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Posts Tagged ‘First Time Videos’

At what point does an attorney stop being a copyright troll?

Anyone who knows me knows that John Steele [one of the original trolls from 2010] and I are not the closest of friends. In our many conversations, I have told him quite frankly that I considered him an enemy, and I have told him [and the world] what I think about his lawsuits.  We have sparred over the years over the forums, over clients, over settlements, and to date, everyone knows what I think about his copyright trolling efforts — the “grand extortion scheme” him and his local counsel have foisted over countless victims.  Together, Steele’s law firm — whether it is under the name “Steele Law Firm, PLLC,” “Steele Hansmeier, PLLC,” “Prenda Law Inc.,” (or even more recently, “Joseph Perea, P.A.” [although I have no idea if Joseph Perea is acting on his own, or whether this is a “fake” company, and he is still working under Prenda Law Inc.]) — has inflicted painful damage over the retirement accounts and savings accounts of COUNTLESS people (many of whom had NOTHING to do with the downloading or the hacking they were accused of doing).

The big elephant in the room has always been “open wi-fi”. Yet guilty or not, people still pay up, and John Steele profits.

The concerning thing about John Steele is that even he refers to himself as a copyright troll, and he appears to be proud of it.  However, while the classic definition of a “troll” is an enterprising attorney who has taken advantage of the legal system (or a loophole or a weakness in it) for his client’s material benefit, I understand a “copyright troll” term in the bittorrent lawsuit context to more commonly mean “an attorney or a company who sues many internet users for the purpose of extorting multi-thousand dollar settlements from the accused, regardless of whether or not they are guilty, AND who has NO INTENTION OF MOVING FORWARD AGAINST ANY OF THOSE DEFENDANTS IN THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.” In short, a copyright troll is someone who sues a lot of people and demands settlements through robocalls, “scare” letters, and threatening phone calls, but who has NO INTENT to move forward against those individuals should they decide not to settle.

The problem is that I’m not so sure that definition still holds, because John Steele, along with his threateningly growing number of local counsel across the U.S. are naming defendants.

RECAP: Initially, John Steele sued hundreds and thousands of defendants at a time, most of whom did not live in the state in which they were sued. Those were the older cases, most of which have all gone bust because the courts lacked PERSONAL JURISDICTION over the defendants. That was where we saw the “Congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC clients who were SEVERED AND DISMISSED from [whatever] lawsuit” posts in 2010-early 2012. Then Steele smartened up. He (though his local attorneys) started filing SMALLER CASES where in many cases, the defendants lived in the states in which they were sued. Hence JURISDICTION WAS PROPER. However, even there, John Steele was still a copyright troll.

But, eventually people caught on that JOHN STEELE WAS NOT “NAMING” ANYONE AS A DEFENDANT, and no doubt his cases lost any credibility the might have had. Even judges started calling his cases a grand extortion scheme, and even in the news today, SOME JUDGES are shutting down his cases IMMEDIATELY before you — the accused bittorrent user — learned that you are sued. In other words, their initial “MOTION FOR EARLY DISCOVERY” to send subpoenas to the ISPs to learn the identities of the IP addresses / John Doe Defendants are here-and-there beind DENIED. But even here, John Steele is still a copyright troll.

Where John Steele loses the status of “copyright troll” is when he starts going after individual defendants in the courtroom. Once he files a First Time Videos, LLC v. James Swarez (a fictitional name), and James is now dragged into a lawsuit kicking and screaming and is forced to hire an attorney to file an “answer” with the court, and then James needs to give up his computer to some sleazy digital forensics experts hired by the attorneys (or he can hire his own), and he has to actually fight a real copyright case on the merits of whether or not he actually downloaded the copyrighted works he was accused of downloading in the lawsuit, well, at this point, John Steele is no longer a copyright troll, but rather, John Steele becomes merely a predatory attorney who is suing someone on behalf of his client for the violation of his client’s “copyright rights.”

