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.

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    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.

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      Hundreds of John Doe Defendants Hidden in Steele’s “Single John Doe” Lawsuits

      RE: AF Holdings LLC v. Matthew Ciccone (MIED; Case No. 4:12-cv-14442)
      Local Counsel:  Jonathan W. Tappan (a.k.a., Anti-Piracy Law Group, a.k.a., Prenda Law Inc.)
      Judge: District Judge Gershwin Drain (Magistrate Judge Laurie Michelson) –> case reassigned to Mona K. Majzoub.

      Prenda Law Inc. (now formally known as the “Anti-Piracy Law Group”) might be the most prolific copyright troll law firm out there, but they have become quite skilled at hiding their activities, even from the likes of me. In the past few months, I have seen many lawsuits bearing the title, “AF Holdings LLC v. John Doe.” My immediate assumption was that there was just one defendant in each of these cases [about to be named], but no! Just how many John Doe Defendants are in each of these “single John Doe” cases? As of today, the answer is now, “sometimes hundreds of defendants.”

      Case in Point: AF Holdings LLC v. Matthew Ciccone (Case No. 4:12-cv-14442) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The title of the accused infringed work is “Sexual Obsession.” For the purposes of this blog entry, I will ignore the fact that this pornography video was copyrighted by Heartbreaker Films and not AF Holdings, and I will also ignore the non-existent [fake] CEO “Alan Cooper,” and copyright assignment issues which have been circulating around the blogs.

      At first glance, it looks like yet one more John Doe (Ciccone) defendant was named in one of their many “single Doe” lawsuits. However, buried deep in the lawsuit (in Document 10) is what is known as a “Joint Motion for Expedited Discovery” naming an ADDITIONAL 300 JOHN DOE DEFENDANTS INTO THE LAWSUIT.

      Now these 300+ John Doe Defendants are getting subpoenas from their ISPs telling them that unless they file a “motion to quash,” their ISP will be complying with the subpoenas and handing over their information.

      On a personal note, I have been dealing with copyright trolls such as the Anti Piracy Law Group for almost two years now. In the olden days, their lawsuits used to look like “AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,040” where it was obvious how many defendants were in each lawsuit.  With this new information, now I need to delve back in to what appeared to be “single John Doe” lawsuits and see whether there is really one defendant or hundreds in each lawsuit.

      One point for you, John Steele. I didn’t see this one coming.


      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.

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        DING, DONG, THE HARD DRIVE PRODUCTIONS CASE IS DEAD!

        I don’t know how to say this other than in my field of work, it is not often that I am shocked.  I often speak to local counsel who get excited that they are handling a “porn” case.  Just a few days ago, I called one of Steele’s (a.k.a., “Anti-Piracy Law Group”) local counsel.  When I introduced myself, he said to me (with a boyish excitement), “Aren’t you the porn lawyer?” to which I responded, “Aren’t YOU the porn lawyer?!?”

        Anyway, I cannot help but to generalize these cases into “okay, one more production company suing a college kid or husband for clicking on a link and viewing copyrighted materials.”  What I often forget is that there is usually some guy behind the scenes who has trailed so far into the world of pornography that he has opened up his own company, produced some porn videos, and now is suing defendants for their download.

        The motive is usually the same.  Instead of “let’s punish these pirates” as they would like you to believe, their motive is rather, “let’s hit up as many people for thousands of dollars each until we get shut down by the courts.”  In my opinion, this was the motive of the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. lawsuits.

        Digressing, the epic news of the day is that the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,495 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01741) case has been dismissed.  Congratulations to the Cashman Law Firm, PLLC defendants who have been released from this case.  

        I don’t need to go into details about the case history — it has been riddled with controversy since they started suing internet users 2+ years ago.  As far as the legal issues were concerned, this was a typical copyright infringement lawsuit plagued with the same procedural issues that most of the other cases of its time suffered from — improper joinder (defendants were not part of the same “swarm”), and improper jurisdiction (defendants were sued in a court which did not have personal jurisdiction over them because the DC court’s reach could not decide the case against most of the defendants who were implicated in the lawsuit because they lived outside of the court’s jurisdiction).

        What surprised me about the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case was not Hard Drive Productions, Inc., but the District of Columbia judges who made a political mess of these cases.  Judge Beryl Howell came on the scene making pro-copyright troll rulings, such as 1) “you don’t need to decide jurisdiction or joinder until a defendant is named and served in a lawsuit,” 2) an ISP cannot file a motion to quash on behalf of their subscribers, and 3) accused John Doe Defendants cannot file motions to quash until they are named as defendants in the case.  Mind you, she was a copyright lobbyist before she was appointed a federal judge.

