Saturday, December 17, 2016

This Sounds Familiar

You may recall some years ago that a sleazy law firm named Righthaven started suing bloggers for copyright infringement for copying parts of news stories.  The scam all fell apart when it turned out they didn't actually own the copyrights for which they were claiming infringement.  But before it fell apart they had collected thousands of dollars from hundreds of defendants who were reluctant to spend at least $30,000 defending themselves in court.  That includes yours truly.  The whole scam fell apart when Righthaven sued an attorney, who unearthed their non-ownership of the copyrights during discovery.  But by then, many of us had already paid out the protection racket money.

The power of lawyers to abuse people in these sort of questionable and  often unlawful schemes is a product of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and its insane penalties for even minor or unknowing violations, and the lack of any clear legal definition of "fair use."  Adding to the problem, Righthaven used subpoena delivery services that falsely claimed to have served people.  My codefendant was in his early 20s; they claimed to have left the complaint with his adult son!  These "sewer services," as they are known in the trade often collect fees for services not even attempted.  People may end up defaulting in civil proceedings unaware that they were sued.

Righthaven eventually went bankrupt; the chief crook's fantasy of making billions of dollars on these lawsuits turned out to be a delusion.  Unfortunately, his false statements in court documents of owning these copyrights never led to criminal charges or even discipline from the Nevada bar.  This case had a more just result.  12/16/16 NBC News:
Two lawyers were charged Friday with a "massive extortion scheme" in which they uploaded X-rated films to file-sharing sites, sued the people who downloaded them — and collected millions from victims who feared public humiliation, prosecutors said.
Paul Hansmeier and John Steele actually produced some of the pornography, solely for the purpose of copyrighting it so they could file "sham lawsuits" used to shake down their targets, Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said.
"The conduct of these defendants was nothing short of outrageous," Luger said at a press conference hours after Hansmeier and Steele were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, money laundering and perjury.
Here'as the indictment.  It is devastating.  I understand lawyers are supposed to take legal ethics courses in law school.  This, along with Righthaven will make a fine countertexample. for such courses.

A reader points me to a a series of marvelously entertaining posts at Popehat about these not too bright lawyer crooks:
This afternoon Judge Wright issued an annihilating, hull-breaching order against Prenda Law, its principals, and its plaintiff entities. How does a federal judge assure that an already-dramatic situation is even more popcorn-worthy for an internet obsessed with it? He starts it with a Wrath of Khan quote:
“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
—Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).
From there, the Star Trek references come fast and furious. ("As evidence materialized, it turned out that Gibbs was just a redshirt.") Clean up in Aisle Geek!
 Judge Wright's order begins with what can be interpreted as a full salvo against not just Prenda Law, but the entire Bittorrent download litigation model:
Plaintiffs1 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 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.
But from there, Judge Wright quickly begins to assault Prenda in particular:
It was when the Court realized Plaintiffs engaged their cloak of shell companies and fraud that the Court went to battlestations.

2 comments:

Eskyman said...

Shakespeare had it right, all those years ago: "First, let's kill all the lawyers."

Hard to improve on that!

Rich Rostrom said...

Ah, yes, Prenda Law. Ken White at Popehat has covered their "saga" for years.