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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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I wanted to bring your attention to a new “copyright troll” in the backyard of Steele Hansmeier, PLLC (now Prenda Law Inc.). The copyright troll is “R&D Film 1, LLC” and their plaintiff attorney is Michael Heirl and Todd Parkhurst of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd. Their website is http://www.hsplegal.com, and surprise, surprise — they are out of Chicago, Illinois.

It appears as if they are suing over the movie title “The Divide,” directed by Xavier Gens, which was seeded over the bittorrent network as “The Divide 2011 LIMITED 720p BRip XVID AC3 BHRG” on USAbit.com [and is coincidentally still being seeded now as we speak here, so apparently neither Michael Heirl nor Todd Parkhurst have issued a DMCA takedown letters to the bittorrent websites.] The download appears to be a rip of a Blu-Ray, the size of the file is 3.8 GB, and it appears to have been downloaded 2162 times so far (so expect to have 2,000+ defendants soon for this file alone).

On another complaint, I see the torrent file is “The Divide 2011 720p BRRip x264 -MgB,” and I could only guess that in their other lawsuits, they are suing for all the other bittorrent filenames downloaded.

It appears that plaintiff attorney Michael Heirl has targeted the following ISPs: Comcast Cable, Frontier Communications, Mediacom Communications Corp., RCN Corp., SBC Internet Services, Norlight Telecommunications, Wireless Data Service Provider Corporation, and WideOpenWest. Plus, it appears as if they have not only focused on those defendants in Illinois, but they have narrowed the IP addresses down to which town allegedly housed this accused IP address.  Thus, forget about motions to quash based on a lack of personal jurisdiction — they’ve nailed it.

So far, I only see 364 John Doe Defendants implicated in these lawsuits, but with 2,000+ downloads (and counting) for one file on one bittorrent website, they could easily amend their complaints to add thousands of new defendants as Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC and other plaintiff attorneys have habitually done in the past. Here are the lawsuit titles to date:

CASES FILED BY TODD S. PARKHURST & MICHAEL A. HIERL OF HUGHES SOCOL PIERS RESNICK & DYM LTD. IN THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS:
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-52 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05810)
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-20 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05817)
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-57 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05821)
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-62 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05822)
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-36 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05823)
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-88 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05825)
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-29 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05827)
R&D Film 1, LLC v. Does 1-20 (Case No. 1:12-cv-05828)

Now I have started a discussion page on the R&D FILM 1, LLC lawsuits here, and as I learn more, I will obviously post about it.

On a personal level, it is always an interesting experience defending defendants who are accused of downloading actual motion pictures (“movies”), because the attorneys for these cases are usually more self-assured than those from the porn industry. Obviously the difference between a porn copyright troll and a motion picture copyright troll is that the porn troll is usually suing because they want to 1) stop the piracy of their film and 2) it is a better business model (frowned upon by the porn industry or not) to get thousands of dollars from one internet user rather than to get hundreds of members to sign up for monthly or annual memberships at their sites.

However, with “movie” copyright trolls, they often appear to be self-righeous and have no compunctions throwing threats around because nothing of theirs stinks except for the way they have chosen to make money for their production company client (which they often share a piece of, so there are ethical implications as well [e.g., having a “stake” in the outcome of the litigation]). Looking at these attorneys, they look like older gentlemen who might not be aware of the poo they just stepped in by copying the methods of the copyright trolls.  I even wonder whether they are aware of the now hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed in the courts, and specifically the many adverse rulings in the Northern District of Illinois where any copyright troll should be thinking twice before filing there.  In short, what will be interesting is to see whether these copyright trolls are interested in stopping the piracy of their films, or whether they want to punish those who have not purchased a ticket at the box office.

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