Now the shift that is important to note is that in the olden days, John Steele did not name anybody. He never did, and for a while, many thought he never would (except perhaps one here or there just to prove to the courts or the world that he could and would name defendants).

However, the new strategy is that he *is* naming defendants. In fact, below is a list of defendants (for their own privacy [so that their names do not show up on search engines following this post — because PACER court documents often don’t get indexed on the search engines, but my posts do], I have edited out their last names, except for a few notorious cases) who have been named in their lawsuits (and this list is a crude list, some of which are state cases, and I even know of a few cases which are not on here):

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN ALABAMA
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Dewey W., 05-CV-2012-900893 (Dewey W.)

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN ARIZONA
First Time Videos, LLC v. Gary P., 2:12-cv-01488-ROS (Gary P.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Adam S., CV2012-053194 (Adam S.)

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN CALIFORNIA
AF Holdings LLC v. John Doe, 2:11-cv-03076-LKK-KJN (Francisco R.)
AF Holdings LLC v. John Doe, 3:11-cv-05633-JSC (Vu C.)
AF Holdings, LLC v. John Doe, 3:12-cv-02049-EDL (Josh H.)
AF Holdings, LLC v. John Doe, 5:12-cv-02048-HRL (John B.)
Boy Racer Inc. v. John Doe, 4:11-cv-06634-DMR (Daniel C.)
Boy Racer, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-01935-LJO-SKO (Anthony N.)
Boy Racer, Inc. v. John Doe, 3:11-cv-05628-JCS (Samuel T.)
Boy Racer, Inc. v. Philip W., 2:11-cv-03072-MCE-KJN (Philip W.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 2:11-cv-03074-KJM-CKD (Jeff G.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 2:11-cv-03075-JAM-JFM (Kenneth S.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 3:11-cv-05634-JCS (Seth Abrahams)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 4:11-cv-03826-DMR (Soukha P.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 4:11-cv-05630-YGR (Liuxia Wong)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 5:11-cv-05631-PSG (Isaac K.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Reza S., 37-2012-00100384-CU-BC-CTL (Reza S.)
Millennium TGA, Inc. v. John Doe, 2:11-cv-03080-MCE-KJN (Joe V.)
Millennium TGA, Inc. v. John Doe, 3:12-cv-00792-MMA (Tyree P.)
Pink Lotus Entertainment, LLC v. John Doe and Steve P., 2:11-cv-03073-WBS-KJN (Steve P.)
Pink Lotus Entertainment, LLC v. John Doe, 2:11-cv-03077-JAM-KJN (Jason A.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Myron H., 12-CV-0952 (Myron H.)

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN ILLINOIS
First Time Videos LLC v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08334 (Arthur S.)
First Time Videos LLC v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08335 (Arthur H.)
First Time Videos LLC v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08336 (Christopher P.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08333 (Jason S.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08337 (Jamie P.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08339 (Gerald G.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08340 (Edward N.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08341 (Erik S.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08342 (Stilan P.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08343 (Hyung K.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:12-cv-01053-MMM-JAG (Matt R.)
Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 1:12-cv-01104 (Robert R.)
Pink Lotus Entertainment, LLC v. John Doe, 1:11-cv-08338 (Klint C.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Lucas S.,2012L000927 (Lucas S.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Michael A., 2012L000530 (Michael A.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Ronald T., 2012L000531 (Ronald T.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Tom B., 2012L95 (Tom B.)

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN NEVADA
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Adam G., CI12-2625 (Adam G.)

DEFENDANTS NAMED IN TEXAS
First Time Videos, LLC & AF Holdings, LLC v. John Doe, 4:12-cv-00535 (Tingwei & Chinatsu L.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Austin C., C-133,846 (Austin C.)
Pacific Century International, LTD v. John Doe, 4:12-cv-00536 (Stephen C.)
Lightspeed Media Corporation v. W.T., Inc., CV2012-053230(W.T., Inc.)

