Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II, from the Central District of California, delivered a shot heard round the legal world, when he issued an 11-page opinion & order condemning the four attorneys who are principally responsible for nearly all of the porno-trolling copyright infringement lawsuits in this country. If you ever wondered what was so controversial or reprehensible about this type of litigation, Judge Wright does a pretty good job of summing it all up in the very first paragraph of his order:
Plaintiffs have outmaneuvered the legal system. They’ve discovered the nexus of antiquated copyright laws, paralyzing social stigma, and unaffordable defense costs. And they exploit this anomaly by accusing individuals of illegally downloading a single pornographic video. Then they offer to settle—for a sum calculated to be just below the cost of a bare-bones [legal] defense. For these individuals, resistance is futile; most reluctantly pay rather than have their names associated with illegally downloading porn. So now, copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow, starving attorneys in this electronic-media era to plunder the citizenry.
Unfortunately, this is not news to a lot of us. But what makes it newsworthy—even to those of us who’ve known about it all along—is that the man behind the curtain, the Phantom of the Opera, the [insert masqued villain of your choice] has finally been revealed, and in dramatic fashion. But what did they do that was so bad? The short answer is this: Attorneys John Steele, Paul Hansmeier, Angela Van Den Hemel, and Paul Duffy developed a business plan that centered on them planting pornographic movies in places where they were likely to be downloaded using peer-to-peer file sharing protocol. Then they monitored those servers for download activity, and filed suit against the IP addresses associated with the “illegal” downloading. Since attorneys can’t really file suit on their own behalves, they created several fake people to stand in the place of the plaintiffs, by stealing the identities of various individuals, one of whom just happened to be John Steele’s gardener.
Okay, so that wasn’t exactly short, let me summarize my summary: Prenda Law Inc. used our federal courts to more or less blackmail or extort money out of defendants who were essentially hauled into court only because of situations that the plaintiffs themselves created. I liken it to a civil version of entrapment. Judge Wright likened it to racketeering.
In total, the judge only ordered Prenda Law to pay a little over $80,000 in sanctions, but that’s not the significance of the order, or the case. Judge Wright has asked that a copy of the order be forwarded to every court in which Prenda Law or one of its affiliates has a case pending. Further, Judge Wright has asked that a copy of the order be forwarded to attorney disciplinary body of each state in which the Prenda Law attorneys are admitted to practice. That could potentially bring an end to the entire porno-trolling litigation industry.