Prenda's Latest Bag Of Tricks: Getting Info On IP Addresses By Any Means Necessary

from the these-guys-won't-stop dept

The latest in the long and growing list of wacky moves by the Prenda Law copyright trolling team once again hints at the same thing: these guys think that they've outwitted the law and will use every loophole they can possibly think of to do one thing: get the identities of people associated with IP addresses in order to send them "settlement" letters and phone calls. From all of Prenda / John Steele's actions to date, that appears to be all they care about. Get identities and then pressure into settling in any way possible. The company has tried all sorts of tricks -- and many of them are exactly that: tricks. As you go down the list of stories associated with Steele, you see more and more cases of really questionable behavior, with courts across the country calling him or Prenda out on the behavior.

The latest "trick" is really incredibly brazen, and involves a variety of different tricks all mixed into one. As the federal courts have gotten better at recognizing "copyright trolling" and properly finding the behavior reprehensible, Steele has tried a few tricks to get cases into state courts, such as using an ancient part of Florida's state law known as a "pure bill of discovery." The latest move, however, started out in a Cook County court in Illinois, where Prenda filed cases "Guava v. Skyler" and "Arte De Oaxaca v. Stacey Mullen" in which they sought to get discovery on a bunch of IP addresses using a couple of tricks to make it easier.

First, Guava doesn't actually hold the copyrights in question, so it can't file a copyright case (also, they can't file a copyright claim in a non-federal court since copyright is mostly covered by federal law) -- which is the situation that eventually got Righthaven in so much trouble. So, they filed under the CFAA -- the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. You may recall this law as one we've written about frequently, mainly for the ways that it's been abused to go after people doing something someone didn't like on a computer, when no other laws could be made to stick.

In these cases, the plaintiff would allege that a single defendant (Skyler or Mullen) along with "co-conspirators" had "breached plaintiff's security systems." This is trick number two. Rather than name everyone they're going after in a single lawsuit and face problems of misjoinder as in copyright trolling cases, they just claim that there are co-conspirators, who they hope to learn about during discovery. In other words, the "trick" here is not actually naming the people as defendants initially (which would make it easier for them to defend themselves), but arguing that they need to go through the process of having ISPs cough up their identifying info as part of the basic "discovery" process to even figure out if they're co-conspirators.

But how are they claiming this is a CFAA issue? That's trick number three. According to Steele:
Guava owns protected computers, but the files stored in that computers contain copyrighted stuff, and the copyrights belong to a third company. Guava goes after people because of hacking, but that third company, which also happens to be our client, may say: look, this IP address infringed our copyright, so we may decide to go after the same IP for copyright infringement.
In other words, this is a copyright case in disguise, and they're arguing that accessing copyrighted materials on a computer is a form of hacking.

I'm not ready to call the next part a "trick" but the judge in the Guava case certainly appears to suspect that there's a third trick, which is that the lawyer defending the defendants, Adam Urbanczyk, agrees to allow the process of discovery to move forward. The judge found this to be odd and, according to FightCopyrightTrolls, specifically asked John Steele and Urbanczyk if they "were in bed together" in allowing the discovery to move forward. That's because another lawyer entered the picture, Erin Russell, who had filed motions to quash on behalf of some of the supposed "co-conspirators," arguing that the whole thing was a sham and the "true purpose" of the whole thing was "to leverage settlements from identified subscribers, without ever naming them as defendants." In response, the judge wisely put the kibosh on the discovery process -- stopping existing subpoenas, forbidding new subpoenas and asking for more info.

Steele, in response, pulls out the next trick, arguing (in part) that Russell's motion should be ignored because the people she's representing aren't actually defendants. Remember how they're just named as "co-conspirators" rather than actual defendants? The idea is to use that to pretend that they can't even defend themselves until after their info has been revealed!

Then we move on to the next trick. After that hearing and before the ensuing hearing where the judge was to delve into more details, Steele / Prenda withdrew the subpoenas for all of the co-conspirators who were being represented by Russell. Because of this, her motion to quash the subpoenas was correctly ruled moot.

