This post was originally written as a “rant” against volume-based “settlement factory” attorneys. At the time, the kind of damage they caused to accused defendants in bittorrent cases was unknown, as was their existence. Even today, settlement factory defense attorneys continue to feed inquiring ‘John Doe’ subpoena recipients false information. And as a result, settlement prices paid to copyright trolls often end up being artificially inflated. As of 4/17/2017, I have revisited the topic, and it is still as valid today as it was one year ago.
After writing this article, Ernesto from Torrentfreak wrote an article entitled, “BEWARE: PIRACY DEFENSE LAWYERS CAN BE “TROLLS” TOO.“. -Rob Cashman
Beware of Attorney Settlement Factories
I started writing this article because there is too much conflicting information floating around the web about whether to settle a bittorrent-based copyright infringement lawsuit. The attorneys who are causing this confusion are trying to profit from the current broken state of the copyright laws. These attorneys use fear tactics and manipulation to scare a John Doe Defendant into settling with their law firm.
Credible Websites Teach That Settlement is NOT a Requirement
There are credible websites that blog almost daily on copyright troll issues.
see “Fight Copyright Trolls,”
see “Die Troll Die.”
Copyright Trolls Do Not Take Cases To Trial
Because copyright infringement lawsuits are often based on scare tactics, and because copyright troll attorneys name only a small sliver of defendants sued, ignoring a copyright troll and his threats can be a good strategy.
IGNORING A COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT CLAIM AGAINST YOU CAN OFTEN BE A VIABLE OPTION TO RESOLVE THE PROBLEM (WITHOUT SPENDING $$$$ ON A LAWYER).
Thus, beware of the so-called “defense” attorneys who tell you that you will lose your home and your life savings if you do not settle.
What are “SETTLEMENT FACTORY” defense attorneys?
NOTE: In this section, I give you the red flags to look for to spot these attorneys, and I hope this helps clarify some of the conflicting information you get from speaking to different attorneys.
“SETTLEMENT FACTORIES” are what I call law firms who focus on providing apparent “low cost settlements” to clients (as you will see, the settlements end up not being low cost).
These settlement factory law firms hire multiple attorneys to solicit and lure accused ‘John Doe’ defendants into hiring them “for a cheap and anonymous settlement.”
From a business perspective, more attorneys for the business owner means the ability to make more phone calls to solicit more accused defendants [to process more settlements], and the ability to “capture” more clients for their law firm means more profits.
SETTLEMENT FACTORY law firms PRE-ARRANGE settlement amounts.
Rather than actually negotiate a good settlement for their client, settlement factories run what I refer to as a “volume business.” They PRE-ARRANGE an often inflated settlement price with the copyright holder, so the copyright troll will agree to the arrangement.
In return, the copyright troll allows that so-called attorney to not have to negotiate the settlement for each client, since they have a prearranged agreed-upon “settlement amount.”
Why settlement factory attorneys are PART OF THE PROBLEM of copyright trolling.
This arrangement creates a “cottage industry,” where the defense attorney and the plaintiff attorney (who are supposed to be opponents) are allies for profit. Settlement factory attorneys are part of the problem of copyright trolling; they are not part of the solution, and the only one that gets hurt is the accused defendant. Why? Because with settlement factories, the accused defendant almost NEVER gets the lowest possible settlement amount.
SETTLEMENT FACTORY law firms DO NOT NEGOTIATE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENTS either.
What compounds the problem is that negotiating the settlement is only HALF of the solution. The SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT itself must also be negotiated. However, settlement factory attorneys do not negotiate settlements either (even though they tell you they do).
Why settlement agreements need to be negotiated.
Settlement agreements need to be negotiated because “boilerplate” settlement agreements contain ADMISSIONS OF GUILT and UNFRIENDLY LANGUAGE.
These boilerplate settlement agreements do not protect the client because they often:
- do not properly identify the accused defendant by name,
- they do not contain proper confidentiality clauses (to stop the plaintiff attorney from suing again or asking for more money later on), and
- they do not release the accused defendant from liability.
