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, RightsCorp, is 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.