At what point does a “copyright troll” stop being a troll?

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.

29 thoughts on “At what point does a “copyright troll” stop being a troll?”

  1. 1. You missed Florida and Utah.

    2. Adam Sekora wouldn’t mind if his name is listed as he picked up the fight which will be painful for the trolls, I’m positive (plan to write about it soon).

    3. Once again, I’m not as pessimistic as Rob: to me it is a natural phase of a disease: the one prior to recovery.

    Absolutely no doubt that Steele (as well as Lipscomb) is forced to name defendants. These are involuntary, reluctant acts. And one of the reasons is that when the stakes are much higher, people are more inclined to fight back.

    How many fought back in the mass lawsuit period? Fractions of a percent. How many seriously fight back now, even when only a small part is served at this moment? I can easily count 7 right away (some of them are not openly declared that and it will be a pleasant surprise to Steele).

    Crooks may dismiss the seriousness of counter-actions: they are spoiled by weak resistance and developed a fatigue. It will backfire on them.

    Over the years trolls have been fertilizing the soil of their own burial. A lot of knowledge have been accumulated. We hardly attacked weaknesses everyone is aware of: unlicensed “forensic” experts, shady offshore companies — just to name a few. It is sad that people are forced to hire attorneys, but those attorneys are well equipped today IMO.

    In addition, we are clearly winning over the public opinion, which is difficult to underestimate.

    Prepare for the last battle.

  2. I agree that this is worth keeping an eye on, but have you seen much evidence that Steele has a will to litigate these vs. just trying to put on more pressure for settlement and letting the cases sit on the dockets?

    The documents in the Wong and Abrahams counteractions suggest that Prenda still kept trying to settle, settle, settle, even lowering their offer by about 15% for Wong before the case actually started to gather momentum (and then Prenda settled, of course).

    The Hard Drive Productions cases you listed, for example, don’t seem to have gone anywhere and their most recent filing in CA was in November 2011; I’ll bet many of those cases have gone over 120 days without service. Hard Drive in particular seems to have lost their interest in trolling after the second suit against them was filed. They still have some cases on the docket, but nothing new in months.

    The AF Holdings cases are far more likely to get interesting, IMO. AF appears to be an offshore company set up for the express purpose of copyright trolling, they apparently have not produced anything, have no business presence on the web or anywhere else, they produce and sell nothing. They appear to have just purchased copyrights to a few movies produced by other companies and are using those copyrights for the purpose of bringing infringement suits.

    My guess is that AF was created so Steele can have a completely vertically-integrated operation. No longer dependent on clients’ copyrights, with AF Steele owns everything and therefore has complete control and more importantly gets all the profits. That being the case, Steele can litigate these more aggressively as he won’t have to worry about clients getting antsy when they start getting counter-sued or doxed. I suspect Paul Pilcher, owner of Hard Drive, was not happy when people posted his address, pictures of his house, and started discussing informing the nearby school’s PTAs about his home-based business.

    The flip-side of this is that AF appears shady, and I have serious doubts that Steele will let any of their cases go to trial or even discovery with a serious defendant, because discovery directed at AF could get very uncomfortable, especially if there is some tax avoidance/evasion going on there as well.

    Also, I hate to nitpick because I appreciate your analysis so much and get it for free, but I’m personally unwilling to give Steele credit for a “named” defendant for the cases that are merely against a single John Doe, with the account holder “named” in the complaint but not actually named as defendant in the lawsuit and not served immediately. The fact that they don’t name a defendant outright clearly shows they are hedging their bets and is IMO a sign of weakness, lack of confidence and seriousness. To be sure they have, finally, actually named a miniscule number of defendants, but lets only give them credit for the ones that go all the way, looks like that number is still around ten out of the tens of thousands they have threatened.

    1. That was a great reply, I agree with both of you that the chances ANY of these EVER go to trial is so close to zero (IMO) that I would be shocked if I saw ANY ACTIVITY past a summary judgement motion. The problem for the defendants is that as soon as they are named, they are tossed down this wormhole of deadlines and filings, many of whom don’t have the stomach, the time, or the funds (or the patience) to fight against troll slime. Steele now knows this, and this is why I think we are seeing an uptick in defendants getting named. I still hold zero regard for these copyright trolling cases, and I think they are garbage at best (and yes, there are MANY arguments that have not even been asserted yet because these cases haven’t gone that far). The problem is PROCEDURE, and the steps a defendant would need to take as soon as he is thrown into the litigation and is forced to participate in discovery. This is why the copyright trolls win — the broken legal system pushes level-headed defendants towards settlement, and they profit. Those that fight back (Seth Abrahams, Liuxia Wong, Adam Sekora, etc.) are HEROES.

