. Judges too often find the “lazy” alternative of slapping an attorney with sanctions, and then not following up on their order when the attorney weasels their way out of paying those sanctions. This is a sign of a corrupt system, and as much as I have faith in the law, I do not have faith that the judges will inflict stern judgement (“fire and brimstone”) against a bunch of lawyers who look more like a**clowns in the courtroom.

Thus, it is my best guess that the sanctions will not only be upheld, but they will be strengthened and perhaps multiplied. However, as for the criminal prosecution of the clowns who perpetrated this grand heist of an extortion scheme, their activities will go unpunished. Maybe they’ll lose their law licenses (noting that in part, this has partially happened to some of them). Maybe they’ll be held personally liable without the shielding of the corporate entities they tried to use to hide their involvement in these cases. Maybe one or more of them will need to continue to hide their money indefinitely and file for bankruptcy. Maybe one or more of them will need to move out of the country and live out their days on a beach somewhere.

I don’t see orange jumpsuits in anyone’s future here. Not in today’s lawless society.

 

USEFUL ARTICLES ON YESTERDAY’S HEARING:

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While the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC and its clients were celebrating “freedom,” I am sure some of my readers will be wondering the fate of Prenda Law Inc. / Steele Hansmeier, PLLC / John Steele / Paul Duffy / Mark Lutz / Brett Gibbs et al. after their hearing today before Judge Wright.  Today was the big day where the world of those who have been injured by Prenda Law Inc.’s activities looked on to see their demise.

In sum, the hearing was short, and John Steele and his “gang” showed up as they were ordered to, but they decided to plead the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution rather than answer Judge Wright’s questions.  As a result, the judge did not allow them the pleasure of “pleading the fifth” as he appears to have no interest in lawyer gamesmanship.  Thus, after 12 minutes, he walked off the bench and ended the hearing.

While there was no immediate gratification for those who flew over to attend the hearing, in my opinion, “Popehat” described their fate better than I ever could:

“Prenda Law may still be standing. But it’s dead.”

I would be very surprised if I saw any further activities coming from this law firm. I expect that in a few days (if not sooner), Judge Otis Wright will write an order which will make any copyright troll shake in their boots, and it is my hopes that this order will serve as a warning shot to any of the other copyright trolls who go after individual downloaders using the tactics and corporate structures that Prenda employed.

It is my opinion (although I *am* still cautious until I actually see Judge Wright’s order,) this will likely be the end of Prenda Law Inc., John Steele, and Paul Duffy, as I expect that this will evolve into inquiries which will endanger their law licenses. I don’t think we’ll see the end of them, per se, as it is not so difficult to find a hungry lawyer who will agree to have his hand held while he lets others practice under his law license in the shadows.

On the other hand, I believe the result of this case (and Judge Wright’s influence over the the future penalties of unlawful copyright enforcement tactics) will force the bittorrent cases to evolve from its current state (which comprise mere pre-trial settlement “or else” tactics) to actually taking clients to court on the merits.  Also, while the inquiry in this case surrounded plaintiff copyright trolls who “invent” corporate figureheads, who seem to falsify copyright assignment documents, and who structure their business tactics to allow their activities to proceed with limited affects on the attorneys furthering their scheme) no doubt, this will be a damaging blow to those copyright holders who try to enforce their copyrights against individual downloaders.

Articles on the topic:
Forbes: Porn Copyright Lawyer John Steele, Who Has Sued More Than 20,000 People, Is Now The One In Legal Trouble

ArsTechnica: Prenda lawyers take Fifth Amendment; judge storms out: “We’re done” — Those in attendance describe Judge Otis Wright as “incandescently angry.”

