There is no honor among thieves. Copyright troll thieves.

This morning I woke up to news that the Third World Media, LLC v. Does 1-4,171 (DC; Case No. 1:11-cv-00059) plaintiff voluntarily dismissed all 4,000+ defendants. “That was disappointing,” I thought. What a waste of a case.

What got me thinking is that it was NOT the DC court (or their copyright-troll-friendly rulings) which prompted this dismissal, as I have a lot to say about Judge Facciola and his recent slew of rulings in a number of copyright infringement cases (more on that in another blog entry).  As far as I am concerned, this dismissal had other reasons which caused it.

Now obviously I’m very happy when a case like this goes bust, but it didn’t go bust. The plaintiff (and their copyright troll attorneys at Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC) simply lost interest and dismissed the case. I’ve been seeing this a few times over the past two weeks, specifically here in Texas with copyright troll Doug McIntryre dismissing his West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-351 (Case No. 4:12-cv-00504) case here in the Southern District of Texas — some copyright trolls are simply losing interest in their cases and giving up and dismissing all defendants.

Now I can obviously give an educated guess as to why this is. Local attorneys who work for copyright trolls don’t get paid by the copyright trolls.  As much as I villianize the local attorneys here on the blogs, local attorneys who file lawsuits on behalf of copyright trolls usually get cheated by their copyright troll bosses. I have heard many stories of clearly oblivious local attorneys making statements such as “well, nobody is settling my cases,” when I regretfully know the opposite is true. I once read a motion by a prolific copyright troll who wrote, “there is no honor among thieves” (referring to the bittorrent users who he was suing in his cases). Quite frankly, it is my opinion that this is probably the case between the copyright “trolls” themselves.

Then again, I have heard stories that the copyright trolls themselves often have trouble with the production companies (their clients, the porn companies) who have retained them to sue John Doe Defendants in the various lawsuits. I have often heard stories that behind each of the lawsuits is a imbecilic man with a short temper and a small brain who screams and yells at the copyright trolls to sue everybody on the planet. The problem is that these clients don’t want to pay the legal bills or commissions that they legitimately owe to the copyright trolls, as if they expect them to work for free.  Again, “there is no honor among thieves.”

And then again, (I have to note this,) I believe that there are instances where the copyright troll lawyers cheat their clients as well, binding them to settlement agreements and accepting money from defendants for infringements of their copyrighted works WITHOUT EVER TELLING THEIR CLIENT that this money was received.  The strategy: Sue on behalf of one production company, accuse the defendant of also infringing another production company’s copyrighted works, collect settlements for both infringements.  So I believe it goes both ways.  Production companies (clients) cheat their attorneys out of commissions and fees, and the attorneys accept settlements and never tell the production companies about it.  Again, “there is no honor among thieves.”

In short, while I do not know the politics of why a plaintiff attorney drops a case without explanation such as what you see here, it is my expectation that the reason for both of these cases is that there is conflict between the copyright troll attorneys, and the production companies in which they represent. Whether it is that the copyright troll attorneys are asking for too much money from the production companies (greed), or whether it is that the production companies who are not paying the copyright trolls, I don’t know or care. As far as I am concerned, my clients are being dismissed from the cases against them, and conflict between copyright troll attorneys who sue defendants and their clients can only be good for the world.

Side thought: As far as the copyright trolls cheating the local attorneys who they hire to file lawsuits on their behalf? While it frustrates me when I hear stories about the copyright troll bosses cheating their local counsel, part of me also thinks that there is also justice in the world. At the end of the day, these local counsel made a conscious decision to try to profit off of extorting thousands of dollars from each internet user (legal or not, we’ll see), and even if an internet user did download the title(s) he or she was accused of, there is no reason for them to pay thousands of dollars (often their life savings, or more accurately, their parents’ life savings) for what often ends up being a porn video where they could have purchased the DVD title for $34.99.  Obviously the distinction here is “actual damages” ($34.99) versus “statutory damages” (up to $150,000 for each infringement), and quite frankly, it is the copyright law that is broken [or that is being misapplied to downloaders], and not the lawsuits themselves which are inherently blind, or at least they are supposed to be — purposefully ignoring bias from certain DC judges.  That being said, only a piece of work would capitalize on this misapplication of the law and extort thousands of dollars from a defendant.  I really think the courts (and the law) needs to make a distinction as to who is a “pirate” and who is really just an innocent infringer.


