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Posts Tagged ‘Prenda Law Inc.’

Congratulation to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants who will soon be dismissed from the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,058 (Case No. 1:12-cv-00048) case filed TWO YEARS AGO in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Seeing that the appellate (circuit) court came out with a ruling this afternoon, I read the circuit court’s ruling with fervor thinking that I was about to write an article entitled “the jig is up, no more copyright trolling lawsuits.” Well, I am underwhelmed.

If you remember the Judge Beryl Howell CREATES A SPLIT in the DC Court article I wrote back in August, 2012, at the time, thousands of “John Doe” Defendants from across the U.S. were being sued in the US District Court in DC, and Judge Beryl Howell was in favor of allowing the mass bittorrent lawsuits to continue in DC, even though other district court judges [not former copyright lobbyists for the Recording Industry Association of America] (notably, Judge Wilkins, now a United States Circuit Judge) wrote opinions questioning the validity of mass bittorrent lawsuits. As a result of this, now almost two year later, we have a circuit court ruling resolving the question of whether “personal jurisdiction” and/or “joinder” are relevant questions for a court to investigate before it signs an order invoking the “machinery of the courts” to force a non-party ISP to comply with a subpoena [asking for them to turn over the private contact information of each subscriber implicated as a “John Doe”].

Judge David Tatel [writing for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit] wrote a few pointers that we already knew, and in my opinion, the circuit court’s ruling is two years, too late. The ruling is essentially that a court may justifiably force a plaintiff “copyright troll” to establish that it has PERSONAL JURISDICTION over the John Doe Defendants who are implicated in the lawsuit BEFORE it allows that copyright troll to obtain [through discovery] the list of names and addresses belonging to the internet subscribers. His opinion, however, resolves ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the hundreds of smaller John Doe (e.g., v. Does 1-20) lawsuits filling the courts’ dockets across the U.S., where the “copyright troll” plaintiffs have figured out that “you sue a defendant where a defendant lives.”

Next point. When requesting the subscribers’ contact information from an ISP, the plaintiffs purpose must be to gather this information for use in THIS LAWSUIT, and not for other proceedings or other lawsuits. Good luck enforcing this one. I have no doubt that we will still see defendants dismissed from one “v. Does 1-20” lawsuit, only to be named and served in his own “v. John Doe” lawsuit. This happens every day. Also, good luck stopping a copyright troll from calling up dismissed defendants and saying, “unless you settle with us, we will name and serve you in your own lawsuit.”

Then after glossing over the “you must sue a defendant in the state in which he lives” rule, thirteen pages later, Judge Tatel discusses joinder (who can be sued together as co-defendants in a lawsuit).

I thought the joinder discussion would be juicy, but it was vague and vanilla, and it lacked explanation. The ruling was essentially that “you can only sue John Doe Defendants together in one lawsuit as long as they were part of the same bittorrent swarm.” This precludes plaintiffs who often sue defendants who did the same “crime” of downloading copyrighted films using bittorrent, but they did so days or weeks apart. In mentioning what is considered the “same bittorrent swarm,” the judge mentioned ABSOLUTELY NOTHING as to what the scope of a bittorrent swarm is, and how long one lasts — whether a swarm continues for minutes, days, or weeks at a time — and who is properly connected in a bittorrent swarm to be sued together in a lawsuit.

All I pulled from his discussion is that “if Tom and Dick were downloading at the same time, they can be sued together in a lawsuit; joinder here would be proper.” However, if Tom finished downloading and logged off five minutes before Dick logged on, would this be considered the “same transaction or occurrence” to allow the two of them to be sued together? What happens if Tom finishes downloading and logs off, and by the time Dick logged on to the bittorrent swarm, everyone who was part of that swarm [e.g., all 10 or 20 people] also logged off and new people logged on. If Dick is downloading from a completely different group of downloaders than the group who was online when Tom was downloading, but they downloaded five minutes apart, is this the same bittorrent swarm or a different bittorrent swarm? The judge provided ABSOLUTELY NO ANSWER as to the scope of a bittorrent swarm, so we are still left with uncertainty.

…So you see why I am underwhelmed. The ruling was essentially, “personal jurisdiction, bla bla blah, joinder, blah blah blah.” I learned nothing new from this, and yet the media is jumping all over this as if it is some kind of jewel. NOTHING NEW HAPPENED HERE.

Putting all of this in perspective, if you think about only the issue that Judge Beryl Howell wanted the appellate court to answer, “whether personal jurisdiction and joinder are relevant in a discovery request to obtain information about not-yet-named ‘John Doe’ defendants who are identified merely by their accused IP addresses,” Judge Tatel did exactly what he needed to. He correctly answered, “yes, personal jurisdiction and joinder are relevant when the plaintiff attorneys ‘attempts to use the machinery of the courts to force a party to comply with its discovery demands.'”

Thus, when a copyright troll files a lawsuit against unnamed John Doe defendants, and they seek discovery to force an ISP to comply with a discovery request (e.g., a subpoena forcing them to hand over the contact information of the accused subscriber affiliated with that accused IP Address), issues such as personal jurisdiction and joinder ARE ripe for inquiry before the court grants the copyright troll permission to subpoena the ISP, forcing them to hand over the contact information of the accused “John Doe” defendants.

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As we near the end of 2013, I expect to see “2013 Year in Review” articles. I decline to write my own here, but it has been a very busy, work-intensive year. I would compare it to using nothing but strength and muscle to push metal against a spinning wheel with the result of seeing sparks flying.

