Category Archives: John Steele

Prenda Appellate Saga Comes To An End

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.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

The 12 minute hearing and the end of Prenda Law Inc.

While the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC and its clients were celebrating “freedom,” I am sure some of my readers will be wondering the fate of Prenda Law Inc. / Steele Hansmeier, PLLC / John Steele / Paul Duffy / Mark Lutz / Brett Gibbs et al. after their hearing today before Judge Wright.  Today was the big day where the world of those who have been injured by Prenda Law Inc.’s activities looked on to see their demise.

In sum, the hearing was short, and John Steele and his “gang” showed up as they were ordered to, but they decided to plead the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution rather than answer Judge Wright’s questions.  As a result, the judge did not allow them the pleasure of “pleading the fifth” as he appears to have no interest in lawyer gamesmanship.  Thus, after 12 minutes, he walked off the bench and ended the hearing.

While there was no immediate gratification for those who flew over to attend the hearing, in my opinion, “Popehat” described their fate better than I ever could:

“Prenda Law may still be standing. But it’s dead.”

I would be very surprised if I saw any further activities coming from this law firm. I expect that in a few days (if not sooner), Judge Otis Wright will write an order which will make any copyright troll shake in their boots, and it is my hopes that this order will serve as a warning shot to any of the other copyright trolls who go after individual downloaders using the tactics and corporate structures that Prenda employed.

It is my opinion (although I *am* still cautious until I actually see Judge Wright’s order,) this will likely be the end of Prenda Law Inc., John Steele, and Paul Duffy, as I expect that this will evolve into inquiries which will endanger their law licenses. I don’t think we’ll see the end of them, per se, as it is not so difficult to find a hungry lawyer who will agree to have his hand held while he lets others practice under his law license in the shadows.

On the other hand, I believe the result of this case (and Judge Wright’s influence over the the future penalties of unlawful copyright enforcement tactics) will force the bittorrent cases to evolve from its current state (which comprise mere pre-trial settlement “or else” tactics) to actually taking clients to court on the merits.  Also, while the inquiry in this case surrounded plaintiff copyright trolls who “invent” corporate figureheads, who seem to falsify copyright assignment documents, and who structure their business tactics to allow their activities to proceed with limited affects on the attorneys furthering their scheme) no doubt, this will be a damaging blow to those copyright holders who try to enforce their copyrights against individual downloaders.

Articles on the topic:
Forbes: Porn Copyright Lawyer John Steele, Who Has Sued More Than 20,000 People, Is Now The One In Legal Trouble

ArsTechnica: Prenda lawyers take Fifth Amendment; judge storms out: “We’re done” — Those in attendance describe Judge Otis Wright as “incandescently angry.”

TechDirt: Team Prenda Shows Up In Court, Pleads The Fifth… Angry Judge Ends Hearing In 12 Minutes

TorrentFreak: Prenda Copyright Trolls Plead the Fifth

Fight Copyright Trolls (SJD): Prenda trolls appear in Judge Wright’s courtroom only to plead the Fifth. Furious judge ends the hearing after 12 minutes

Follow-Up Articles:

ArsTechnica: Judge smash: Prenda’s porn-trolling days are over

Popehat: Prenda Law’s Attorneys Take The Fifth Rather Than Answer Judge Wright’s Questions


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

CA District Court Decides on the Definition of Copyright Infringement

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.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.

Hard Drive Productions lawsuit is DEAD and Prenda attorneys still calling.

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.


CONTACT FORM: If you have a question or comment about what I have written, and you want to keep it *for my eyes only*, please feel free to use the form below. The information you post will be e-mailed to me, and I will be happy to respond.

NOTE: No attorney client relationship is established by sending this form, and while the attorney-client privilege (which keeps everything that you share confidential and private) attaches immediately when you contact me, I do not become your attorney until we sign a contract together.  That being said, please do not state anything “incriminating” about your case when using this form, or more practically, in any e-mail.