But, of course, that's not the end. So we move on to the next trick, which is that Guava / Prenda then sued all of the same people in ten different federal district courts. Yes, they basically filed identical lawsuits in ten different courts, all asking for discovery on the same exact list of 34 IP addresses. Fight Copyright Trolls lists out all of the cases (and the lawyers representing Prenda in each case): Basically: a total shotgun approach. The attempt to sneak through discovery without even naming the IP addresses as defendants failed in Cook County, so just file repeat federal lawsuits everywhere they can think of, perhaps hoping / figuring that at least one of the judges would agree to discovery, leading to the identities associated with those 34 IP addresses being passed over. (Also, as an aside, FCT notes that in what appears to be a moment of sloppiness, in at least one of the complaints, Prenda slips up and notes that it's really a copyright case, despite elsewhere pretending that these kinds of cases aren't about copyright at all). Talk about jurisdiction shopping!

Steele, apparently, then bragged about this particular trick on both Twitter and in blog comments, in which he mocks Russell, suggesting that her clients must be angry because rather than be a mere "co-conspirator" in the original case, they're now defendants in federal cases around the country. He also bragged that some of those account holders were now "begging to settle" and angry at Russell for not letting them know that they could be sued.

Following this, three of the defendants in Massachusetts hit back hard, alerting the judge to the shenanigans that Prenda was pulling in filing identical cases all over the place, and asking the court to not only put a stop to the proceedings, but also asking for Guava to have to pay their costs and to withdraw the subpoenas it issued in all of the duplicate and related cases.
The Complaint Guava filed in this Court is based on and includes substantially identical factual and legal claims to those Guava raised in Illinois. To defend the Illinois action, Defendants retained counsel and filed motions to dismiss and to quash subpoenas issued by Guava. One day after the Illinois court stayed the subpoenas and scheduled a hearing on the motions, Guava withdrew its claims against Defendants and opened this action. Guava then duplicated this action in nine other federal courts, without notifying this Court of the prior or concurrent related cases, and set out to issue new versions of the subpoenas, seeking the same information about Defendants.
In other words: Prenda is basically filing the same thing against the same people in a ton of different places, hoping one court, somewhere actually lets it go through. The filing from the defendants notes that it's proper to awards costs (including attorney's fees) when refiling a previously dismissed claim.

The filing also notes that Guava / Prenda appear to be engaged in "vexatious litigation tactics":
Guava’s bad faith litigation tactics are precisely the kind of vexatious conduct that Rule 41(d) was designed to prevent.... Guava admits that it initiated its new claims against only those Does who filed motions to dismiss and quash in Guava I, precisely because they did so. “[B]ecause the Movants attempted to act and raise arguments as though they were defendants in this case, Plaintiff granted their wishes and initiated separate litigation against them in which they will now be actual defendants.” ... “The scattershot litigation strategy of plaintiff’s counsel -- filing identical lawsuits nationwide and forcing defendants to defend the same action in various jurisdictions -- is certainly questionable.” Kerner v. Cult Awareness Network.... Sanctions under 18 U.S.C. § 1927 may be warranted by evidence of “bad faith in choosing a multiple-district litigation strategy.” Id. Guava provided sufficient evidence of bad faith by filing multiple duplicative federal actions in apparent retaliation against Defendants for having defended themselves in the prior action.

Many other aspects of Guava’s litigation strategy can only be described as vexatious. In this action, Guava claims to be pursuing a single John Doe defendant with three different IP addresses. Before filing the Complaint in this action, Guava admitted it had “used publicly available reverse-lookup databases on the Internet to determine what ISP issued the IP addresses and the putative location of those IP addresses.” ... However, freely available online geolocation tools list two of Defendants’ IP addresses in different regions of metro Boston (Somerville and Brighton), while the third is in western Massachusetts (Chicopee). Those same geolocation tools identify the three Defendants’ IP addresses as having been assigned by two different Internet service providers, both of which Guava subpoenaed in pursuit of an allegedly single defendant. Because they are different people, Defendants filed their motions in Guava I on different dates. Thus, Guava had no reason to believe that the three individuals it calls “Defendant” are the same person, and Guava’s deceptive pleading has needlessly added to the complexity of Defendants’ responses.

Guava’s bad faith tactics have further complicated Defendants’ defense. Guava chose to file complaints that sound in copyright without pleading copyright infringement as a cause of action.8 Though the Complaint alleges CFAA violations and various common law claims, it repeatedly references an implicit copyright claim...
It goes on to highlight where in the various cases they repeatedly refer to copyright-related claims, such as "the exclusive right," and thus (similar to Righthaven), they argue that Guava is using "tactical chicanery in misstating its claims." And, of course, such claims should be pre-empted by federal copyright law, since that's what they're really suing about while trying to avoid it officially being a copyright case -- probably for the sake of not easily "connecting" it to copyright trolling cases that have received so much bad publicity (and dismissals from judges).