TechDirt: Team Prenda Shows Up In Court, Pleads The Fifth… Angry Judge Ends Hearing In 12 Minutes

TorrentFreak: Prenda Copyright Trolls Plead the Fifth

Fight Copyright Trolls (SJD): Prenda trolls appear in Judge Wright’s courtroom only to plead the Fifth. Furious judge ends the hearing after 12 minutes

Follow-Up Articles:

ArsTechnica: Judge smash: Prenda’s porn-trolling days are over

Popehat: Prenda Law’s Attorneys Take The Fifth Rather Than Answer Judge Wright’s Questions

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A number of interested readers have wondered what my opinion was about Monday’s sanctions hearing against Prenda Law Inc., Brett Gibbs, John Steele, Paul Hansmeier, and the others [Case Cite: Ingenuity 13 LLC v. John Doe, Case No. 2:12-cv-08333, in the California District Court (Case Documents “Recap’d” here)]. Quite frankly, I read the #Prenda Twitter stream throughout the day just as many of you did.

Up front, there were some pretty good articles on the event, and as far as I am concerned, there is nothing substantive that I can add to what has already been written. I advise anyone affected by the AF Holdings, LLC cases (or any of Prenda Law Inc.’s so-called “trusts”) to read the following articles:

IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE:

In sum, it is my opinion that whatever the result, there was a lesson taught — that copyright trolls are not “above the law,” so to speak. As far as the effect of Monday’s hearing, we will not know the effect until we read Judge Wright’s order (which we do not expect to see for a few days). However, as for the applicability, the ruling will apply nationwide, and no doubt every court which hears their cases will probably receive a copy of the order.

There is a lot of mention of “trusts” when it comes to the Steele|Hansmeier organization.  I have a “love-hate” relationships with trusts. They form a wonderful legal alter-ego function when it comes to protecting assets and benefiting third party beneficiaries. However, in scenarios like this, I believe they are tools to break the law and hide from responsibility. The problem here is that I’m not so sure Steele and Co. could pull off having a trust without it being broken by the courts.

From what I have read, it is my opinion that there is too much involvement in the trust by all parties, and putting it simply, keeping the classic definition and rules of a trust, I’m not sure they’ve done it in a way which could withstand scrutiny. For example, I’m not sure who the grantor is, who the grantee (receiver of assets) is, and for which beneficiary or purpose was the trust formed. Are there any documents relating to the formation of the trust?  Are there any filings anywhere relating to the trust?  Also, who is the trustee who is in charge of directing and managing the funds of the trust? I would be worried of the parties mishandling the movement of the funds (the trust assets), and this is where they may get busted for playing the trust game… not to mention that I hear that nobody has filed taxes on this income and all the members are U.S. citizens? I can’t believe no taxes have been filed or paid, because if not, the IRS would be after them for tax evasion (and I have heard nothing of the sort happening).

As far as the Hansmeier deposition that nobody gets paid and that every lawyer gratuitously works for free without receiving an income, I call BS on that statement. It appears to me that he is playing semantics with the term “income” according to the tax code, and he can get in trouble the way he has maybe misused the term. No lawyer, as wonderful as any of them might be, would work for “no income.” Even Brett Gibbs. I assume there is some foreign trust account set up for each of them into which funds get deposited on a regular basis. And, those “offshore trusts” need to pay taxes just like any other legal entity.

My sadness from Monday’s events stem from the fact that Steel/Hansmeier/Duffy clan staying out of court was a very smart move. By staying as far away from the court as possible, Judge Wright was unable to swear them in, and he was unable to take their [what would likely have been incriminating] testimony. If he sanctions them, if he orders a bench order for their arrest (not likely), or if he does something to them, from a distance [and out of jail], they can easily appeal any order the judge makes, essentially eviscerating any legal authority Judge Wright may show.

I mentioned to a few other lawyers how queasy attorneys get when a judge speaks strong words. However, we all have been watching these cases for almost THREE YEARS NOW (come June), and I have never seen a judge do any damage to a copyright troll. Even Evan Stone, the prolific copyright troll out of Dallas, Texas — for sending subpoenas out before the judge gave authorization to do so, he was only sanctioned $10,000 (essentially one day’s income for Steele, according to Alan Cooper’s testimony, or three of Evan Stone’s settlements).

