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houstonlawy3r:

Sometimes there are no words other than silence to best express the thoughts I have about Judge Wright’s order essentially referring John Steele and the Prenda Law Inc. gang to the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Division (CID) for all the settlements on which no taxes were paid. There is one police agency that a criminal organization does not want to be contacted by, and that is the CID.

The $81K in sanctions essentially funds the lead attorneys who spent time on this case. And, the referral to the bar associations means that the principals at Prenda Law Inc. may no longer have their law licenses shortly.

In sum, there is not much for me to comment here, except to be silent, because the judge’s order itself says all it needs to. Copyright trolling may seem profitable for the attorneys filing the lawsuits, but no money can compensate for the loss of freedom that one experiences when what was once a multi-million dollar law practice lands the principles in prison for tax evasion. This should be a lesson to all other copyright trolls out there. Judge yourselves accordingly.

Originally posted on Fight Copyright Trolls:

We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Congratulations to everyone involved, especially Morgan and Nick.

Media coverage

View original 382 more words

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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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Don’t get excited.  Prenda Law Inc. appears to be dead… just like Steele|Hansmeier, PLLC was dead last year (November 18th, 2011), and just like Steele Law Firm, PLLC was dead the year before…  Their new name will be called the Anti-Piracy Law Group.”

I would joke around and say that these guys don’t want to file their tax returns so every year they shut down their entity and open up a new one.  Joking aside, it is my opinion that the reason they keep changing their name is to evade the courts’ recognition of their copyright trolling business strategy because the tough lesson they have learned is that their firm’s bad name follows their lawsuits.

If you receive a notice from your internet service provider (ISP) containing a subpoena for copyright infringement, or if you receive a “scare” letter directly from the Anti-Piracy Law Group or one of their local counsel, do not be scared.  It is still the same John Steele / Paul Duffy Illinois racket foisting the same copyright trolling scam on us taxpayers.  As Sophisticated Jane Doe put it in her article, this is merely an example of a snake changing its skin… yet again.

While John Steele’s “WeFightPiracy.com” website is still up, their “Prenda Law Inc.” entity according to the Illinois Secretary of State’s page is “NOT IN GOOD STANDING.”  I too don’t think this will change.  To get a glance at their new website which is looking for a home (note, “www.antipiracylawgroup.com” has already been registered by someone else), you can visit what the new site will likely look like at http://wefightpiracy.org.previewdns.com/about-us/.

There is really not much else to say, except that I hear people are getting “scare” letters in the mail with the “Anti-Piracy Law Group” name on the letterhead.  If you are one of these recipients, just know that the game has not changed.  Everything is EXACTLY the same as it was when it was Prenda Law Inc., just as it was when it was Steele Hansmeier, PLLC, just as it was when it was Steele Law Firm, PLLC.  No changes.  No criminal charges.  No disbarments… yet.

ON A PERSONAL NOTE:  Their new “Anti-Piracy Law Group” name is quite official sounding.  I wonder if next year they’ll have the gall to call themselves the U.S. Copyright Group (oh yeah, that’s been done already by other copyright trolls), because choosing scary-sounding names and changing them as soon as the courts catch on to their scam seems to be their modus operandi these days.

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I sometimes feel like a duck in a pond — everything seems calm on the surface, but under the water, I am directing local counsel with a fury. No doubt copyright trolls operate the same way (John Steele did it, and quite frankly, this is the only way a multi-jurisdictional law practice can properly operate).

The problem happens, however, when one of your local counsel drowns. What do you do — do you let them take the fall? Or do you do whatever it takes to support them even when your cherished law firm name is not on their court filings?

I am sad to share that my nemesis of sorts, Doug McIntyre, has drowned, and his copyright troll employer appears to have let him take the fall.

Doug McIntyre was the name that appeared on a number of Prenda Law Inc.’s cases — names such as Millennium TGA, Inc., Bubble Gum Productions, LLC, Pacific Century Int’l, Ltd., and Sunlust Pictures, LLC (to name a few). What I thought was commendable was that for reasons we cannot discuss (think, “There is no honor among thieves. Copyright troll thieves”), Doug went ahead and started taking on his own clients — West Coast Productions, Inc., Combat Zone Corp. — and started to mold himself into a copyright troll rather than local counsel for someone else. I actually thought it was commendable that he was going off on his own and was standing on his own two feet rather than being a patsy for some other troll.

But then the KHOU Channel 11 News did a story on Doug McIntyre (as documented by DieTrollDie here), and reporter Scott Noll pinned Doug McIntyre as the mastermind copyright troll for First Time Videos, LLC and many of Prenda Law Inc.’s clients. Prenda Law Inc. said NOTHING and let him take the fall.

On a personal note, even though Doug and I are enemies on paper, I couldn’t help but to feel bad for him because he was merely local counsel filing motions for his employer, John Steele, the master copyright troll himself. And yet, Doug’s reputation here in Houston is tarnished as being the fall guy for someone else. As Captain Duck, I want to reiterate here that I would not let any of my local counsel in any state take the fall, and that all blame would always rest with my firm, the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC.

That being said, I’m sorry to say that as of yesterday, it appears to me as if Doug McIntyre has withdrawn as counsel from all of Prenda Law Inc.’s cases, and like other copyright trolls (e.g., Kevin Harrison), he appears to have left the game.

MCINTYRE’S TEXAS SOUTHERN DISTRICT CASES:
Bubble Gum Productions, LLC v. Does 1 – 60 (TXSD; 4:12-cv-00262) — WITHDRAWN
Millennium TGA, Inc. v. Doe (TXSD; 4:11-cv-04501) — WITHDRAWN
Pacific Century International Ltd. v. Does 1-20 (TXSD; 4:12-cv-00698) — WITHDRAWN

As Doug’s replacement, Prenda hired a new “Doug,” Doug Clemons, who has “significant Federal Court experience which he gained from flood insurance litigation.” Aside from the joke that he has relevant litigation in torrent litigation (my apologies for the dry humor), this new “Doug” has ZERO experience in copyright law. While I would ordinarily say “this will be fun” (as I do anytime I see a new copyright troll), quite frankly, even with this new patsy at the helm, I’m still fighting John Steele in these cases because in my humble opinion, Steele is the one filing the motions in the cases anyway. Thus, I expect to see more of the same.

In sum, welcome Doug Clemons, Prenda Law Inc.’s new patsy here in the Southern District of Texas (and let’s hope you have the originality to fight your own cases), and my condolences to Doug McIntyre, the local counsel who took the fall for Prenda Law Inc. I obviously say all of this with a bit of reservation, because you shouldn’t have taken the copyright troll cases in the first place, as Doug Clemons and his Manfred Sternberg & Associates, PC law firm are about to learn the hard way.

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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 Sekora, CV2012-053194 (Adam Sekora)

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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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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