As a result of this article, settlement factory attorneys will take steps to hide their scheme.
For me, where writing this article will become infuriating is that suddenly these attorneys and their “beefed up” staff of hired attorneys will now start advertising 1) that they spend the time to actively negotiate the best settlement for their client, and 2) that they take the careful time to negotiate the terms of the settlement agreement so that the accused John Doe Defendant will be released from liability and the negotiated terms will properly protect the client’s rights. Sure they will.
‘RED FLAGS’ TO SPOT A SETTLEMENT FACTORY
I know settlement factory attorneys follow this blog, and thus all I could say is “caveat emptor.”
At the time of writing this blog, here are the items to look for:
1) How long that attorney has been in practice [REMEMBER: “Copyright Troll” mass bittorrent lawsuits targeting multiple “John Doe” defendants have only been in existence only since 2010, so any attorney who claims he has been fighting copyright trolls for 20 years is obviously lying.],
2) Check the attorney’s blog to see the HISTORY of his articles — was he one of the first attorneys who fought these cases, or is he a new “me too” copycat attorney who is standing on the shoulders of giants? (after reading this, no doubt these attorney will now add “older” articles to make their website look older),
3) Check the blog article itself for “SEO OPTIMIZED” content, or “KEYWORDS” placed into the article. Ask yourself, “was the purpose of this article to provide me valuable information? or was the purpose of the article to bulk it up with keywords so that search engine spiders will reward the author with first page rankings on the search engines?”
2017 UPDATE: When I mentioned SEO OPTIMIZED content, I am referring to the fact that settlement factory blog articles lack content. In our blog, we have over 200+ information-packed articles that we wrote TO EDUCATE. Obviously many clients came to our firm as a result of our articles, and this is fine. However, settlement factories have ONE MOTIVE ONLY: TO PROFIT. Look for sites that advertise to you rather than inform you and educate you.
4) Last, but not least, check the EARLY ARTICLES of the blog to see whether the attorney actually tried to fight these cases and hash out the legal arguments, or whether they were merely reporting on the lawsuits already in existence to attract new business. I call these attorneys “me too” attorneys, and you can usually spot them because all they do is report the cases.
AUTHENTICITY AND ORIGINALITY
In 2010, I and a small handful of attorneys were contacted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (better known as EFF) to help understand and resolve the developing copyright troll problem. This was back when ISPs began sending letters out to their subscribers informing them that their ISP would be handing out their contact information and their identity to the plaintiff attorney / copyright holders unless they filed objections (or, “motions to quash”) with the courts. Thus, I credit the EFF for even noticing the copyright troll problem and contacting us to figure out what to do about it.
COPYCATS / FOR PROFIT ATTORNEYS
Unfortunately (or, fortunately, however you see it), that initial list of 20 attorneys has grown to over 100+ names, and some attorneys have negotiated with EFF to list them as representing clients in multiple states, hence increasing their visibility in an ever-growing list of lawyers. Watch for these attorneys — they are usually the “settlement factories” I referenced above, and again, caveat emptor.
REPUTABLE ATTORNEYS DO EXIST
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you did not like me or my use of pretrial strategies (often making use of federal procedure) to defend a client. Or, let’s pretend for a moment that I could not take you as a client (e.g., because my case load was full, or because I did not have time to speak to you about your matter).
Because there were only a handful of us attorneys on the original EFF list who knew anything about these copyright infringement lawsuits, over the years, we have become friends and have helped each other out on many of the lawsuits in which we represented both John Doe Defendants and “named and served” defendants. Some of these attorneys are still around today, and some have moved on to other areas of law. Some of them have stopped taking clients because fighting mass bittorrent cases has become more burdensome than the effort was worth (especially when some copyright holders do not play fairly in discovery [think, Malibu Media, LLC]).
PIPEDREAMS AND REFERRALS
Finding “that special client who will pay my fees to fight this case to trial” for many attorneys has become an unrealized pipe dream, and is something us attorneys often discuss. If you truly want to fight your case, I have nothing wrong with either me, or anyone else I trust representing you in your lawsuit (I will happily tout another attorney’s merits and advanced skillsets when speaking to clients). AND, I will happily refer you to someone if I find that one of my peers would better assist you.