At the end of the day, unless the result of this hearing is a state bar disciplinary hearing (or more seriously, a criminal investigation if there was indeed “fraud” in the legal sense), and unless some lawyers lose their licenses, there will be no deterrance from Prenda Law Inc. (or any other copyright troll) thinking twice about their actions, and copyright trolling lawsuits will grow exponentially until enough people cry out, “this must be stopped!”

UPDATE (3/14/2013):

SJD reports that Judge Wright has ordered the Steele|Hansmeier gang to appear on 3/29/2013 based on “their pecuniary interest and active, albeit clandestine participation in these cases” (emphasis added).  He continues that “Not only does [their motion not to appear] lack merit, its eleventh-hour filing exemplifies gamesmanship”  (emphasis added).  Wow.  Further, the judge expanded his inquiry to impose sanctions not only to the original masterminds of these lawsuits, but to the so-called entities who are supposed to be separate and apart from their operation (they’re not).  He called Livewire Holdings LLC, and 6881 Forensics, LLC to be present at the hearing.  Now if these entities will be represented by the same Steele / Hansmeier / Duffy / Lutz characters (Hansmeier’s deposition already pegged paralegal Lutz as the CEOs of a number of these entities), this will look very bad for them.

NOTE: A commenter referred to this article (or me) as a “buzzkill,” and that got a good laugh out of me.  If you knew how much my reporting on these blogs represented how dull I sometimes am in real life, the humor of that comment is pretty on-point.  On this note, however, if you read Judge Wright’s order carefully, again, he’s only threatening sanctions.  Even if he imposes $1 million dollars in sanctions, I cannot imagine Steele and the others would pay it.  After all, they technically don’t “own” that money that is in the various trusts (#sarcasm).

Also see:

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“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!”
– Sir Walter Scott, Marmion: Canto VI. (1771 – 1832)

My greatest effort in this blog is not to decide what to write about, but what NOT to write about. I’ve been very aware of John Steele’s issues in Minnesota (where he made an appearance for one of his cases, and was served by Paul Godfread’s process server on the Alan Cooper identity theft issue). I’ve also been aware of the issues as to whether AF Holdings, Guava, (and we won’t mention Ingenuity 13, or the older MCGIP lawsuits) are in fact entities or whether there is an bit of sham involved in their formation and/or the enforcement of the intellectual property they appear to hold. I have also noticed the clear trend from the smarter lawsuits where Steele moved from suing hundreds of John Doe Defendants to him suing smaller numbers of John Does (20-75) in smaller “under-the-radar” lawsuits, and then finally to the “John Doe” individual lawsuits, some of which ended up with named defendants who were not served, others where the defendants were actually served, and finally others where a defendant and his attorney agreed to allow Prenda to add hundreds of unrelated defendants to the lawsuits as potential co-conspirators.

Then when even the individual lawsuits looked to no longer be fruitful for him, I noticed the move from copyright enforcement to absurd tactics, some of which involved having Mark Lutz pose as a representative for a production company.  I noticed when Prenda had their own local counsel (Joseph Perea) shift titles to avoid unauthorized practice of law issues (e.g., in Florida), and I noticed when local counsel Brett Gibbs ended up as “of counsel” for Prenda Law Inc., only to later disavow association from the firm when federal Judge Otis Wright mentioned the word “jail.” These absurd tactics have gone even farther, most recently with the creation of the Livewire Holdings, Inc. entity (see, Part I; Part II) using fake pictures on their website for their so-called “partners,” and reports that Mark Lutz (Prenda Law Inc.’s former paralegal, now pictured as “partner” in the Livewire Holdings, Inc. site) is back at it, calling dismissed defendants using a fake name.  I almost fell off my chair when I read local counsel Brett Gibbs’ most recent declaration [under oath] that [he has been informed that] Mark Lutz was the CEO for AF Holdings, LLC (p.4, paragraph 7), and that he was also the CEO for Ingenuity 13, LLC (p.4, paragraph 8).  Really?!?

