Posts Tagged ‘severed and dismissed’

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):

Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Dewey W., 05-CV-2012-900893 (Dewey W.)

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

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.)

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.)

Lightspeed Media Corporation v. Adam G., CI12-2625 (Adam G.)

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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There is an interesting case coming out of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California — the court where most of John Steele’s newer and smaller Does 1-40 cases are showing up. In severing and dismissing all defendants (except Doe #1) in the Pacific Century International Ltd., v. Does 1-101 (4:11-cv-02533-DMR) case, Judge Donna Ryu held that it is improper to sue bittorrent users from different swarms in the same copyright infringement lawsuit, even if they all downloaded the same copyrighted work (e.g., the same movie).

In her decision, Judge Ryu made the distinction that each swarm has bittorrent users downloading a particular .torrent file, but the files themselves might not be similar enough for the plaintiff to join together all of the John Doe Defendants from the various swarms into one lawsuit claiming that all the John Doe Defendants downloaded “the same copyrighted work”.

For example, in one swarm, bittorrent users might download a low quality version of a pirated movie (e.g., perhaps from a “CAM” — an individual who takes a camrecorder into a theater and video tapes the film). Similarly, the bittorrent users of another swarm might be downloading a higher quality version of that same pirated movie, (e.g., a leaked high DVD quality version of a movie shared with movie screeners).

While each of these users who download copies of the copyrighted work — whether low quality or high quality — would likely be found guilty of copyright infringement [should any of the plaintiff attorneys decide to take these cases to trial rather sending out “scare” letters, making threatening phone calls, and in some cases naming defendants for the sole purpose of eliciting settlements], Judge Ryu ruled that it is improper to join the first swarm of bittorrent users (e.g., the low quality film downloaders) with the second swarm of bittorrent users (e.g., those downloading the leaked DVD version of that same work) BECAUSE the first swarm of downloaders WOULD NEVER INTERACT with the second swarm of downloaders. Thus, plaintiffs who join the John Doe Defendants of multiple swarms into one lawsuit claiming that each defendant necessarily participated in the SAME TRANSACTION OR OCCURRENCE is a faulty argument. Swarm #1 will never take part in the same transaction or occurrence as Swarm #2, and thus the judge ruled that it is improper to join defendants of the two swarms into one lawsuit.

This ruling flies in the face of almost every plaintiff attorney’s claim that each John Doe Defendant is properly joined with all the other defendants in that same lawsuit. Moving forward, should judges in other cases and in other jurisdictions adopt this judge’s opinion, following this opinion, the rule would be “ALL LAWSUITS THAT SUE DEFENDANTS OF DIFFERENT BITTORRENT SWARMS IN THE SAME LAWSUIT SHOULD BE SEVERED AND DISMISSED.”

How does this change the playing field? As we already know, John Steele, Ira Siegel, and the other plaintiff attorneys have already started suing smaller numbers of John Doe Defendants. Seeing a “Plaintiff v. Does 1-40” or “Plaintiff v. Does 1-60” (or even smaller) has become commonplace in bittorrent lawsuits. However, these smaller lawsuits have been made smaller in order to 1) fix the inherent issues of jurisdiction (e.g., suing defendants in the wrong court), and 2) to keep the case under the radar of the judges (after all, a lawsuit suing fifty defendants (Does 1-50) will incur far less attention than a lawsuit suing five thousand defendants (Does 1-5,000). Thus, in the new trend of these lawsuits, California defendants are now being sued in the California courts, Illinois defendants are being sued in the Illinois courts, and so on. Until the plaintiff attorneys begin suing defendants swarm-by-swarm (where a swarm is merely a snapshot of users uploading and downloading at a particular time), these smaller lawsuits also suffer the inherent flaw of “improper joinder,” and thus in time, they too will be severed and dismissed.

As a disclaimer, obviously this case is still alive as to John Doe #1 who remains a defendant in the case. In addition, there have been additional filings where the plaintiff attorney appears to be trying to convince the judge to change her mind on this matter.

I have attached a copy of the order below for your viewing and reading pleasure.

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