That appears to be the state of things so far. It will be worth watching how the judge responds (and how some of the other courts who have the related cases deal with the same issues). However, all of this smacks of the same old story with John Steele and Prenda: lawyers who think they're so smart that they've outwitted the system through a whole series of loopholes, all intended to avoid the fate of some of the straight copyright trolling cases. Given the details, however, hopefully a court will rightfully smack them down for abusing the courts in this manner.








Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 1:00pm

    So, is Guava Prenda's shell company or something?

    Because that would explain a lot.

     

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  2.  
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    S. T. Stone, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 1:02pm

    Wow.

    What a dick.

     

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  3.  
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    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Dec 21st, 2012 @ 1:08pm

    Wow! Huge thanks: not so much for so many references (which is admittedly flattering), but for chiming in this topic. While copyright trolling cases are widely covered, CFAA scams (Lightspeed / Guava / Arte de Oaxaca) are not so much. And they deserve a lot of healing light.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 1:10pm

    I don't get it...

    So they set up a publicly accessible computer to allow downloads and say it's illegal to access it?

    They set up a download (for which I hope they are authorized?) and say anyone downloading it (from their authorized computer) is committing a crime?

    My third question should be the simplest. How is this not fraud?

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 1:15pm

    Hopefully, Mr. Steele will continue to push against the legal system until he finds himself disbarred for unsavory tactics.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 1:24pm

    Re: I don't get it...

    I too am scratching my head on this.

    If there computer was part of a bittorrent swarm then for them to join the swarm to mine the IP addresses of the users surely this company knows how the bittorent system works upload/download between computers so if computers accessed the computer to get part of a file when they knew for well that they would do so then how can it be hacking.

    It reminds me of entrapment. This company clearly set out to get obtain IP addresses from a bittorrent storm and the only way that they could do is to join the swarm where people could download from them and now they accuse people of hacking into their computer. A case of someone deliberately being abusive on purpose to someone in order to get that person arrested for assualt for when the person then smacks the abuser in the mouth.

     

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  7.  
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    Arthur Moore (profile), Dec 21st, 2012 @ 1:26pm

    Judge doing lawyers job

    I love how the judge called shenanigans when the lawyer wanted to let discovery happen.

    That right there indicates that the judge knows something suspicious is going on.

    It's hard to imagine a way for Prenda and friends to not get smacked down. Everyone hates more work, so most of the judges are going to be upset with duplicate cases. If one of them does roll over and grant discovery then the original judge will block it. Then you have this weird jurisdictional clash, which will not end well for Prenda.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 1:34pm

    Re: Re: I don't get it...

    Shouldn't they be held accountable by their client for making copyright material available for public download?

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Judge doing lawyers job

    Although this is all a waste of time and money, it'd almost be worth it for one of the Federal judges to sign off on the lawsuit while another blocks it. Then perhaps you could get the Supreme Court to straighten this bloody mess of copyright trolling out once and for all...

    Yes, I live in a cloud...

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 2:49pm

    Why aren't these nitwits disbarred? I mean, come on. How much abuse of the judicial system are lawyers permitted to engage in before they are finally prevented from ever practicing law again?

     

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  11.  
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    Arthur Moore (profile), Dec 21st, 2012 @ 2:56pm

    Re: Re: Judge doing lawyers job

    That would indeed be nice, but this case has so many things wrong with it the Supreme Court would likely just punt on the copyright trolling part.

    Ahh, I wish I could join you on your cloud. As long as it's not really an Amazon E2C machine. :D

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 3:06pm

    Re:

    Why aren't these nitwits disbarred?

    I wonder the same thing. Of all the fukwits we have to read about around here J.Steele is the most deserving of an old school ass kicking by a wide margin.

    That guy has some balls. You gotta give him that but, I suspect things are not going to bode well for him.

    Nigel

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Dave Xanatos, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 3:33pm

    Re:

    He should go to jail. Contempt of court doesn't even begin to describe it.