All of this drama (including the Minnesota lawsuit and the so-called fake Alan Cooper issue) are topics I have purposefully chosen NOT to write about for the sole reason that they do not help my clients or potential clients understand the issues surrounding the copyright infringement lawsuits they face when they receive a subpoena notice from their ISP in the mail.

Behind the scenes, as owner of the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC, I and my staff have spent literally months building up local counsel networks and researching each federal court’s rules to properly defend clients who are named as defendants in their copyright infringement lawsuits. I personally warned a number of copyright trolls that if they named my clients, myself and the attorneys I work with would find a way to make defending these cases affordable. So you can understand why I was amused when the principals at Prenda Law Inc. shifted from what looked to be a trend towards individual lawsuits against former John Doe Defendants to their more recent “world domination” shenanigans which led to widespread questions as to the identity of the “real” AF Holdings, LLC Alan Cooper, which of the copyright troll entities are real and which are shams, and then once caught, which led to the finger-pointing which began between their local counsel and other defense counsel, and then ultimately to the finger-pointing towards the principals at Prenda Law Inc. I’m happy that their lawsuits have gone nowhere these recent months, but personally I feel that their focus has shifted to “doubling down” on what appear to be outright lies rather than representing their clients to stop the piracy of their copyrighted films.  I often stop myself from asking, “wasn’t that the whole purpose of this grand charade?”  At least the war I thought I was fighting was to defend internet users from being subjected to copyright extortion-like lawsuits for the downloading or viewing of copyrighted movies and videos.

For these reasons, I really have nothing to say or comment because what Prenda Law Inc. / formerly, Steele|Hansmeier PLLC/ or more recently, the Anti-Piracy Law Group / John Steele / Paul Duffy / Brett Gibbs / former paralegal Mark Lutz (and their local counsel, many still disgruntled) have been doing and their antics have little-to-nothing to do with the so-called “rampant piracy” and the copyright infringement I thought they were here to stop.

So now John Steele and the entities he supposedly has nothing to do with are suing Paul Godfread, the real Alan Cooper (as opposed to the one they have not yet produced), along with all of the anti-copyright troll internet population, probably most notably, Sophisticated Jane Doe (http://www.fightcopyrighttrolls.com), Die Troll Die (http://www.dietrolldie.com), and probably a handful of others who have been hugely helpful to our law firm over the years through their reporting on Twitter. I could easily be part of this group of anti-copyright troll “Does” from all the posts I have written on his cases.

The problem with the “sue everyone for defamation” approach is 1) the elements of defamation are simply not there (as Forbes Magazine might report, John Steele is clearly a “public person” who has cast himself forth as being one of the foremost and first copyright trolls), 2) his lawsuits likely invoke the anti-SLAPP laws because they appear to have been filed to “create chilling effects and to stifle speech,” and most importantly, 3) people like Sophisticated Jane Doe, Die Troll Die, and the others blog and tweet anonymously. Thus, even if they figured out which IP addresses did the posting or the tweeting, the IP address will likely point to a private VPN service who have no ability to even know who these anonymous bloggers are.

In closing, there is not much to say about these lawsuits. Techdirt wrote about them here.  ArsTechnica wrote about them here.  Sophisticated Jane Doe wrote about them here. Copyright Clerk wrote about them here. Jordan Rushie wrote about them here. No doubt there will be many more articles, and no doubt there will be much more drama. However, as far as these lawsuits affect his copyright infringement and “hacker” lawsuits (the purpose for which I write this blog), I cannot see them affecting his lawsuits positively, and if anything, this was a misstep for Steele and his affiliates.


UPDATE (3/9/2013): DENIED. Automattic, Inc. letter to Prenda Law Inc. (on behalf of WordPress.com sites) rejects Prenda’s attempts to ascertain the IP addresses of the anti-troll community citing five (5) deficiencies in their subpoena. Other notable reasons for non-compliance with the subpoena include: 1) rights under the First Amendment to anonymous speech; 2) right to privacy; 3) subpoena (“outrageously”) overly broad; 4) subpoena seeks information that is not likely to lead to discoverable information.

