Judge Wright Tells Team Prenda To Pay $80k, Refers Their Activity To State Bars, Feds & IRS

from the boom dept

Plenty of folks have been waiting to see how Judge Otis Wright would finally rule in the Prenda case he was overseeing. As you may recall, Judge Wright began to see through the tricks and facades put up by Brett Gibbs and Prenda, and eventually ordered everyone to show up in his courtroom (twice). The hearings, as you may recall, did not go well for Team Prenda and all its associated players. While Wright may be somewhat limited in what he can do to Prenda, it appears he’s doing his best to throw whatever book he can at them, randomly using as many Star Trek references as he can cram into the tight 11 page order. The discussion lays out the details pretty clearly. We’ll post the whole key part of the discussion, because it Judge Wright isn’t wasting time and I’m sure many of you will appreciate it:

Steele, Hansmeier, and Duffy (“Principals”) are attorneys with shattered law practices. Seeking easy money, they conspired to operate this enterprise and formed the AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13 entities (among other fungible entities) for the sole purpose of litigating copyright-infringement lawsuits. They created these entities to shield the Principals from potential liability and to give an appearance of legitimacy.

AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13 have no assets other than several copyrights to pornographic movies. There are no official owners or officers for these two offshore entities, but the Principals are the de facto owners and officers.

The Principals started their copyright-enforcement crusade in about 2010, through Prenda Law, which was also owned and controlled by the Principals. Their litigation strategy consisted of monitoring BitTorrent download activity of their copyrighted pornographic movies, recording IP addresses of the computers downloading the movies, filing suit in federal court to subpoena Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”) for the identity of the subscribers to these IP addresses, and sending cease-and-desist letters to the subscribers, offering to settle each copyright infringement claim for about $4,000.

This nationwide strategy was highly successful because of statutory copyright damages, the pornographic subject matter, and the high cost of litigation. Most defendants settled with the Principals, resulting in proceeds of millions of dollars due to the numerosity of defendants. These settlement funds resided in the Principals’ accounts and not in accounts belonging to AF Holdings or Ingenuity 13. No taxes have been paid on this income.

For defendants that refused to settle, the Principals engaged in vexatious litigation designed to coerce settlement. These lawsuits were filed using boilerplate complaints based on a modicum of evidence, calculated to maximize settlement profits by minimizing costs and effort.

The Principals have shown little desire to proceed in these lawsuits when faced with a determined defendant. Instead of litigating, they dismiss the case. When pressed for discovery, the Principals offer only disinformation—even to the Court.

The Principals have hired willing attorneys, like Gibbs, to prosecute these cases. Though Gibbs is culpable for his own conduct before the Court, the Principals directed his actions. In some instances, Gibbs operated within narrow parameters given to him by the Principals, whom he called “senior attorneys.”

The Principals maintained full control over the entire copyright-litigation operation. The Principals dictated the strategy to employ in each case, ordered their hired lawyers and witnesses to provide disinformation about the cases and the nature of their operation, and possessed all financial interests in the outcome of each case.

The Principals stole the identity of Alan Cooper (of 2170 Highway 47 North, Isle, MN 56342). The Principals fraudulently signed the copyright assignment for “Popular Demand” using Alan Cooper’s signature without his authorization, holding him out to be an officer of AF Holdings. Alan Cooper is not an officer of AF Holdings and has no affiliation with Plaintiffs other than his employment as a groundskeeper for Steele. There is no other person named Alan Cooper related to AF Holdings or Ingenuity 13.

The Principals ordered Gibbs to commit the following acts before this Court: file copyright-infringement complaints based on a single snapshot of Internet activity; name individuals as defendants based on a statistical guess; and assert a copyright assignment with a fraudulent signature. The Principals also instructed Gibbs to prosecute these lawsuits only if they remained profitable; and to dismiss them otherwise.