        Then in February, 2012, Judge Facciola came in with a ruling in the West Coast Productions, Inc. v. Does 1-1,434 (Case No. 1:11-cv-00055) case which I was sure was going to kill the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case and all the other bittorrent cases in DC.  In his order, he ruled that “a defendant who does not live in the District of Columbia cannot be sued in the DC court because the DC court lacks jurisdiction over those defendants.”  However, at some point, it appears to me as if the RIAA/MPAA copyright lobby (probably by using Judge Beryl Howell as their mouthpiece) pressured Judge Facciola into giving into the copyright lobby’s pressure, and with a few contradictory rulings, he transitioned over to being Judge Beryl Howell’s sidekick in these cases.

        Judge Bates also came in appearing to protect the procedural rights of the accused defendants who lived outside of DC, but once again, after what appeared to be some pressure from the RIAA/MPAA copyright lobby (once again, my educated guess is that Judge Beryl Howell was the force behind what happened), he was removed from the case which Judge Facciola took over.  Then, after some time, it appears as if Judge Bates too eventually caved in to the RIAA/MPAA copyright lobby (some refer to them as the “mafia,” or the copyright police), and on my September 27th, 2012 post, Judge Bates reversed his decision in Hard Drive Productions, Inc. case and let the “extortion” of the John Doe Defendants at the hands of John Steele and Co. (a.k.a., Steele Hansmeier PLLC, a.k.a., Prenda Law Inc., and now a.k.a., the “Anti-Piracy Law Group”) continue.

        So.  The story with this dismissal is not necessarily a Hard Drive Productions, Inc. story, but a story of the forces behind the public interest groups and lobbyists who pressure Washington to always rule in favor of the copyright holder, regardless of whether the copyright holder is a pornography company, or whether the copyright holder is involved in making B-movies.  Bottom line, these lobbyists insist that WASHINGTON MUST CONTINUE TO BE PRO-COPYRIGHT AND MUST CONTINUE TO RULE IN FAVOR OF THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS, regardless of who the copyright holder is, or at what cost.

        So as things stand in DC, there is still a split as to the rights of unnamed John Doe Defendants between the rulings of Judge Wilkins (relating to the “motion to compel” lawsuit by Prenda Law Inc. against Comcast relating to their Millennium TGA, Inc. cases [BTW, dismissed last week]) and the rulings of Judge Beryl Howell, because as you read, Judge Howell certified an interlocutory appeal to answer questions relevant to these cases, but it appears to me that someone is dragging their feet there in DC and hoping for a dismissal so that they don’t have to decide the issues.

        Lastly, there is a lot of activity on Twitter as to the 28 or so defendants who have settled their case, and some anger directed at these anonymous defendants who have settled.  Quite frankly, they are not all anonymous.  What happened with these is that without warning, Prenda Law Inc. turned around and sued one of these defendants (or threatened to imminently sue these defendants) in lawsuits in their home states.  I understand that many, if not most of the defendants in the “Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe” cases which were filed towards the end of 2011 probably settled (I’ve listed a few of the named defendants in the “At What Point Does a Copyright Troll Stop Being a Troll” article.)

        In closing, people are asking me whether I think Hard Drive Productions, Inc. is dead, or whether this is just the next logical progression before a slew of defendants being named.  I must note that Hard Drive Productions, Inc. got their butts kicked quite a few times, especially with the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 3:11-cv-05634-JCS (Seth Abrahams) case and the Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. John Doe, 4:11-cv-05630-YGR (Liuxia Wong) case, both in California.  If you look at the http://www.rfcexpress.com website, there have been ZERO filings since March, 2012.  A defendant must also understand that with the egos of these copyright troll attorneys, there is the saying, “As the ego of the attorney inflates, so does his hourly rate.

        We also know there have been squabbles between Prenda Law Inc.’s local counsel and Steele, and we know that their own attorneys have been jumping ship (and in some cases even testifying against Prenda Law Inc. in their attempts to withdraw as local counsel.)  Thus, there are problems all around, so my best advise is to watch the http://www.rfcexpress.com website and see whether Hard Drive Productions, Inc. starts a flurry of lawsuits across the U.S. or not.  And remember — behind every lawsuit there is a person (joking using the term “person” to mean a human, a fictitious person (who might not exist), or an offshore entity) who needs to pay Steele’s legal fees so that he can pay for his Las Vegas lifestyle of traveling the country “not” representing his clients in these matters.


