Prenda Law Sues Critics For Defamation

from the grab-some-popcorn dept

Wow. Wow. Wow. Okay, so we have another story we’ve been working on concerning Brett Gibbs, a lawyer who was working for Prenda Law in California, finally answering some of the questions presented to him by a judge. We’ll get that story up later, because there’s a new Prenda story that has leapfrogged all the others. It appears that three separate lawsuits have now been filed — one from Prenda itself, one from John Steele (the guy who is often considered the man behind Prenda) and Paul Duffy the actual official partner of Prenda Law (you may remember Paul from this story, in which he sent a letter insisting that Prenda Law had nothing to do with a case, despite the lawyer appearing believing they had been hired by Prenda). Jordan Rushie, a lawyer who has been following the Prenda cases pretty closely, has links to all of the filings, which we’ve embedded below. All three were originally filed in state courts (Prenda & Duffy in Illinois, Steele in Florida), but were quickly removed to federal courts.

These are basically defamation lawsuits with a few other claims thrown in as well. There are two named defendants in the lawsuit: Alan Cooper (a caretaker for a home of John Steele, who has accused Steele/Prenda of illegally using his name as “CEO” of companies Ingenuity 13 and AF Holdings) and Paul Godfread, Cooper’s lawyer, who filed the letter alerting some judges to these concerns, and then followed it up by filing a lawsuit against Steele and Prenda on behalf of Cooper.

The other targets of the lawsuit are a bunch of unnamed John Does (and if these guys have expertise in anything, it’s filing lawsuits that involve John Does), who are… a bunch of anonymous commentators concerning the various Prenda Lawsuits. It looks like they’re targeting people on the two main copyright troll tracking websites out there, and It’s worth noting that both sites were the subject of a nice profile article in Ars Technica last week.

The three filings are similar, but not identical. The Prenda one and the Duffy one are almost identical, but the Steele one is different in a few ways, including focusing on lots and lots and lots of statements specifically about Steele. Steele’s suit also does not make the “false light” claim, which means he actually realized that Florida has rejected “false light” as a tort in that state.

Still, all three suits read like obvious SLAPP suits, targeting online critics. The fact that they target Cooper and Godfread, who have a lawsuit pending against them, is ridiculous. That they then go after anonymous bloggers and commenters who have been revealing and calling attention to some of Prenda’s more questionable moves seems like an obvious SLAPP situation, in which they appear to be using the lawsuit to create chilling effects and to stifle speech. Looking over the long list of quotes they pull out in the various lawsuits, the vast majority seem to be clear statements of opinion, rather than fact. And even when you could argue some of them are statements of fact — such as referring to anyone associated with Prenda as a “criminal” or a “scammer” or calling Prenda a “fraud” or similar such things — courts have increasingly noted that name calling in online forums does not reach the level of defamation, since the context matters. That’s no guarantee, as those rulings are still limited, but it’s at least a sign that these lawsuits may be overreaching in their claims (which, of course, is a key component of a SLAPP).

It is not uncommon for people in comments on blogs to go a bit far in some of their claims (and even the main authors of the two blogs above sometimes seem to make pretty strong statements that may not be fully supported by the evidence presented). However, to take that to the level of defamation feels like a pretty big stretch. If anything, these lawsuits seem more likely to be attempts to first “out” the folks behind those blogs (and some of the nastier comments) and, barring that, to scare them with chilling effects.

Of course, one interesting thing: the best defense against defamation claims, obviously, is the truth. And, it would seem that, in filing these lawsuits, Steele, Duffy and Prenda may have opened themselves up to pretty wide discovery efforts which may turn up things they probably would rather not have in court. That point alone has me wondering why they’d take this step.

On top of that, the lawsuits note that the plaintiffs are not public figures, which sets the bar much lower for defamation. Paul Duffy might be able to get away with such a claim, but John Steele would seem to have a lot more difficulty. After all, he’s been the subject of detailed profiles in Forbes Magazine (which he happily participated in). Forbes doesn’t do profile stories on nobodies.

It would seem important to note that both Illinois and Florida have passed anti-SLAPP laws. Florida’s are fairly narrowly defined, however, and may not be useful here. Illinois, however, has as broader anti-SLAPP law that has sometimes been interpreted narrowly. Both of these are reminders for why we desperately need a federal anti-SLAPP law.

It appears that, at least for now, Steele and Duffy are representing themselves, while Prenda has another law firm representing the firm. Cooper and Godfread have signed up lawyers to represent them in both Illinois and Florida (in Illinois the lawyers, Erin Russell and Jason Sweet, both have a decently established history of fighting Prenda cases, and while I wasn’t familiar with the name, the same appears to be true of Brad Patrick, who is representing them in Florida).