In sum, as you can see, John Steele (through Prenda Law Inc. and his local counsel) are naming defendants, and one-by-one, they are hiring new counsel in a number of states to file against individuals. Now does this mean that John Steele is no longer a copyright troll? Maybe, maybe not. The point is that he is taking the “next step,” and he is forcing more and more individuals into litigation.  This is a concerning trend.

MY OPINION: Will he come after you? Quite frankly, with the tens of thousands of individuals he has sued, this small list is only a sliver of the huge pool of defendants who have been sued (NOT “NAMED”), who have been dismissed, and who are somewhere in between. The point though, is that while once upon a time John Steele did not name defendants, now he does.

On a personal note, I am saddened by writing this post, and as much as I always love to write the “we won!” articles (and THERE ARE SO MANY OF THOSE OUT THERE that don’t make it onto this blog), a defendant that calls my office needs to understand that there IS a risk that they might be named as a defendant at some point in the future. As we have said before, it is important that both current defendants AND DISMISSED DEFENDANTS should keep an eye out for Prenda Law Inc. filings in their state. The way they can do this is by going to the http://www.rfcexpress.com website, and watching what is going on in their state. Until a Prenda Law Inc. client (e.g., Hard Drive Productions, AF Holdings, First Time Videos, LLC) files against a John Doe or against a named defendant in a particular state, it is safe to assume they are not yet there and quite frankly, in my opinion, the risk of getting “named” is quite low. But then again, you need to be vigilant even after a dismissal, and for this reason, I have written this blog post.  This simply was not the case just a few months ago.

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The bittorrent cases are speeding up, both in number of cases filed, and in the issues relating to the cases. Judges are smartening up to what is going on, and I am seeing the smaller “Does 1-23” cases ripped to shreds in the courts. But, because they are so small, the activities in each case are falling below the radar.

These smaller cases are now filed in the multiple courts across the country — the correct courts — with the John Doe Defendants often living in the states in which they are sued. Thus, there are no more motion to quash issues, and there are no more “wrong jurisdiction” arguments.

However, while NEARLY ALL the smaller lawsuits still have “improper joinder” issues (meaning, suing Does together in the same lawsuit who did not participate in the same swarm; thus, they did not take part in the same transaction at the same time), THE CASES ARE SIMPLY NOT GOING TO TRIAL and thus defendants are not getting the chance to contest improper joinder.

The problem with these smaller cases is that 1) the settlement amounts are elevated, and 2) the risk of being named as a defendant goes through the roof because all that is required to name defendants in these smaller cases is that the plaintiff merely needs to amend the complaint against a particular Doe (thus the case will change from Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-30 to Patrick Collins v. “Elliot Hendel” and Does 1-29 [this name is merely fictitious]), and then someone comes knocking at Elliot’s home and serves him a copy of the complaint. At that point if he has not already done so [and he should have hired an attorney immediately upon having notice from his ISP that he was one of the Does in this case], he has to hire an attorney to respond within 20 days with his answer and his counterclaims, or he will default (which means the court can enter a default judgment against him for the full $150,000).

However, the BIG SECRET is that for the most part, these defendants do NOT get named as defendants, and they remain anonymous as far as what is visible from the court’s eyes. Instead, the plaintiff attorneys scare the b’jeebies out of them and cause them in some cases to sign [in many cases] an “I’m guilty, I’m sorry, I’ll never do it again” settlement agreement. The end result is that they end up paying significantly more than they would have if they merely called an attorney and had that attorney negotiate on their behalf. To make matters worse, defendants do not realize that there are really three-tiers of settlement prices (not two) — 1) the plaintiff attorney’s asking price (the “pay us $X by this date or else we’ll name you as a defendant in this case” amount), 2) defendant-negotiated price, and 3) attorney-negotiated price.