Plaintiffs have demonstrated their willingness to deceive not just this Court, but other courts where they have appeared. Plaintiffs’ representations about their operations, relationships, and financial interests have varied from feigned ignorance to misstatements to outright lies. But this deception was calculated so that the Court would grant Plaintiffs’ early-discovery requests, thereby allowing Plaintiffs to identify defendants and exact settlement proceeds from them. With these granted requests, Plaintiffs borrow the authority of the Court to pressure settlement.

That last paragraph is the key one. Given all of this, Judge Wright looks at what he can do. First, he digs into the failure of Team Prenda to “conduct a sufficient investigation” into whether or not anyone they were suing actually infringed on the copyrights they held. However, he notes, his bigger concern is not the lack of sufficient investigation, but rather Prenda’s attempt at a “cover-up” of this point as well as Gibbs’ “hasty after-the-fact investigation, and a shoddy one at that.” In fact, he calls certain statements from Gibbs concerning the investigation “a blatant lie.”

Gibbs’s statement is a blatant lie. His statement resembles other statements given by Plaintiffs in this and their other cases: statements that sound reasonable but lack truth. Thus, the Court concludes that Gibbs, even in the face of sanctions, continued to make factual misrepresentions to the Court.

However, he notes that even with this, it is inappropriate to impose Rule 11 sanctions (typically used for attorney misconduct) because the cases have already been dismissed. Wright then goes through a list of other deceptions by Prenda, including the Cooper forgery, ignoring the order blocking early discovery, the self-dealing with the copyright, the failure to disclose their own interest in the case, and other attempts to obfuscate facts. However, he notes, sanctions are still not the most appropriate, given that a decently large sanction wouldn’t be effective because the plaintiffs “will transfer out their settlement proceeds and plead paucity.”

However, he obviously does not feel they should be let off the hook. So he orders:

  • They have to pay the defendant’s legal fees of $40,659.86, which he then doubles “as a punitive measure” to $81,319.72, noting “This punitive multiplier is justified by Plaintiffs’ brazen misconduct and relentless fraud.”
  • He notes that “The Principals, AF Holdings, Ingenuity 13, Prenda Law, and Gibbs are liable for this sum jointly and severally, and shall pay this sum within 14 days of this order.” Basically, all of them together are responsible for figuring out how to pay the money. As defined earlier, Steele, Hansmeier and Duffy are “the Principals” though I wouldn’t put it past the three of them to claim that they are non-parties to all of this and thus not responsible for the payment.
  • The bigger issue: referring the conduct of Steele, Hansmeier, Duffy and Gibbs to various state and federal bars. As Wright notes: “there is little doubt that that Steele, Hansmeier, Duffy, Gibbs suffer from a form of moral turpitude unbecoming of an officer of the court.” That won’t look good on a resume.
  • The even bigger issue: alerting the feds of possible racketeering violations:

    though Plaintiffs boldly probe the outskirts of law, the only enterprise they resemble is RICO. The federal agency eleven decks up is familiar with their prime directive and will gladly refit them for their next voyage. The Court will refer this matter to the United States Attorney for the Central District of California. The will also refer this matter to the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service and will notify all judges before whom these attorneys have pending cases. For the sake of completeness, the Court requests Pietz to assist by filing a report, within 14 days, containing contact information for: (1) every bar (state and federal) where these attorneys are admitted to practice; and (2) every judge before whom these attorneys have pending cases.

  • And, finally, a smaller issue: Duffy and Gibbs, who are admitted to practice in California are referred to the “Standing Committee on Discipline.” That’s a relatively minor point given all of the above.

The end result may not yet be that satisfying for Prenda-watchers, but Team Prenda may still be in serious, serious trouble. This actually matches Ken White’s predictions pretty damn closely, where he noted the limited ability to sanction, but focused on the referrals to the feds and to various state and federal bars. The inclusion of the IRS is an interesting one, as the evidence suggested that Team Prenda wasn’t paying taxes on the money coming into the various shell companies.

So now we wait to see what, if anything, the feds will do — though, as Ken noted, when a federal judge recommends such an investigation, the feds tend to follow through.