  3. Finally a post that has facts! Many of the silly blogs full of outright garbage (I mean come on, DieTrollDie?!?) have pretended otherwise, but Prenda is naming people and doing it as fast as we can. The goal of Prenda Law is to name every single person within the 2 year statutory period. Will we be able to? No. Its hard to name 100 people a month (our current capacity). We just hired a couple of new attorneys to get more filed. We now have local counsels in 35 states (your safe in New Hampshire for now) and hope to file 300 a month by October. This week alone two arrest warrants were issued for pirates who refused to show up for court, and we are starting to get verdicts against people. Quite frankly, naming people is good for business. Oh, and I can assure you that Prenda prepared for these cases to go all the way before taking the huge step of naming people, and that includes its offshore clients that are having content stolen.

    Look, we all know the deal. Most people, when confronted with the evidence we have against them settle. Many people early on didn’t settle (even though most admit they did it when they call). Those that don’t settle tell us, “your not going to actually come after us, who are you kidding?” When we name and serve them, their first words are something along the lines of “I can’t believe you actually sued me!”

    The real shame are the blowhard attorneys who don’t know IP law and think a mean letter makes this go away. I have a list of attorneys that are really sad about trying that approach. And I am sure Mr. Abrahams is real excited about being in federal court since its so cheap and stress free.

    OK, so we are naming people. Next step. Since settlement is naturally more costly since our clients incur more cost to litigate, why do some attorneys advocate fighting in court? Obviously I am biased, and I don’t pretend otherwise. But why do you think some attorneys out there want you to pay them lots of legal fees so that they can spend two years in court on your behalf? Hmmm, no legal fees for them if you settle, and lots of legal fees if you fight . . .

    To Conclude:
    I have a dare for the pirates out there. If you think Prenda Law will not name and serve you and that we are “Trolls” afraid of going to court, call us, give a paralegal your name and IP address associated with your infringement. I promise that in a couple of days, you will meet a process server who will hand you a complaint with you named as a defendant. Then you will get a call from a paralegal to start discussing discovery timelines. Fun!

    Or maybe we are bluffing. Any takers?

    1. I moderate all comments and this one was obviously John Steele. Since I find no difficulty bashing him on countless posts, I also have nothing wrong with letting him speak here. Quite frankly, I have told him before that he should keep a blog of his own on the plaintiff’s side (may I suggest “wefightpiracy.wordpress.com”?), so at least we see what is going on from his perspective.

      I am not so comfortable having John Steele being happy with my post, and I want to reiterate that him and I are on very different sides. He thinks he can win these cases, and I don’t think he can win even if he has a guilty downloader standing in front of him! There are just too many issues on the defense side that can kill the case before it gets to trial on the merits.

      I also disagree with his statement regarding his capacity on how fast he can name defendants. Fighting these cases on my end is a time consuming proposition (obviously John Steele is just one of many copyright trolls I deal with every day), and no doubt being on the plaintiff side and dealing with the motions to quash, and the courts calling the cases for what they are, and the wasted time scaring defendants with letters and phone calls is no doubt a time consuming process. But the one fact perhaps we agree on is that people are being named. I wrote this article using John Steele as an example, but the same is true for Mike Meier, Marvin Cable, the Libscomb Gang, Jason Kotzker, Chris Fiore, and the rest of them. Either way, I am sure John is jumping for joy that I wrote this article because I’ve done his job for him.

      In closing, do not take him up on his offer, because he has tens of thousands of names to choose from, and you don’t want to make yourself a target because he doesn’t care who he names. For him it’s a game. Stay as far away from him as possible because as you can see, he is not interested in your guilt or your innocence. He sees you all as pirates, and he is hostile towards you.

      1. Agreed, I have no problem seeing John post here. I honestly find it entertaining and almost endearing that he shows up to spar, and a little surprising because in the past he has often appeared unprofessional and made claims that were not backed up, which ultimately made him look less competent and threatening.

        His post is basically civil and sure there’s FUD but that’s his game and as you said, he is constantly getting dumped on here and on several other sites. It would certainly make things more interesting if, as you suggest, he took an informative, substantive line of attack instead of the endless threats and evasiveness when it comes to the legal issues, but again the lack of substance in his posts serves to undermine his credibility.

