is a term used (by opponents of the practice) to describe copyright holders filing subpoenas to residential ISPs for the identities matched to IP addresses linked to content piracy. In this case, the piracy is often via BitTorrent networks, where peers can see each other's public IP addresses. Rather than filing suit after obtaining these identities, the content copyright holders attempt to extract settlements on the order of $2,000-3,000 from named ISP subscribers to avoid going to court. That's their plan anyway. The recent (and ongoing) story of Prenda Law
demonstrates how turning the threat of copyright infringement lawsuits into a moneymaking venture
(allegedly with a lawyer as both plaintiff -- through a shell company -- and counsel) can go very wrong for the "trolls"...
In recent years, porn producers have used the practice (previously seen with Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker
) to attempt to recoup money they feel they have lost out on because of illegal file-sharing, and have teamed up with lawyers specializing in anti-piracy like John Steele of Prenda Law
. Sites like FightCopyrightTrolls
have sprung up to document these cases and expose what they feel to be unethical tactics by copyright holders and their counsel. Opponents allege blackmail by producers and their lawyers
: that alleged pirates are forced into paying settlements
to keep their names from being linked to a pornography lawsuit in court, regardless of guilt. (Even Steele admits -- to Forbes Magazine, no less
-- that their target often isn't the infringer.) There are often allegations of threats to inform family and friends of the charges directly. This trend has even reached Metafilter
A notable recent case is that of Prenda Law, representing Ingenuity 13, a LLC based in St. Kitts. It started out normally enough (as these cases go) in September 2012: Ingenuity 13 issued subpoenas, and the John Doe defendant moved for a stay of the subpoena. In a related motion, however, John Doe's lawyer, Morgan Pietz, alleged multi-case fraud (PDF)
by Prenda, including identity theft
, undisclosed financial interest
, and other lies by the Prenda firm and its attorneys. Pietz further questioned whether any subpoenas should be granted solely based on an IP address. (This is a common argument among defendants in these cases.)
In response, Prenda moved for sanctions against Pietz, and on March 4th, filed three separate libel lawsuits
against Alan Cooper (the victim of alleged identity theft), FightCopyrightTrolls
and DieTrollDie, and a host of John Doe anonymous commenters on these sites. The motion for sanctions was summarily dismissed by US District Judge Otis Wright. The three libel suits were moved to federal court, and one of the has already been voluntarily dismissed by Steele (PDF)
. (The original John Doe infringement lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed by Prenda in January; the notice (PDF)
contained a contention that arguing these cases before Wright is futile.)
On March 5th, Judge Wright ordered (PDF)
seven people linked to Prenda to appear before him in person
on March 11th to sort the whole thing out
, or face sanctions and/or bench warrants.
In the meantime, on March 6th, one of Prenda's lawyers, Paul Hansmeier, gave a deposition on behalf of AF Holdings
. Pietz's theory of AF Holdings being a shell company owned by lawyers to hold copyrights and subpoena, extract settlements from, and sue infringers is specifically not denied in Hansmeier's deposition
. (As Judge Wright said later
, "There was so much obstruction in this deposition that it's obvious that someone has an awful lot to hide.")
At the hearing today
, four summoned Prenda attorneys failed to appear
, including Steele, claiming lack of jurisdiction
. Alan Cooper was one of the summoned parties that did show; he reported that he was little more than Steele's house-sitter, and had no connections to AF Holdings. He also played voicemails containing implicit threats, and offers of a settlement, from John Steele. Two parties that weren't in Wright's summons, Verizon and AT&T, did arrive to testify that they never received notice of a judge's canceling Prenda's subpoenas, as was required. (AT&T found the orders through PACER.) Gibbs did appear, but his testimony seemed to be more damaging to Steele and co than if he hadn't.
“The client has been running everything here,” Wright said pointedly. “And I know who the client is,” he added, implying it was John Steele. Wright then dismissed Gibbs from the stand.
“Thank you, Your Honor,” Gibbs said as he stepped down.
“Good luck to you,” Wright responded.