     

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  14.  
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    Dave Nelson, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 4:31pm

    Re:

    I have often wondered the same thing. I was aghast when Righthaven was allowed to go as far as they were, especially after getting whacked so many times for not having standing to sue. This legal system of ours is far too permissive.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 21st, 2012 @ 6:27pm

    IF the lawyers for both sides were in cahoots, they all need to be disbarred forever. It's possible that the defendant's lawyer just didn't care about the rights of people who were not his clients. But I can see where people might be suspicious here. According to the lawsuit, the defendant confessed. If this is true, what need for discovery is there?

     

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  16.  
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    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Dec 21st, 2012 @ 6:47pm

    Note that there is a third, identical lawsuit in the Minneapolis county court. Guava v. Merkel. Same scenario. I'll write about it as soon as I obtain the court documents. And I won't be polite.

     

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  17.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 21st, 2012 @ 9:58pm

    Re:

    Would be awesome if we could prove the defendant actually existed.
    The discovery is to get the co-conspirators, the actual people they seek to shake money out of.

     

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  18.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 21st, 2012 @ 10:02pm

    Re:

    Nope its quite possibly a fake company.
    It is run by trash that runs a porn site.
    That trash is his companies "expert" who gathered the IP addresses, of people who allegedly downloaded his porn.

    So the guy who claims his copyrights were violated, is the expert in his own case.

    This one predates Pretenda's shell company games.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    That Anonymous Coward, Dec 22nd, 2012 @ 12:59am

    re

    In Michigan a NEW tactic

    sue ONE person
    then clam that for discovery they NEED all these OTHER ip's resolved

    I am one of those caught up in that

    At that point the first case dose not matter much
    they HAVE there list

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Narf, Dec 22nd, 2012 @ 4:26am

    I Think Steele Has A Drug Problem

    ^ Sorry to hear you're caught up in that :(

    I hope TechDirt keeps us informed on how this plays out. I personally think Mr. Steele has a cocaine habit and is desperate for money. He differently sounds like a Coke Head.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 22nd, 2012 @ 5:31am

    Re:

    Not going to happen in IL.
    IIRC it took the IL bar a number of years to disbar a lawyer who was tried, convicted, sentenced, and in jail when they finally got around to deciding he shouldn't be a member of the bar any longer.

    They ignored Steele using a robodialer contacting victims, even those who were represented by counsel.

    They ran him out of FL, but he still showed up in a courtroom there providing direction to his debt collector posing as the rep for the copyright holder and then claiming he had no involvement in the case.

    Steele thinks he in untouchable, and with millions being funneled to a series of secretive offshore holding companies he has the means to escape the reach of the law.

     

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  22.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 22nd, 2012 @ 5:37am

    Re: re

    *blinks*
    Who are you and when was I cloned?

    Be cautious using that particular name as I went right out and dared Steele to come after me. He doesn't like me very much.

    I am hoping that your posting and keeping track of the cases on Fightcopyrighttrolls.com and Dietrolldie.com
    They are the premiere websites for learning how the scam works, how to protect yourself, and what to expect.

     

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  23.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 22nd, 2012 @ 5:39am

    Re: I Think Steele Has A Drug Problem

    The real fun is in following
    fightcopyrighttrolls.com
    and
    dietrolldie.com

    Much more information there about Steele and the other trolls.

     

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  24.  
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    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Dec 22nd, 2012 @ 2:41pm

    Re:

    Guava is a pseudonym for Lightspeed Media Corporation (Steve Jones). "Guava LLC" is not registered anywhere in US. None of the lawsuit complaints even attempt to specify its location. On a single occasion, Prenda'z AZ goon Goodhue specified in a case cover sheet that "Guava is an Arizona corporation," which is both true and lies. True: Lightspeed is indeed registered in AZ; lies: search for "Guava" in the AZ business directory yields nothing.

     

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  25.  
    icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), Dec 22nd, 2012 @ 2:45pm

    Re: I Think Steele Has A Drug Problem

    No, to the best of my knowledge, no illegal drugs are involved. It's simpler (and legal): good old alcohol.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 22nd, 2012 @ 3:55pm

    Flashsuit

    How about and flashmob kind of thing - a flashsuit. Get 100k people to file suit against Steele for being a dick. That should consume all of his bandwidth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 22nd, 2012 @ 11:03pm

    Re: Re: I don't get it...

    This has been a huge flaw in how these addresses are gathered that the courts have never taken up.

