Porn-trolling Prenda lawyers slammed by federal judge

By on May 7, 2013, 5:00 PM
copyright, trolling, pornography, prenda

In a satisfying case of justice well served, US District Judge Otis Wright made it definitively clear what the Internet has for months decried in comment boxes everywhere: porn-trolling, litigation-happy copyright law firm Prenda Law are a bunch of crooks. But before we dig into the intermediate outcome of the Prenda saga, a brief recap:

Prenda has been filing thousands of suits across the country for years against “John Doe” defendants who they say illegally downloaded their clients’ porn movies via BitTorrent. It started to go sour for Prenda about a year ago when a Minnesota man named Alan Cooper got suspicious when his name appeared as the head of a company called AF Holdings, with which he had no affiliation. After some investigation done by his attorney, Cooper accused Prenda of identity theft, and the Prenda gang was summoned to Judge Wright’s courtroom.

Through an intentionally complicated and obfuscated structure of shell companies and leadership, Prenda leaders initially avoided appearing in court, and then skirted difficult questions posed by the Judge. Finally, after the three people identified as Prenda’s “principals,” John Steele, Paul Hansmeier, and Paul Duffy, pleaded the fifth in the courtroom and refused to answer any questions, Wright declared that he would “have to assume the worst” in determining the outcome of the case.

That brings us up to today, and that is exactly what Judge Wright has done in a castigating 11-page document detailing the information brought to light concerning Prenda. Wright describes how the plaintiffs “outmaneuvered the legal system” for their own monetary gain:

“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 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.”

Wright began the penalties and sanctions against Prenda with attorneys’ fees, ordering them to pay the two defense lawyers that were involved in the case $40,659 in addition to legal costs. But, “as a punitive measure,” he doubled the amounts to a total of $81,319, "calculated to be just below the cost of an effective appeal"—a not so subtle play on Prenda’s own business model.

If that seems mild, rest easy knowing that Wright went on to suggest that the Prenda laywers be disbarred, and said he would be referring the lawyers to every state bar in which they practice.

Finally, Wright wrote that Prenda’s actions warrant further criminal investigation, and that the Court “will refer this matter to the United States Attorney for the Central District of California,” requesting a RICO investigation, and also to the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service, as they did not pay taxes on any of the millions of dollars collected during copyright litigation.

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