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Companies: prenda, prenda law

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Comments on “Judge Wright Tells Team Prenda To Pay $80k, Refers Their Activity To State Bars, Feds & IRS”

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out_of_the_blue says:

Fine. Time to put PAID to the whole Prenda topic.

You’ve gnawed the bones of this, Mike.

In (futile) hope it’ll be my LAST chance, here’s the tagline:

Take a loopy tour of Techdirt.com! You always end up same place!
ZOMG! Yet another item on Prenda Law! A staple in the soporific “At The Bench” series. Mike sez (short version): “Wow. Wow. Wow. … The story is gripping.

DeP says:

Re: Fine. Time to put PAID to the whole Prenda topic.

Ha! Might have known that OOTB would be first off the starting blocks (have I spelt that correctly?) with one or more of his cretinous, bigoted and totally irrelevant comments. It may have escaped his notice that some folk may actually have an interest in the case. OOTB seems to have the focus of a gnat. Oops – heard similar before, somewhere.

BearGriz72 (profile) says:

OMG The funny! I can't stop laughing!!!

It was when the Court realized Plaintiffs engaged their cloak of shell companies and fraud that the Court went to

As evidence materialized, it turned out that Gibbs was just a redshirt.

Third, though Plaintiffs boldly probe the outskirts of law, the only enterprise they resemble is RICO. The federal agency eleven decks up is familiar with their prime directive and will gladly refit them for their next voyage.

Finally for the “insightful”…

Without better technology, prosecuting illegal BitTorrent activity requires substantial effort in order to make a case. It is simply not economically viable to properly prosecute the illegal download of a single copyrighted video.

Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

I have to say I am glad Judge Wright ruled as he did. I was hoping that he would recommended and refer this to state and federal AG?s. I love the IRS criminal division referral as a nice touch and rightly so, the IRS isn?t very fond of not getting their end from monies earned.

I also like that Judge Wright brought up RICO here as well, because after doing a lot of reading The Prenda gang and their antics in this case and others sure seem to fit the definition of RICO in my opinion from what I have read of the requirements and past case history of some of those that have been charged/prosecuted under RICO statutes.

Also nice to see that Judge Wright is going to make other courts aware of the shenanigans that have went on in these cases Judge Wright looked at. Ranallo and Pietz have definitely earned my respect for their valliant effort in exposing the Prenda gang antics and connecting the dots with Salt Marsh etc.

I look forward to watching and seeing what Steele, Duffy, Gibbs, Hansmeier and Lutz do now to try and thwart having to pay this and with their various cases around the country. I envision a mass withdrawl of cases ariund the country to avoid any more damage.

With that being said I would bet we will see a new effort and new names, LLC?s, new copyrights and more of the same. I doubt these guys are just going to quit. I would bet they keep trying to milk the copyright troll teat all they can. They are too addicted too the easy cash?I suspect we will see a little more friendly agreements between defense and plaintiff councils ( hint hint were we have seen this already )

But good on Judge Wright? now lets see what happens in Florida when the Judge there get this information from Judge Wright in the Sunlust case..I would say Prenda?s pain isn?t over yet

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Given previous history, you could expect Gibbs to “commit suicide” and leave a note saying everyone else is innocent…you gots me fair n square guv’nor……

Not that I’d accuse Steele of murder (but….) signed in the same handwritten style as “Alan Cooper” of course…

Beech says:

Re: Re: Re:

I find it more likely that Gibbs’ body will never be found (“I am ending it all, Team Prenda is innocent, I did everything wrong. Don’t bother looking for me. I really am dead. Really.”), but someone bearing an uncanny resemblance to him with, but with a big fake-looking moustache will suddenly pass the bar and start practicing law somewhere.

Anonymous Coward says:

Now what am I gonna do?

The roads leading to the stores to haul in popcorn have pot holes from so much use. My popcorn cooker has given up the ghost, as it is been sadly overtaxed to the point of not functioning any more, my popcorn bowl wore out and I replaced it with a wheelbarrow that now has a hole in it from over use.