As always with Prenda/Steele, every time you think a story can’t possibly get crazier, it seems to take another massive curve in the road. At some point, when this is all over, there’s going to be an amazing book to be written about the rise (and, most likely, fall) of John Steele and his adventures in copyright trolling. The story is gripping.

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Companies: prenda, prenda law

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Comments on “Prenda Law Sues Critics For Defamation”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: The facepalms heard around the world...

They might go after more people, they left the door open to add more people who made comments.
One wonders if they think a Judge is going to hand them the list of every single IP address that ever left a comment on the site.

Of course then there would be the final proof that Steele was posting all of those lovely things…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The facepalms heard around the world...

Its their new business model, copyright extortion is being turned off so they will try defamation extortion. It may have an advantage in that they will get some names and email addresses if the courts play along with them, which will allow them to identify real people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh, boy. Another Prenda item. -- Not popcorn, but coffee.

Oh, boy. You’re just mad that legal shenanigans like these are all your righteous heroes and defenders of copyright (and – dare I say it? – corporations) are reduced to.

Looks like someone should’ve put stock in popcorn rather than popcorn without the “opc”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oh, boy. Another Prenda item. -- Not popcorn, but coffee.

This is just spam at this point. I see nothing here in this post to indicate a human put conscious effort into it.

It’s like like intentially misreading an article and inventing an insane post in reaction to it weaving strawman stories… this is just… lazy.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Mike, don’t be surprised if TD is somehow mentioned in all of those after the initial stage (if it gets past that and looks like its been sent to Federal from state so who knows), especially with some of the not too kind comments (hyperbole/opinion/accurate/truthful) that have been place under your articles.

Though the relief section is nothing. Prenda can do better.. I mean if some batshit crazy nutter (the ‘batshit’ statement gives it away for those in the know) can ask for $100billion US in a Nevada court (not kidding) for relief for alleged defamation from legal blogs and mainstream media articles etc then Prenda just isn’t trying that hard!

Personally I suspect this is more a fishing expedition to generate discovery to confuse and confabulate from other more serious issues that are most likely to be highly problematic for Prenda very soon.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Come on you bastards, bring it on! As if lawyers didn’t already have a bad enough reputation these idiots have sunk to unbelievably new lows. (opinion, 1st amendment protected)
Judges have threatened them with criminal action (fact, cannot be considered libel) They seem to be gluttons for punishment. Any decent judge would have the bailiff throw them out on their asses. If they think they have had enough negative comments already their latest antics will really open the floodgates. With the long string of losses mount you have to wonder how they can stay in business. Ambulance chasing would be much more profitable.

Designerfx (profile) says:

Re: bah

also the claims are even better.

People are afraid of being identified? Man, that first amendment thing – clearly it’s making people angry, or hiding, or….something! That’s why they should be identified!


Illinois filing (note that it’s vs the internet, literally): “Defendant Does 1-10 are individuals whose actual names are unknown to Plaintiff. Instead, they are known to Plaintiff only by the childish and unsophisticated – yet often exceedingly angry – pseudonyms they hide behind while falsely conversing in writing about Plaintiff and it’s agents on the Internet”.

AC says:

Re: Re: Perhaps Steele just wants to unmask commenters so he can sue them for copyright infringement?

A quick look at the list of allegedly defamatory comments yields ones that seem to be so obviously opinion, humor or puffery that one wonders if fighting “defamation” or a SLAPP are the real purpose of these suits, or if it is only a side benefit. The quotes seem so mixed and tenuous in there “defamitory” nature that it seems that at least some the anonymous posters may have been singled out because they have alluded to being people sued by Prenda. I wonder if this is a scheme to unmask them even as Steele failed to do so directly through copyright cases?

Lurker Keith says:

How to Make a Troll Slayer

Prenda is aware they’ve sued sites who actually do research, right? I mean what is their strategy? To let Those Who Fight Trolls properly kill Pretenda, turning them into Troll Slayers? That hasn’t been their goal all along, has it, to create a Troll Slayer? That’s the ONLY way this makes ANY kind of sense.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

For the anon commenters...

Ohai Gang!
I?ve been chatting with Ken White of Popehat fame.
He has graciously offered his help to those who would seek it.
And I Quote:
?For now, my offer is to try to connect people needing a defense with attorneys and entities willing to give it. Probably can?t take a pro bono client myself right now ? very busy with existing ones. ?

A small sample of what the Popehat signal can do?

You can contact him via the website.

Understand that you can?t be anonymous with the lawyer, but they will be doing their best to keep Prenda, Duffy, Steele from getting your information.

Like we tell the Does, only you can make the decision that is correct for you.

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