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Many things just happened in the Central District of California which no doubt will affect many (if not all of the Ingenuity 13 LLC cases, along with all of the Guava cases, and the AF Holdings LLC) cases. In short, California is no longer a troll-friendly place to sue defendants for copyright infringement.

Looking at Judge Otis Wright’s order yesterday in the Ingenuity 13 LLC v. John Doe (Case No. 2:12-cv-08333) case in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, we learn many new things about “the law of bittorrent use.” I’ll go over these in separate headers.

RULE 1. IN ORDER TO SUE A DEFENDANT FOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT, YOU MUST PROVE THAT THE DEFENDANT DOWNLOADED THE ENTIRE COPYRIGHTED VIDEO.

I’ve always dumbed copyright infringement down into two elements: 1) “Access” to the copyrighted file, and 2) “SUBSTANTIAL SIMILARITY” to the copyrighted work.

Here according to the judge, a plaintiff catching a downloader in the act of downloading a file is no evidence that the file was actually downloaded. According to yesterday’s ruling, even a downloader downloading a viewable portion (e.g., a few second snippet of a copyrighted video) would still NOT be guilty of copyright infringement until the amount of the file downloaded rises to a “substantial similarity” to the original copyrighted work. In traditional copyright law, this means that copyright infringement happens when the downloaded file becomes substantially a “copy” of the entire original work.

Us lawyers have been bouncing around ideas as to what we think a judge might rule constitutes copyright infringement with regard to internet downloading and bittorrent use, and so we have been playing with the possibility that maybe having a viewable portion of the file downloaded might be sufficient, but NO. Sticking to black-and-white copyright law, the “substantial similarity” element applies in copyright law to bittorrent downloads as well (at least now in California federal courts), and according to this ruling, a plaintiff needs to demonstrate that the entire copyrighted video (not a fragment, a snippet, or a snapshot) was downloaded. This would absolve roughly 99% of accused downloaders across the U.S. who started to download a file, decided not to complete the download, and who got sued anyway.

RULE 2. A “SNAPSHOT OBSERVATION” OF AN IP ADDRESS ENGAGED IN DOWNLOADING AT THAT MOMENT IS INSUFFICIENT PROOF OF COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT

Here, all the evidence a copyright troll plaintiff has on a suspected defendant is that at a particular date and time (a “timestamp”), that particular IP address was engaged in the downloading of a particular copyrighted file.

Here, a “snapshot” of an IP address correlated with evidence from the subscriber’s internet service provider (“ISP”) [that it was the subscriber who was leased that IP address during the date and time the alleged activity took place] is insufficient proof that the download actually took place. The defendant could have merely entered the swarm and could be in queue to download his first byte of data. The defendant could be 10% done with the download and could have in his possession an unviewable fragment of the copyrighted video — hardly enough to rise to the level of “SUBSTANTIAL SIMILARITY” that is required in order to find a defendant guilty of copyright infringement. And, yet at the same time, that same snapshot could refer to a defendant having a download which is 99% complete.  A snapshot of an IP address in a bittorrent swarm is simply not conclusive that the downloader infringed the copyright.

The analogy the judge gives is taking a “snapshot” of a child reaching for a candy bar. In order to find someone guilty of copyright infringement, a plaintiff needs to prove that it is “more likely than not” that activity rising to the level of copyright infringement occurred. A snapshot places the defendant at the “scene of the crime.” It does not convict him for the unlawful act itself, and usually this is all the evidence a plaintiff copyright troll compiles when tracking a bittorrent swarm.

RULE 3. BEFORE SUING A DEFENDANT FOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT, YOU MUST DO A “REASONABLE INVESTIGATION” TO DETERMINE THAT IT WAS THE NAMED DEFENDANT WHO DID THE DOWNLOAD, AND NOT SOMEONE ELSE WITH ACCESS TO HIS INTERNET CONNECTION.