On the bright side this has been long coming and way over due. I hope to hear that other judges follow Judge Wright’s example and double the defense fees in each and every case. I suspect this is the last time we will hear of Prenda and it’s assorted officers as anything but an example of what not to do in court.

I am sure this will now drag on for several years as the wheels of justice finely grind Prenda into dust. One thing should be plain, that the travesties such as earlier extortion cases in court may not be such a good idea in the future for other copyright trolls. I think the judge just reduced the nations’ court load substantially.

OoTB has no teeth to gnaw with. His insane obsession with Mike and this blog are to the point that maybe the authorities should be called before he starts foaming at the mouth. After all, Florida has just put into effect a suspicious neighbor activity reporting office into being and OoTB sure fits that to a tee. I don’t even wanna ask if he owns weapons.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The IRS is like the Mafia (not to be confused with MAFIAA)

Someone below described the IRS CID as such: “These are the people who, among other things, investigate terrorist money laundering and illegal drug money. You absolutely do not want them looking at you.”

Forget the Trek references, I think the pic of the rather crazed-looking Ewok captioned with “PREPARE YOUR ANUS” would be appropriate at this point.

Art (profile) says:

How to prevent these kinds of trolls

First of all kudos to Judge Wright I actually enjoyed reading the order.
This may be a little off this thread. I’m wondering if there are ways of preventing this kind of trolling. First, it seems that copyright was originally intended to protect the creator of their work. So the problem seems to stem from how copyright can (or if it should) be assigned. It seems that AF holdings has the copyright, but not the distribution mechanism. This observation may be closer to patent law, but if they are not getting paid by the distributor of the porn, then what right do they have to sue, since financial loss would be to the distributor, not the copyright holder. Could this hold as a bit of a litmus test for being able to sue based on unauthorized download of content? So, maybe the first step in copyright reform should be how copyright can be assigned? I don’t think the intent was to protect lawyers and large corporations, but to protect the creators. This would bear to the point of difference between a monopoly right based on a creators creation, and an actual piece of property. I am not a legal expert, nor do i have an interest in this other than the entertainment I have received from following this site. So hopefully any flames will at least be educational to me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How to prevent these kinds of trolls

First, it seems that copyright was originally intended to protect the creator of their work.

No, this is incorrect. Copyright was originally intended to enhance the public domain. “Protecting” creators is the method the constitution grants Congress to achieve this intent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: How to prevent these kinds of trolls

Actually copyright was created to provide a government-granted monopoly to publishers so only they could publish the work. It was a form of censorship enacted under Bloody Mary.

Since then, authors such as Victor Hugo and Mark Twain have laid claim to copyright as a source of income, and the argument has become about it being their only source of income.

The fact is, the publishers, collections agencies, and distributors have always got the lion’s share of any revenues, and that’s how it will always be.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Brazen

“He will be lucky to keep his job when this is all over.”

He’s a federal judge. They have lifetime appointments. It would take a Congressional impeachment to remove him.

In the end, they’re only paying double the other side’s legal expenses. Considering the way they acted, that’s not out of line. And as for the likelihood of an appeal: see footnote 5.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:

Re: Brazen

Judges tend to get very, very angry when they discover that people have been lying under oath to their face – and the faces of their peers – for years straight. The only thing unusual about this case is that people in the legal profession tend to scratch the backs of others in the legal profession, and judges rarely punish lawyers for offenses that would land you or I in jail. So yes, in that sense you could say that his actions are a distant outlier.

Prenda will likely have to play politics to win an appeal, as things aren’t so good from a purely legal perspective. If they have friends in higher places than Judge Wright they might have a shot. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bet my money on it.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Brazen

Yes, of course, I’m sure the fact that he threw the book at them as hard as he could has nothing to do with their actions and the absolute mockery they made of the legal system via lying to countless people(including numerous judges), running what was effectively an extortion racket, identity theft, and counless other highly unethical, if not (possibly)illegal actions, all the while using the ‘justice’ system as nothing more than a weapon against their targets.