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27 thoughts on “There is no honor among thieves. Copyright troll thieves.”

  1. Great post and a nice glimpse behind the scenes from someone on the front lines. Wonder who is the “imbecilic man with a short temper and a small brain who screams and yells at the copyright trolls to sue everybody on the planet”? 🙂

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Because 1) this blog is FAR from being anonymous, and 2) I can be legally be held to my words and my opinions at a later date — you’ll see that I’m always very careful when I “trash” somebody. Here, I’m simply pointing out that there are often political reasons for a dismissal that are unrelated to whether a plaintiff will “turn around and sue individual Doe Defendants.” There are other factors in the equation (here, the relationship between the copyright troll attorneys and their production company clients), and thankfully, every court motion is not always about Doe Defendants. I’ll leave it to the real journalists to write about the real personalities behind the various production companies. FYI, that would be a VERY fun article to read, and I’m not the one to post it.

  2. This is great insight. I love the little bits I’m hearing about how all is not well between the trolls and their pawns. I’m particularly curious about Prenda hemorrhaging lawyers. Perea is at least trying to pretend he’s not affiliated with them anymore, and they almost hired a new guy who bailed after SJD clued him in about their scam on Twitter. It also sounds like McIntyre is going.

    Can your comment any further on DGW and their apparent loss of interest in trolling in general? Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention since Prenda and Lipscomb have been so much more prolific, but it seems like after last Fall’s massive dismissals of mass-Doe BitTorrent cases, along with the progress of Shirokov’s lawsuit, they are not fanning out, filing lots of smaller or individual cases the way other trolling operations have done. It just looks like they have filed a few more really massive, old-school style cases and not pursued them very enthusiastically.

    I have long suspected that when the house of cards starts to really collapse we will see the trolls’ clients and perhaps even local counsel turn around and sue the trolls to recoup losses from the civil or criminal cases the plaintiffs and pawns find themselves embroiled in. I have no doubt that this scam is sold to plaintiffs and pawns as risk free, easy money, but the fact is when someone decides to countersue or file a bar complaint, it’s not the guys at Troll HQ that suffer. Very few plaintiffs and local attorneys will have the stomach to stick it out once they are defendants themselves, the one possible exception being Steve Jones, although we also know from his posting history at GFY that he was one of the charter members of the scam, perhaps even an instigator. But he is now exposing himself to tremendous liability, for example his brilliant decision to name AT&T and Comcast as defendants in the SDIL Lightspeed CFAA case. The mind boggles trying to imagine the numbers two Fortune 500 companies will come up with when they go after him for attorney’s fees; given his documented attitude and behavior pattern, if he gets a 7-figure bill, I don’t think he’ll be the type to shrug it off and move on, he’ll find another lawyer to sue the crap out of John Steele (that is, if he has any money left).

    Notice that Hard Drive Productions, Inc. has not filed any cases since the Abrahams suit. I’m sure Paul Pilcher didn’t like having to fly out to California to appear in court, and then cut a check to Wong to settle her lawsuit. I’m sure in that case Prenda ate at least some of it (Steele and Gibbs probably did the ‘defense’ work at no charge) but as more Does turn around and sue, there is more work to be done defending the countersuits, and the business becomes less profitable there is going to be a point where these guys turn and start eating each other. Then it is going to be really, really fun to watch. Maybe Perea, who is the target of a Bar investigation in Florida and appears to have been caught lying to the Bar by posters on SJD’s site, will be the first to get desperate enough to turn and throw Prenda under the bus.