We have known for a while that the Prenda Law Inc. model of naming defendants is 1) find out who lives in the household, 2) name the prepubescent male member of the family as the defendant. I am sad to say that the Malibu Media, LLC and the Lipscomb cases appear to be following the same trend with their exculpatory letter “scare” strategy.  I am very happy to see a judge object to this tactic.

I want to point out that EVERY LAWSUIT ACROSS THE U.S. where the copyright troll (plaintiff) has named the ISP subscriber as the defendant with no further investigation suffers from this same flaw. We have been saying for months that being an ISP subscriber (and coincidentally the one implicated as the defendant in these cases) does not mean that you were the one who did the download (nor were you responsible for all activities that took place on your internet connection).

The judge described steps a plaintiff could take to rule out the possibility that it was not someone other than the defendant who did the download. For example, the plaintiff could drive up to the defendant’s house and see if there is wireless access (to eliminate the defense that it was a neighbor); they could track multiple instances of downloading and correlate them with times and dates the defendant was home; etc. etc. etc.

There is so much more on this topic that I could discuss that in my opinion could kill every copyright troll lawsuit out there. In sum, merely citing that an IP address assigned to the alleged infringer was engaged in an unlawful act does not mean that it was the ISP subscriber (the one paying the bills) who was engaged in that unlawful act. Failing to take that extra step of “putting the ISP subscriber at the keyboard at the time of the download” (or offering evidence to prove that it was the ISP subscriber himself who did the download, and not a neighbor or someone else in his household) would be fatal to any lawsuit.

IN SUM, this was a great decision, and I look forward to it being adopted by federal courts across the country. But, before everyone starts calling and assuming that this is “the law,” I want to point out that in 99% of the states across the U.S., what exactly constitutes copyright infringement when it comes to internet downloading via peer-to-peer networks is still largely undefined.

As of yesterday, this order is now considered “the law” or more accurately “case law” which is binding in the California federal courts. However, as to the federal courts of other states, this ruling is merely “persuasive” (which effectively means “suggestive”). A judge of any other state can read this ruling and agree, or disagree. Obviously my hope is that judges in other states will read this opinion and adopt the ruling in their own cases, but it is not “the law” until 1) Congress passes a statute which the Senate ratifies, and the President signs it into law, or 2) judges in each state rule in accordance with this opinion, making this “case law” one state at a time.

For more on this topic, Sophisticated Jane Doe wrote a great write-up on this case in her “Judge Otis Wright is fed up with Brett Gibbs’ and Prenda’s frauds, hints at incarceration” article. Anyone associated with the AF Holdings, LLC cases (or any of the others filed by Prenda Law Inc. [or their new “Anti-Piracy Law Group” entity]) should take notice of this ruling, and should file in their own cases what is known as a “JUDICIAL NOTICE” informing each judge of this order.

Lastly, no doubt Brett Gibbs might be in some serious legal trouble, and he might even face jail time for his actions in these cases for fraud upon the court. But, I hope the court recognizes that Brett Gibbs (as destructive as he has been to thousands of families over the past 2+ years) is merely local counsel to the larger “Prenda Law Inc.” entity who is run by players such as John Steele and his partners in his former Steele|Hansmeier PLLC firm.

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The Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) case in the District of Columbia has been dead for almost a month now, and Prenda Law Inc. (now the “Anti-Piracy Law Group”) is still calling each and every dismissed defendant as if the case were still alive.

In my opinion, these calls to dismissed defendants are indeed very concerning. The threat is that unless a dismissed defendant settled, they will immediately name and serve them in the federal court in their home state.


HOW TO CHECK WHETHER THEIR THREATS HAVE ANY MERIT

I have literally been hearing about these threats from dismissed defendants for weeks, and there is a VERY EASY way to test whether their threats have merit or not — simply check to see whether Hard Drive Productions, Inc. has filed lawsuits naming individuals. The easiest way to do this is to visit http://www.rfcexpress.com, scroll down on the right-hand side, and check only the “copyright” button. Type “Hard Drive Productions” into the “Party Name” field, click submit, and you’ll see the last state and the last date they filed suit against defendants. [As of 6:45pm on 1/16/2013, there have been ABSOLUTELY NO FILINGS by Hard Drive Productions, Inc. since they tried to sue defendants here in the Southern District of Texas using Doug McIntyre as their local counsel — and you know how badly that ended for them.]