But nope, he must have had a vendetta or something against those ‘shining defenders of copyright’, and was just out to get them. /s

apauld (profile) says:

Re: Brazen

You either haven’t followed this case at all; or you’re an idiot. Judge Wright has done everything to ensure that any appeals will be lost. The Prenda gang have lied to federal judges. They have disobeyed court orders. They have committed numerous frauds in federal courts. They are about to be f**ked harder than Jenna Jameson ever has been. Judge Wright is going to go down in history as the judge who was the did the most to go after the lawyer troll set. If you really think this will do anything other than leave the legacy of Otis Wright in a positive light, than you are a fn idiot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Brazen

Seriously, though, I’m hoping there is an appeal. I’d like to see another rant in the words of Nazaire. Preferably peppered with sentiments like “If you don’t let us sue grandmothers over pornography they may not have downloaded, then the terrorists win!”

Then I’d like to see it sink into the sea like a leaking oil tanker and blow up in a massive fireball.

Some Other AC (profile) says:

Re: Brazen

@ horse with no name, May 6th, 2013 @ 8:22pm

You sir/madam/it(?) have absolutely no clue. You are potentially as bad or worse than that insanity who calls himself out_of_the_blue or AJ. Brazen are the actions of Prenda and associates/patsies. The 80K that Judge Wright ordered is miniscule to the costs afflicted upon numerous others. What is going to be exceptionally entertaining are the fines, judgements, etc…that the associate Fed entities hand down. This will be an anal reaming on par with using an oil drill to clean out a tooth cavity. This is karma/divine retribution at its finest.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Brazen

say, whores with no name, you wouldn’t happen to be a parasite, er, lawyer, too, would’ja ? ? ?

i’ve said previously that the only thing car salesdroids are good for, is plugging sinkholes; but i think we can find room for parasites, er, lawyers too…

look at just about ANY evil shit this planet is up to, and you’ll -more than likely- find white, rich lawyers behind it…
based on a true story…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

For one thing, see footnote 5: “This punitive portion is calculated to be just below the cost of an effective appeal.”

For another thing, Judge Wright can only really apply sanctions for the case in front of him. To make up for that, he just referred Team Prenda to the state and federal bars, the USA (for possible RICO violations), and the IRS CID (for possible criminal tax fraud).

Under RICO, Prenda could face damages of up to $25K and 20 years in prison per_count of racketeering — and Prenda has filed a lot of lawsuits. As for the CID, these are not the friendly IRS auditors who show up when they suspect you’re lying about your deductions. These are the people who, among other things, investigate terrorist money laundering and illegal drug money. You absolutely do not want them looking at you.

Prenda is absolutely, completely, and utterly screwed.

Frankz (profile) says:

Yes, as many others say, expect them to appeal.
But I think the only thing they can appeal is the fee award. The referrals to the various bar associations, the DOJ, and the IRS, aren’t court orders making somebody do something, so they can’t be stopped. They’re just notices to completely separate agencies about what’s going on. If any/all of these other agencies decide to start their own investiagation/prosecution, they do it under their own power and not via this court order, so it can’t be stopped by appealing this. Not to mention that

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Revenge of a angry Judge

I posted earlier in another post about Prenda suggesting that the IRS would be highly interested in the tax situation (but was laughed off as being silly). Seems that Judge Wright was too..and other various motions. I wonder how many gavels he’s gone through with this case? I mean, really-pounding them repeatedly to gain some kind of order and sense into a senseless case with insane people.

Now the ball has been set in play. Let’s see how long it will take the various Federal agencies (I hear the IRS calling, as well as the FBI…)to take apart this Borg cube called Prenda.

I’ve also heard that the IRS does not have a very good sense of humor. They’re mean when they’re pissed off at you.

I expect some criminal complaints, trials and convictions before another year is out.

Resistance is indeed futile, Prenda. Give up before you’re assimilated into the Federal prison system.

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