Danish Anti-Piracy Lawyers Jailed For Real, Actual Stealing From Copyright Holders
from the three-times-is-a-trend dept
There’s an old saying: once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a trend. It seems now we are officially in the coincidence part of that mantra. You will recall that we recently discussed famed author Chuck Palahniuk’s apology for blaming piracy for his stagnant finances when the real story was that a business partner at his literary agency was simply stealing money from him. We noted at the time that this business partner was the one feeding Palahniuk the false story that piracy was responsible for his dwindling money and that such a story was made believable in part because of the efforts of the copyright industry and its lawyers demonizing the internet and copyright infringement at every turn.
Well, recent news reports detail the sentencing of three Danish lawyers to years in prison for defrauding their copyright holder clients, while supposedly working for them on anti-piracy efforts. The organization now known as Rights Alliance, previously Antipiratgruppen, had hired lawyers from the Johan Schluter law firm for representation in piracy cases. The firm worked on these efforts for Rights Alliance for years before an audit showed just how shady these beacons of justice for rightsholders actually were.
Following an investigation into the company’s accounts by auditing company Deloitte, financial irregularities amounting to millions of dollars were reported in the media during 2015. The Johan Schlüter law firm should have been distributing huge sums to movie and TV industry associations and their underlying rightsholders but its three partners – Johan Schlüter himself, Lars Halgreen and Susanne Fryland – had been lining their own pockets instead. Massive sums were siphoned away from their clients.
Yesterday, after more than 20 hearings during which the defendants maintained their innocence (with Schlüter and Halgreen painting themselves as victims of Fryland’s actions), all three were found guilty of fraud and false accounting to the tune of 100 million Danish kroner (US$15.83m).
Now, look, there are shitty people in every profession and I dare say that the legal industry is not underrepresented. Still, it says something that the very law firm rightsholders and an anti-piracy group hired in order to recover supposed losses of income due to piracy was itself bilking rightsholders to the tune of eight figure sums. And far from simply not reporting money collected, the Johan Schluter firm’s incestuous relationship with groups “protecting” rightsholders, and the manner in which the firm used that relationship in order to improperly invoice for services not rendered, was spotlighted during the trial.
It transpired that in addition to being a partner in the law firm, Susanne Fryland was also a director of a subsidiary company which was responsible for managing registration, collection and administration rights for various film and TV associations. The prosecutor presented an email sent by Fryland to the account manager at the subsidiary noting that Johan Schlüter in Copenhagen was “screaming for liquidity”. When asked who was screaming, Fryland pointed the finger at Schlüter and Halgreen.
“When they looked at liquidity in Copenhagen, did Susanne Fryland print an invoice to an association?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yes,” Fryland confirmed.
All three lawyers have either been banned from practicing law, sentenced to prison, or both. And this is the firm that represented rightsholders against Danish citizens in piracy cases. While none of this excuses piracy or copyright infringement, boy, it sure would be nice if copyright holders and anti-piracy groups, paragons of virtue as they portend to be, wouldn’t mind not using the shadiest lawyers they can find in their efforts.