NO REFERRAL FEES
I *DO NOT* believe in referral fees, nor do I “share the workload” with other attorneys (this is code word for “I referred you this client, so pay me a piece of the legal fees you receive and call it paying me for my “proportional efforts.”). This is something that is often done in my field which, in my opinion, needs to stop.
Over the years, I have upset many non-copyright attorneys who know nothing about these cases. In the typical fashion, they call me with a client they would like to refer to me (coincidentally, asking to share in the fees, but not in the work). I have rejected each request.
So in hindsight, while I thought I’d be reintroducing “copyright troll” subpoenas and basic copyright infringement concepts to clear up some conflicting information found on the web, instead I am providing a clear warning to those who are being actively solicited by law firms. A law firm simply should not be calling you or contacting you to solicit your business.
BACK TO IGNORING A CLAIM OF COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT
Copyright trolls sue many John Doe Defendants in one case, but only a small number of them are named and served. When you are evaluating your options, STOP AND CONSIDER THE OPTION OF *NOT SETTLING*, BECAUSE *NOT SETTLING* A CLAIM OF COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT CAN OFTEN BE A GOOD IDEA.
Similarly, in a lawsuit, DOING NOTHING MAY OFTEN BE YOUR BEST STRATEGIC MOVE, as counterintuitive as that might sound. Again, this is because much of the ‘copyright trolling’ problem is based on a bluff — namely, that the copyright holders have evidence against you, and they will take you to trial if you do not pay them money to settle.
A Settlement Factory attorney makes NO MONEY if you ignore.
When you are bombarded with attorneys and law firms who actively market their fear-based services by using “Google AdWords” (ethically or unethically “buying” more well known attorney’s names as keywords so that THEY show up at the top of a search). Then, those attorneys have their “assistant” attorneys calling you and pushing you to anonymously settle the claims against you, think twice. Is this person trying to get you to be yet one more client in their “volume” business??
WHY WE DISCUSS THE “IGNORE” OPTION WITH EVERY POTENTIAL CLIENT
In every one of my calls, I discuss what I call the “ignore” option which in many people’s scenario is a viable option. In many cases, I even push a client towards the “ignore” side of things.
[NOTE: There are many political reasons I have for this, such as “not feeding the troll,” or “not funding their extortion-based scheme,” or simply because I have been trying to change the copyright laws to limit or hinder a copyright holder’s ability to accuse or sue an internet user for the violation of that copyright holder’s copyrights, but NONE OF THOSE REASONS ARE REASON WHY I SUGGEST SOMEONE I SPEAK TO IGNORES THE CLAIMS AGAINST THEM.]
WHEN TO CONSIDER THE “IGNORE” OPTION.
Sometimes an individual’s circumstances allow them to ignore the lawsuit filed against them (or the copyright violation claimed against them in the DMCA notice). Such factors include:
1) the individual’s financial situation,
2) whether they live in an apartment or a home,
3) the location of that apartment or home,
3) the state in which the plaintiff attorney has his law firm,
4) whether that copyright holder authorizes his attorneys [and pays their fee] to “name and serve” defendants and move forward with trial,
5) for strategy purposes, e.g., the psychological impact of having one or more John Doe Defendants ignore the claims against them (while other defendants rush to settle in fear of being named and served), or
6) simply because ignoring is the only option in that person’s situation.
In summary, this has been a stream of thought article, but if you have made it to this point, you now understand the difference between a defense attorney who does settlements (among other forms of representation), and the settlement factory.
If the attorney you are speaking to is running your case as a volume business, or he is pushing you towards a “quick anonymous settlement” without showing you the merits of either 1) IGNORING, or 2) DEFENDING the claims against you, beware.
And if you need help and want my honest opinion about your case, or whether a particular attorney is engaging in a certain practice, just ask me. I do not need to have all of you as clients, and I will answer you honestly. And if you need, I will provide you a referral.
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.