    Great work putting the word out on this. The more information is out there, the better. Trolls depend on local counsel to do their dirty work and the more likely it is that prospective pawns Google their prospective employers and find articles like this, the harder and harder it will be for the puppet-masters to expand their business.

  3. Interesting timing on this news as well, it appears that one copyright troll in Germany named “Urmann and Colleagues” has decided to try their hand at skipping the middle-man(the court) entirely and going straight to the blackmail/extortion.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120822/18184920128/porn-copyright-trolls-new-tactic-maybe-public-humiliation-will-magically-make-people-pay.shtml

    “It’s no secret that the real strategy of many of the porn companies who have turned into copyright trolls is to use public shame into the game as a way to pressure people into settling. As per usual, these companies almost never follow through on actual lawsuits against people. They do just enough to get ISPs to cough up identifying information and threaten to file the lawsuit. In some cases, the threat of having to fight a lawsuit is enough to make people settle (even if they’re innocent). However, often enough, it seems that the companies know that merely the possible embarrassment from publicly claiming someone downloaded porn will make them settle. It seems that one German copyright troll, Urmann and Colleagues (U+C) is skipping the legal middleman, and is just going to start posting information it’s collected on people it accuses of infringement directly on its website, hoping this will create incentives to pay up, without the company having to go through any actual legal process. Of course, threatening to expose information about you unless you pay up, sure sounds an awful lot like extortion…

    The article also notes that some legal experts believe that this move will violate Germany’s (somewhat strict) privacy laws. Either way, U+C claims that it has a list of 150,000 people who it wants to pay up. I actually wonder if a list quite that large actually makes it counterproductive. When you’re in the company of so many people, perhaps it’s not quite so embarrassing… Of course, given that, perhaps it’s not surprising that U+C has indicated elsewhere that it’s going to be releasing the info in drips and drabs, and will be targeting those who have the most to lose if it’s exposed that they were downloading hardcore porn.

    According to comments an Urmann insider made to Wochenblatt, the law firm is planning to target the most vulnerable people first – those with IP addresses registered to churches, police stations and – quite unbelievably – the embassies of Arab countries. “

    1. I am also surprised to see this happen in a European country. While Germany appears to have some funny loopholes in their laws that resulted in them becoming the birthplace of copyright trolling, European governments in general are much more serious about privacy and consumer protection issues. I can’t really see this happening in an EU country without a massive backlash. Especially with attempts to blackmail public institutions and foreign governments, these guys are not afraid to make enemies, perhaps they read about Prenda suing AT&T and Comcast and felt an obligation to find a more foolish way to bring about the end of copyright trolling in their respective jurisdiction. In addition to the plan itself being likely to attract the attention of Anonymous, telegraphing the plan in advance is begging to be taken down, and indeed Anonymous has already stated that they will be ready if and when U&C actually follows through with the threat.

      This will be a riot to watch if nothing else, but I sincerely doubt they will have the balls to follow through.

    1. And there is this guy with a sexy avatar that hangs out there too 🙂

      I was always of the belief that USCG was formed to try and shield DGW… that worked out well.

      You did however miss another way that the thieves are working behind the scenes. IIRC (cause seriously I’ve read way to much on this topic) there was a producer of “adult content” who was talking about why he didn’t understand why people were angry. He was getting $200(ish) for each settlement, and seemed to think it was fair.
      Anyone heard of any troll asking for anything less than 3 zeros after a number?

      I think something else coming into play now is the fact the settlement rate has fallen hard, when you google a trolls name or a case number and end up on certain websites you find out right quick what a scam these things are.

      There also is pushback in the market, people are hearing some studio names and avoiding contact with them. Because while someone might have actually downloaded one of your films, what no one else told you is that if they like it they might buy other things you offer. But when you threaten to sue your fans… that doesn’t go over very well.

      Earlier in the replies someone commented about Germany being the birthplace of trolling, another fun fact is some of the contracts used in the past with some German firms authorized them to setup honeypots to gather IPs. Seems so wrong to make the content available so you can then sue them for it… Like a certain sanctioned attorney who publicly admitted to participating in the swarms he later sued… unclean hands and all of that… shame that never made it into court.