SHOULD YOU CALL THEM?

Now this should be common sense, but you NEVER want to be calling the attorney who is threatening to sue you. Especially when you already know that their game is to extort and solicit settlements from those they believe they can scare into settling.


CAN THEY FOLLOW-UP ON THEIR THREAT AND SUE YOU INDIVIDUALLY?

Obviously Prenda Law Inc. (now the “Anti-Piracy Law Group”) has the capacity to name and serve many individuals in many states.  However, they are lawyers just as we are lawyers. And, whatever Prenda Law Inc. does on behalf of a client, somebody needs to pay the bill (especially if there is local counsel involved). If they are suing on behalf of Hard Drive Productions, Inc., then Hard Drive Productions, Inc. needs to pay their bills (or, you do by way of your settlements). Lawsuits are not cheap for a plaintiff, and the up-front cost of filing one ($350 per lawsuit), plus all the time drafting and responding to motions in front of a judge for each case is quite an undertaking.


SHOULD YOU SETTLE?

Thus, if you have no reason to settle, then don’t settle. If you see that they are naming and serving individuals, then contact one of us lawyers. Depending on your circumstances and if I can figure out a way for you to fight your case without settling, that might be the cheaper alternative. Just please don’t try to respond to their calls thinking that you’ll negotiate your way out of this. The only way to get out of this is to back them into a financial corner forcing them to drop your case, defend your case on the merits, or to pay them to make the case go away. I like any option that does not include sending them a check.

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RE: AF Holdings LLC v. Matthew Ciccone (MIED; Case No. 4:12-cv-14442)
Local Counsel:  Jonathan W. Tappan (a.k.a., Anti-Piracy Law Group, a.k.a., Prenda Law Inc.)
Judge: District Judge Gershwin Drain (Magistrate Judge Laurie Michelson) –> case reassigned to Mona K. Majzoub.

Prenda Law Inc. (now formally known as the “Anti-Piracy Law Group”) might be the most prolific copyright troll law firm out there, but they have become quite skilled at hiding their activities, even from the likes of me. In the past few months, I have seen many lawsuits bearing the title, “AF Holdings LLC v. John Doe.” My immediate assumption was that there was just one defendant in each of these cases [about to be named], but no! Just how many John Doe Defendants are in each of these “single John Doe” cases? As of today, the answer is now, “sometimes hundreds of defendants.”

Case in Point: AF Holdings LLC v. Matthew Ciccone (Case No. 4:12-cv-14442) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The title of the accused infringed work is “Sexual Obsession.” For the purposes of this blog entry, I will ignore the fact that this pornography video was copyrighted by Heartbreaker Films and not AF Holdings, and I will also ignore the non-existent [fake] CEO “Alan Cooper,” and copyright assignment issues which have been circulating around the blogs.

At first glance, it looks like yet one more John Doe (Ciccone) defendant was named in one of their many “single Doe” lawsuits. However, buried deep in the lawsuit (in Document 10) is what is known as a “Joint Motion for Expedited Discovery” naming an ADDITIONAL 300 JOHN DOE DEFENDANTS INTO THE LAWSUIT.

Now these 300+ John Doe Defendants are getting subpoenas from their ISPs telling them that unless they file a “motion to quash,” their ISP will be complying with the subpoenas and handing over their information.

On a personal note, I have been dealing with copyright trolls such as the Anti Piracy Law Group for almost two years now. In the olden days, their lawsuits used to look like “AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,040” where it was obvious how many defendants were in each lawsuit.  With this new information, now I need to delve back in to what appeared to be “single John Doe” lawsuits and see whether there is really one defendant or hundreds in each lawsuit.

One point for you, John Steele. I didn’t see this one coming.

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