    How the numbers are gathered could destroy many of these cases.

    Ex. 1 Evan "Not a porn star" Stone.
    His IP captures were done by using an off the shelf BT client, a former VP for a cell company wrote down IP addresses he saw in the swarm and had to download the file to verify it was the clients "work".
    Problem - the client was capable of uploading while it was in the swarm. If your assisting in the commission of a crime, courts dislike you trying to profit from it.

    Ex. 2 The Germans.
    Using a secret program, never vetted by an independent expert, they capture IP addresses with a computer. The program is claimed to have downloaded the target file to verify it is the clients work. They claim the program is incapable of upload, but BT clients stop sharing with people who aren't sharing. A German firm was sued for hiding flaws in their tech by a partner lawfirm, and evidence they provided was thrown out of court. We have a copy of a 'standard' contract used by one firm where the client authorizes them to run a 'honeypot' (they are the source of the file being shared.) once again unclean hands. They claim extra steps to verify the IP address is correct, but can still not prove what device(s) were using that IP address let alone the person in control of it.

    Ex. 3 Steele aka 6881 aka the $250,000 lie.
    Steele touted his system as being perfect. He highlighted how much money he claimed to spend in development. We've never found out who wrote it. Steele famously had to admit his system was not perfect after targeting a senior citizen in SF. She went to the media about this extortion, and once media outlets started asking questions... Oh there was a "mistake". In the meantime they had been sending letters and calling this poor little old lady who had done nothing wrong demanding cash or they would tell everyone about her hardcore porn downloading habit.

    There are other variants on the theme.
    IP capture tech is flawed, you can remove some of the issues it has but IT CAN NEVER TELL YOU WHO DID IT.
    Does often willingly offer up their computers to prove they did nothing, and the trolls never take up the offer.

    Some trolls threaten to question everyone within WiFi range if they downloaded "Nasty Porn Title" using your WiFi. Because threatening to attach someones name to "Nasty Porn Title" in the neighborhood isn't undue pressure.

    Steele likes(d) to publish Does names on his websites, creating Google hits to help them make the decision to pay up to unattach their name from the porn title.

     

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  28.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 22nd, 2012 @ 11:05pm

    Re: Re: I Think Steele Has A Drug Problem

    SJD - one of those times my memory meshes 2 trolls together.
    Was it Stone or Steele who was at the Adult Industry event in Vegas and took the stage completely hammered pitching his services?

     

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  29.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Dec 23rd, 2012 @ 4:01am

    Re: Re:

    As disgusting as the idea is, with how much he's been able to get away with without any serious penalty, he could very well be right thinking he's untouchable.

    When he can just drop a case or company when things go sour, and then start up elsewhere and elsewhen, with no penalties to do so... then he doesn't exactly have much reason not to act like a slime sucking parasite.

    Mind, that's the worst case scenario, I'd much rather hope that he simply hasn't encountered a judge who was actually willing to punish him for his abuse of the legal system, and fine him into oblivion or somehow open the floodgates for his victims to do it themselves.

    Even better would be for some jail time to be sent his way(fraud, extortion, blackmail... those are the three that come to mind first with regards to the whole racket, and at least one of those has got to have a prison sentence as a potential punishment), that would certainly get his attention.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Dec 24th, 2012 @ 1:22am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Well the lengths he has gone so far haven't raised a blip.

    Electronic signatures attached to filings the named person never saw or knew about.

    Local counsel left holding the bag when a case detonates, and yet more local counsels blinded by the promises of easy cash lining up to rubber stamp "Insert Steele's Troll Factories latest name here" filings to extort cash from people.

    Millions funneled to an offshore entity, which pretty much is to hide the cash, remove tax liability and rip off the system.

    Flooding the court systems with cases in blatant forum shopping, and packing as many Does as possible into them denying the court system of millions of filing fees.

    But the bigger "criminals" are people who pay for an internet connection that possibly might have been used to infringe upon a copyright.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    Robert Z. Cashman, Esq. (profile), Jan 14th, 2013 @ 5:43pm

    Re: re

    Funny, I just wrote this case up on Friday. Article: "Hundreds of John Doe Defendants Hidden in Steele’s “Single John Doe” Lawsuits" (link: https://torrentlawyer.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/anti-piracy-law-group-hidden-suit/)

    -Rob

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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