      2. Wait a minute… If Steele is here, than who is looking for a new goon in Florida? It’s a shame to have local representatives in 35 states, but not being able to find a single ethically challenged one on his own backyard. Perea is seriously ill (forgot the Latin name of this disease — when one cannot tell truth from lies in his own speech anymore), Banas ran away from Prenda as if it was infected with leprosy after learning a bit more about the racket…

    2. Thanks for confirming my vision. That’s exactly what I mean: last phase. Only a wounded jackal is capable of delivering such a dense FUD.

      If you could manage to suppress the itch to brag on the boards in the past, this speech would probably impress a few. Otherwise — nah… Bluff of a tired and miserable clown.

    3. You guys didn’t have a copyright registration for the work in Abrahams’ case, so he’s probably not too stressed out. Can’t wait to see you guys settle that one, just like Wong.

    4. >If you think Prenda Law will not name and serve you and that we are “Trolls” afraid of going to court, call us, give a paralegal your name and IP address associated with your infringement

      Wow, really? You guys have to beg people to give you information to sue for? Why don’t you stick to the ass that you call a random number generator where you pull numbers from; I’m sure that you’ll have a similar success rate.

    5. I would just like to take the opportunity to draw attention to how John’s old FUD sounds even stupider in the wake of the March 11 hearing in Judge Wright’s courtroom and with Prenda and their shell companies in full retreat.

      Can’t wait to hear the last, blabbering excuses as their ship sinks.

  4. OK i’m lost we’re still talking about civil copyright claims, right?

    “This week alone two arrest warrants were issued for pirates who refused to show up for court.”

    Since when can you be arrested for not showing up for a civil case?

      1. wow, he must really want us to take him seriously, especially after twisting around “arrest” with “whine”, GJDM Prenda tool

  5. Dear Fearless Leader of Pretenda Law,

    Like the evidence you used against the 80 yr old nice lady in SF, IIRC, who called you an extortionist and you kept after her until the media got wind of your shakedown… and then you admitted something you claimed was impossible in your system… that there had been an error.
    But in the meantime you and your minions tried to terrorize an 80 yr old woman for allegedly having downloaded hardcore porn.

    You really do talk a big game, and like to scare the children… but your nothing but a bully. You lie, cheat, steal to get your way. Eventually even the corrupt legal oversight people will no longer be able to tolerate your antics, because you’ll have gone to far.

    In the meantime I suggest actually having someone capable to understanding english read the instructions for your robodialer so you stop making yourself look like a much larger moron. It took work but you actually managed to raise the bar on moronic.

    I invite you to try and come after me all you want.
    You want people to think I’m a pirate and bad, the problem is I just hate bullies. Kicking down your shaky house of cards is entertainment for me.

    Stone thought I was a joke… oops that ended poorly now didn’t it.
    Randazza avoids dealing with me… he always has so much to say until I show up, then he bolts.
    Do you really think YOUR gonna scare me away?

    The simple fact your actively following DTD on dietrolldie.com and SJD on fightcopyrighttrolls.com (OHAI! you 2! I work SEO magics! 😀 ) betrays how worried you actually are.
    If you thought these were people who didn’t matter you’d just ignore them, rather than look at the holes they punch in your filings and try to patch them up. Someone who has truth and right on their side, wouldn’t care… but you can’t tear yourself away. umadbro?

    You can call us all pirates all you want, you’ll still be a bottom feeding lawyer trying to shake down the elderly for their Social Security checks.

    I’m TAC, and I approve this message.

  6. Keep your head on a swivel Steele. You can’t mess with this many people and not get your head bashed in. All your money won’t matter when you are six feet under.

    1. Sorry for the delay in approving this post. In moderating these comments, I filter out many threats and much vulgar language. I looked at this a few times before coming to the conclusion that this wasn’t a threat.

  7. “We just hired a couple of new attorneys to get more file”
    Does this sound familiar?

    “Look, we all know the deal. Most people, when confronted with the evidence we have against them settle”
    I think the word most could easily be changed to “some”.

  8. i doubt anyone will see this as this post is like 8 posts back from the most current one, but i was trying to suss out the cases that have been filed by prenda against single does and this “100” number is not very realistic. also this statement “and we are starting to get verdicts against people.” if you actually got a verdict against someone which must have happened, since as you say the verdicts have started to occur, where are they? why haven’t they been posted for you to brag about? every defense lawyer has been posting their victories and yet even with all your hubris you seem awful quiet. thanks for initially scaring me many months ago john, but once the light got turned on i could see there was no monster lurking under my bet. 🙂

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