Prenda is dead. Or, is it. Lawyers spent most of the year enjoying the exposure of Prenda Law, Inc.’s failings (or more accurately, “fallings”) where their scams and schemes became unraveled over and over again for all to see. Judges called them on their bluff, brought the principals into court, and ordered them to pay large sums of money. Yet, what was actually paid (and what will actually be paid) is still hidden from our eyes. My guess is that they’ll pay something, but compared to the millions they raked in since 2010, it will only be a tiny fraction of their windfall profits.

It is my opinion that what undid them was greed. Had they continued to sue defendants en masse, and had they continued to “name and serve” defendants and move forward with the lawsuits in good faith (if there ever was good faith), they may still be in business. Thankfully, where there is “rolling in dough,” there is also born greed and corruption. AF Holdings was born, the “Alan Cooper” alter-ego was invented, papers were forged, settlement money was sent offshore to various entities, honeypots were discovered (where it was discovered that Prenda Law Inc. was seeding the pornography they later sued on), and so-called paralegals became the named “owners” of the entities who were suing to enforce their copyrights. If all this (and getting caught) was not enough, they threw their own local counsel attorneys “under the bus,” they sued the internet and bloggers for defamation, and they started a war with the internet service providers (ISPs) and Cable Companies, a fight they could not have won. Why they went after the ISPs, nobody will know, but in my opinion, this was their mistake.

But this article is not only about Prenda, or the Steele|Hansmeier gang, or the Mark Lutz characters of the world (or their many life-altering experiences over the year), but it is also about what has been happening outside the federal courts (“out-of-court”).

A year ago, I wrote a few articles about Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK), a brainchild of Ira Siegel. After his experiences in the Northern District of California, followed by the experiences of his local counsel Mike Meier, Marvin Cable, and for a time, Terik Hashmi, their cases went silent in the federal courts. No new cases were filed, and for a time, all we saw were dismissals of our law firm’s clients.  Then, tens of thousands of so-called “DMCA Letters” began pouring out from various ISPs directing accused internet users to their copyrightsettlements.com website (no link, this is on purpose) to entangle themselves in their settlement system.

There was a moment where I thought the “Six Strikes System” would kill CEG-TEK’s business model because the ISPs would no longer forward their “pay us now or else we will sue you” scare letters, and by depriving the copyright enforcement companies of their ability to contact accused internet downloaders in their homes and out-of-court (without the supervision of a federal judge), this would cause CEG-TEK and their ilk to go out of business, but this was a disappointment.

The “Six Strikes System” ended up being a dud. It only applied to a few of the “elite” ISPs, and those ISPs used the Six Strikes System to demand large sums of money from the copyright owners and sent the notices to their subscribers anyway, but only a truncated version of CEG-TEK’S “scare” letter. Comcast, case in point. I watched as a fight broke out between Comcast and CEG-TEK, where Comcast only forwarded a snippet of CEG-TEK’s letter, but still directed users to their CopyrightSettlements.com website so that the settlements can continue. Then in other letters, they botched the CEG-TEK settlement link alltogether, and then, did not include the link [in their letters] at all. (And, just for “me too” news as of today, “Johnny-come-late” to the game, RightsCorpis reported by Torrentfreak to have experienced the same thing).

In sum, the Six Strikes System did not kill CEG-TEK as I thought it would, nor did it hurt the “copyright trolls” or stop them from filing lawsuits. CEG-TEK merely found other ISPs and universities to cooperate with them by forwarding their settlement demand letters to the ISP’s subscribers, and CEG-TEK’s collection attempts have continued unhindered.

Lastly, there has been little slowdown to the copyright infringement lawsuits. As I predicted a few years back (link), the lawsuits merely got smaller and more focused (link). The days of suing 5000 “John Doe” defendants bunched together in one federal lawsuit are over. Similarly, the smaller lawsuits having just a handful of defendants [where the lawsuits are filed in the states in which the defendants live] are also over. Now, the lawsuits are so small and focused that it is common to have only one defendant in a lawsuit, and this has made it impossible for our firm to watch, read, and report on every case that is filed in every jurisdiction.  Then again, it has made it more expensive for the copyright trolls, and (ugh) more scary for the carefully targeted defendant.

In sum, it has been a year of grinding and a year of watching the effects of previous years of work change, alter, and shape the bittorrent lawsuits to the form in which they are today. Congress and lawmakers have been useless in making this copyright trolling phenomenon disappear, as have been the attorney generals and the various state bar ethics boards, who [with some very notable exceptions] have been sitting on their hands. I do not think the copyright troll problem has been solved in any way. Rather, the plaintiff attorneys have gotten smarter, smaller, and more focused.  As a result, they have flown below the radar of those who have the power to stop them. And, while the lawsuits continue, former copyright troll attorneys (Ira Siegel / CEG-TEK) have continued their efforts, just outside of the court’s ability to monitor, sanction, and control their out-of-court settlement activities. And, I need not say this, but many new copyright trolls have popped up based on the lack of legal supervision, and I am concerned to say that I do not see this going away any time soon.

John Steele and his Prenda Law Inc. gang are down. CEG-TEK is thriving. Old copyright trolls such as Lipscomb & Eisenberg, along with their many local counsel across the US [and their lawsuits] are thriving. Other no-name “baby” copyright trolls are growing up and have learned to navigate the broken federal court system. And most important of all, more and more people are getting entangled into their legal spiderweb of extortion, settlement demands, and lawsuits, both in and out of court. This is grim, I know.

But there are still voices out there — SJD’s Fight Copyright Trolls website, DieTrollDie‘s website, along with organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) who, [while they have been rightly so enveloped with dealing with privacy issues, government corruption, secret FISA courts, and fighting NSA police-state-like snooping techniques] are still very helpful in the copyright troll lawsuits with their countless efforts to make the problem go away once and for all.

So please allow me to be the first to wish everyone Happy Holidays, a safe winter, and a Happy New Year.

Warm regards,
Rob Cashman

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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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