When the defendant tries to negotiate his settlement on his own, the likelihood is that he will probably say something incriminating about his case. (For example, not knowing the case law, he may say, “it wasn’t me; it was probably my son — he uses the internet all the time; I keep telling him not to watch that porn,” or “I let my neighbor / son / guest / roommate use my internet,” or “I didn’t realize it was illegal to download — I thought it was only illegal to upload!” etc.) The result is that the plaintiff says, “thank you for telling me you are guilty; the offer is now off the table and I will see you in court <click>,” only to call back shortly afterwards and, in the graces of his heart, he will offer a new settlement amount which is nearly double the asking price of the original settlement amount.

It is not only important to have an attorney negotiate your settlement amount 1) because he can, and 2) he won’t incriminate you while you would likely incriminate yourself, but also, the attorney knows the case law [which is not so obvious], and he knows what to put into a settlement agreement so that the settling defendant does not later get sued for the same claim, attorney fees, etc. It kills me to see so many people turn around and try to settle on their own without reading what they are agreeing to. What burns me more is when attorneys don’t read the contracts they have their clients agree to.

…In short, the plaintiff attorney mops up the floor with the defendants, and many of the defendants (if not most of them) turn over and lay dead while they capitulate and settle their cases. Had they lawyered-up, they would have known how to protect themselves. Better yet, their lawyer would have stepped in their shoes and the plaintiff attorneys would not have even been allowed to contact the defendants in the first place. No letters, no scare tactics; no threats.

Everything being said, one thing that most don’t even bother to find out is who exactly their plaintiff attorneys are. In more cases than not, the plaintiff attorney is merely a guy in a room with a laptop and a phone. Sometimes there is a second lawyer guy in the room making phone calls scaring the defendants into settling — a two-man show. …Do you really think this one or two-man show actually has the ability to sue more than just a few defendants, and if you defendants lawyered-up, do you think the plaintiff attorneys would have the time to name each and every one of you? AND if they named each and every one of you (which is literally impossible because to serve each one of you with service of process would be nearly impossible to track and there are bound to be significant errors), do you think they would have time to respond to each and every one our discovery requests?

As your attorney, when I defend you, I have a duty to properly protect your interests. That means that us attorneys must establish evidence that calls into question their so-called experts’ methods in collecting IP addresses (see here for just a taste). We need to call into question their methods of suing multiple Does in one lawsuit. We need to fight them procedurally with motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgement, and in some cases, motions for sanctions.

Do you think that the one-man show attorney and their underlying plaintiff (too often, the porn production company) can handle the hours of deposition time that EACH OF YOU DEFENDANT would be entitled to? What about their so-called experts? Do you think they have the time to answer all our in-person depositions for each defendant? What about our interrogatories? What about our other discovery motions? Do you really think the one-man show — the attorney guy in the room with a laptop — has the time to spend going after each one of you when he can instead go after the unrepresented defendants who roll over and settle their cases?

To make these cases merely insulting, these plaintiff attorneys have been hiring no-name local-counsel attorneys to file their cases on their behalf (no disrespect to any of them; I understand they are doing it solely so that they can make a commission off of those who settle). As far as I understand, the local counsel often know absolutely NOTHING about these cases, but they talk a big game and then sheepishly refer you to someone else — an “in-house” negotiator, or the attorney behind the curtain — so that they can “close” the deal for them and scare you into settling. If you actually had us attorneys defend your cases rather than merely have us settle them, do you really think the BIG-8 ATTORNEYS (listed below) would have the time and the patience to babysit these local counsel when they ask for assistance after we file our own motions for discovery?

Thus, a client in these smaller Does 1-20 (or 1-50, or 1-80) cases does not need to settle, especially if they do not live in the jurisdiction in which they are sued. This is true regardless of whether the plaintiff attorney is Dunlap Grubb & Weaver (Nicholas Kurtz or Ellis Bennett), Steele Hansmeier (John Steele or Mark Lutz), Gill Sperlein, Ira Siegel, Keith Lipscomb, or even Marc Randazza.

We do know how to defend these smaller cases.

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