      1. **UPDATE: SORRY ABOUT THAT — I ANSWERED A QUESTION YOU DIDN’T ASK**
        TAC, responding to the $200 settlement demand portion of your comment — you are referring to what I call “DMCA letters.” These are predominantly being sent out by Ira Siegel and his staff at the Copyright Enforcement Group (CEG-TEK). They state that if an accused subscriber (not a defendant — no lawsuit) doesn’t pay this “small” fee, they will initiate a John Doe lawsuit against them.

        The problem is that subscribers sometimes get 20 of these at a time, and if they follow the link to process their payment, the agreement has them admitting guilt (VERY BAD, see below).

        The BAD PROBLEM with these is that I have heard from subscribers that these online transaction often FAIL (INTENTIONALLY OR NOT), and they immediately get a follow-up letter asking for THOUSANDS of dollars. Seriously, caveat emptor. I have not heard whether any lawsuits have ever been filed against these subscribers.

        1. I did not believe it was for a DMCA letter, but its been a while since I read the quote. This was a producer talking about how he got paid $200 by his trolls I thought.
          As always I might be out of my mind… its boring in here and sometimes it wanders off, but I was very sure at the time that this was a troll operation getting thousands and paying out $200 a head to the rightsholder.

          I will dig around and see if I can find it again.

      2. My apologies — you were referring to the production companies only getting paid $200 whereas their copyright troll attorneys pocketed the other $3,300 in a $3,500 settlement. My only reaction to that is disgust as it points to greed and dishonesty in my field. I have not heard about this before, but knowing what I know, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the case.

        On an unrelated note, I thought you were pointing out the fact that CEG-TEK (Ira Siegel specifically) is sending “DMCA letters” (pay us $200 per infringement or else we’ll sue you), and I have heard a few horror stories of internet users TRYING to process their payment, only to have it fail and coincidentally immediately thereafter, they receive a demand letter for thousands of dollars. That was what I was discussing above — it was not what you were referring to in your comment. -Rob

        PS – I’m never in the mood to write up an article on the “poor trolls who are getting cheated out of their settlement payments” because as far as I am concerned, they are complicit in this copyright extortion scheme and they deserve what they get (to be scammed by the attorneys they hired to scam others). That being said, I’d be interested in reading what you find, because if the attorneys are the issue here and not so much the production companies, the bar associations would be very interested in learning about this.

  4. @HoustonLawy3r, I’m in Austin, and west coast has threatened me with a law suit for allegedly downloading their porn, with a link to pay them $200 for an out of court settlement. My first reaction was to pay it but my second was a…wait a minute this isn’t official and there’s no record for me to use in court. I was so embarassed because i was using my universities wifi and they sent a letter to the student judicial services. I am worried that my enrollment is threatened, i have no assets, nothing in my name to take away though, so a law suit doesn’t worry me, but having my degree threatened does, so far the Dean hasn’t said anything other than the official email with West Coast Productions threat attached signed Ira-found his facebook page too–but that is my major worry. After reading about these Trolls…i’m through being embarassed it was porn, i will champion this shit like Lady Godiva, i will not pay money to protect my pride, fuck that. Any advice on how to handle this?

    1. @D., please see my reply above to TAC. I think, however, that you might have your cases confused as West Coast Productions, Inc. (last I checked) was not a client of CEG-TEK (with whom Ira Siegel is associated). If you have a West Coast Productions, Inc. lawsuit, e-mail me ASAP. If you received a “DMCA letter,” see my comment above.

      1. Hey I apologize, for some reason my email was not notified you made a reply to my comment. I’ll will copy and paste the email info the Student Judicial Services forwarded me. I don’t have your email but i’m sure it’s on this page somewhere so expect one from me in the next few minutes. I’m meeting with Student Judicial Services in an hour where they no doubt will harangue me on this so I’m trying to develop a good defense based on how much of an internet troll these people are

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