        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.

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          Which will be the bittorrent lawsuits of tomorrow?

          With the larger cases from Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC heading off into the bittorrent litigation graveyard, the plaintiff attorneys have not yet learned their lesson about the dangers of filing John Doe lawsuits with thousands of Does sued together. Below are just a few cases filed by the same plaintiff attorneys — newer cases — which thus far have not achieved much traction. No doubt we’ll be seeing more of these in the coming months.

          First and foremost, Ira Siegel’s new case, Digital Sin, Inc. v. Does 1-5,698 (Case No. 4:11-cv-04397-LB) filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. Apparently it did not occur to his client that suing 5,698 defendants is the easiest way for a case to achieve scrutiny.

          Also by Ira Siegel is his SRO Pictures, Inc v. Does 1-3036 (Case No. 5:11-cv-04220-PSG) case, his Discount Video Center, Inc. v. Does 1-5,041 (Case No. 5:11-cv-02694-PSG) case, his Zero Tolerance Entertainment, Inc. v. Does 1-2,943 (Case No. 3:11-cv-02767-EDL) case, each filed in the same California court as Digital Sin.

          We are already hearing from Doe Defendants on Ira Siegel’s Third Degree Films, Inc. v. Does 1-3,577 (Case No. 4:11-cv-02768-LB) and most notorious, his Patrick Collins, Inc. v. Does 1-2590 (Case No. 3:11-cv-02766-MEJ) case, also in the same California court.

          Next, filed by Thomas Dunlap himself (of Dunlap Grubb & Weaver, PLLC) is CineTel Films, Inc. dba Family of the Year Productions, LLC v. Does 1-1,052 (Case No. 8:11-cv-02438-JFM) filed in the US District Court for the District of Maryland. This one should be fun. This same plaintiff has had Dunlap sue in his home US District Court for the District of Columbia, the Cinetel Films Inc. et al v. Does 1-1,951 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01334-RLW) case. Same plaintiff, different jurisdiction. My guess is that Ellis Bennett or Nicholas Kurtz will be the on the paperwork for these since they have to date handled Dunlap Grubb & Weaver’s older cases.

          In the District of Columbia (where most of Dunlap Grubb & Weaver’s cases are filed,) to everyone’s surprise is the AF Holdings, LLC v. Does 1-1,140 (Case No. 1:11-cv-01274-RBW) case, apparently using Timothy Anderson of Anderson & Associates, PC as the local counsel. The funny thing about this one is that AF Holdings, LLC is John Steele of Steele Hansmeier PLLC’s clients (where Steele Hansmeier has sued a bunch of AF Holdings, LLC v. Does smaller cases across the country already), so this Tim Anderson guy is probably another one of Steele’s local counsel puppets (sorry Tim).

          Then, there is Evan Stone’s FUNimation Entertainment v. Does 1-1,427 (Case No. 2:11-cv-00269-DF) filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. I haven’t heard much about this case yet, but Evan Stone is the attorney who was the plaintiff attorney over the LFP Internet Group, LLC v. Does [LFP a.k.a. “Larry Flint Productions”] lawsuit that had over 6,000 defendants in total dismissed last year. Maybe he’s back in the game with a case that won’t be immediately dismissed.

          Last, but not least, there is a set of triplet lawsuits filed by an unknown McDaniel Law Firm plaintiff (probably a copycat attorney who has watched these bittorrent cases develop and now has decided to try his hand and sue) in the US District Court for the District of New Jersey. Both of them go by the same name, Baseprotect UG, Ltd. v. John Does 1-X (Case No. 2:11-cv-03621, Case No. 2:11-cv-02021, and Case No. 2:10-cv-06806 respectively). The deceptive part is that the “Does 1-X” title appears to suggest that there are just a few defendants, so the case is hoped to stay under the radar. Nope. In one case, I believe there are over 300+ John Doe defendants implicated, and in the other case, I believe there are over 1,500 John Doe defendants. Funny enough, I hear that Baseprotect does not even own the Polish copyrights they assert, and that they have merely questionably acquired a limited right to sue on these copyrights. This will be fun to watch.

          So in short, with the demise of the famous DC cases (Maverick Entertainment, Call of the Wild, and now West Coast Productions, Inc.), there are a whole new generation of cases who hope to achieve exactly the same purpose as their predecessors. Make a profit before getting dismissed into oblivion.

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