Voltage Picture's Lawyer Sues Copyright Trolling Participants, Calls Lawsuits Unethical

from the burnt-by-trolls dept

Another copyright trolling operation appears to be headed off the rails. The spectacular disintegration of the porn trolling Prenda Law firm has been a joy to behold, ultimately ending in federal indictments for Paul Hansmeier and John Steele. Where this one is headed, it's too early to say, but it appears one lawyer employed by litigious subsidiaries of Voltage Pictures has had enough. (h/t FightCopyrightTrolls)

An attorney who filed dozens of BitTorrent copyright cases on behalf of Voltage Pictures and Millennium Films has renounced the practice, saying he was duped into participating in unethical copyright “trolling.”

James S. Davis filed suit against his former legal partner and his former clients in San Diego Superior Court in July. In the complaint, he says that he was recruited into the BitTorrent litigation by a former law school classmate, Carl Crowell, who told him he had a “good litigation business opportunity.”

As part of trolling operation's "warm body" legal counsel hiring plan, Davis was plucked from the world of immigration law and put to work filing sloppy complaints against IP addresses on behalf of his new employers. And there are several of those. The complaint [PDF] lists a number of familiar LLCs as defendants, including LHF, Dallas Buyers Club, Cobbler Nevada, and the infamous Guardaley.

The allegations are pretty thin at this point. Davis says the multiple entities withheld information that might have made him reconsider his involvement in the scheme. Thanks to stuff uncovered during recent lawsuits, Davis appears to want out officially and litigiously out before the whole things falls apart.

[I]n the course of preparing his response [to a defendant's motion questioning the plaintiff's claims of copyright ownership], [Davis] began asking questions and uncovering facts that undermined “his belief in the value and ethical propriety” of the copyright suits.

In a separate copyright case in San Diego, Davis says he uncovered additional troubling facts in the course of drafting a response to a judge’s threat to dismiss the case. He says he had a meeting in Santa Monica with the key figures on the plaintiff’s side, after which he “concluded that both the legal and factual basis of the Copyright Litigation campaign were unsound, and that each had been misrepresented to him.”

Davis, who had already filed 58 lawsuits on behalf of the companies, sought more info from those above him. According to his complaint, he has been repeatedly stonewalled by the companies involved in the copyright litigation scheme. Davis also alleges he hasn't been paid for his participation in the litigation -- at least not as much as was agreed to. When you start stiffing your legal reps, things tend to get litigious in a hurry.

Two allegations are particularly direct:

Defendants have been unjustly enriched as a result of Davis rendering services in cases that lacked a valid legal or factual basis and were therefore impossible for Davis to successfully litigate.


Defendants breached their respective covenants of good faith and fair dealing by, inter alia, refusing to appear at or participate in the Copyright Litigation Campaign when their participation was required by necessity or court order.

So, basically like any other large-scale trolling operations: file tons of lawsuits, hope for enough quick settlements to turn a profit, and duck out of any cases as quickly as possible when defendants push back. It's probably safe to assume any illegal activity by the Voltage Pictures' subsidiaries isn't limited to defrauding one of its legal reps.

Davis is seeking at least $300,000 in damages. He may get it too, if the defendants are looking to steer clear of discovery motions that might expose further malfeasance by the involved companies. This is Davis' second attempt to sue his former employers. The first attempt was filed in federal court but rejected by the judge for a lack of diversity. For now, all the action's taking place at state level in San Diego's Superior Court.

Trolling operations are notoriously sketchy. They start with the worst assumptions (an IP address is a person), bundle suits together wherever possible to save on legal fees, and quickly dismiss cases whenever friction is encountered. The only surprise here is a participating lawyer's opting out via lawsuit before the judicial (or federal) hammer comes down.

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 11:58am

    I don't think they can beat Prenda. I mean, you can up your acrobatics by adding a fiery ring in the middle or several more bottles to keep throwing but Prenda set the whole circus on fire and went on to perform in the middle of it. You can't get a "fierier" crash than this.

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

  • icon
    Vidiot (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 12:08pm

    "Davis, who had already filed 58 lawsuits on behalf of the companies... "

    Hmmm... first, file 58 lawsuits; then, start asking whether there's any merit...

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

  • icon
    PlagueSD (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 12:28pm

    “good litigation business opportunity.”

    Run away...Run away very fast if someone comes to you with that phrase.

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

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 1:16pm

    An attorney who filed dozens of BitTorrent copyright cases on behalf of Voltage Pictures and Millennium Films has renounced the practice, saying he was duped into participating in unethical copyright “trolling.”

    Looking at this page's current Hot Topics list, it could have been worse. He could have been trying to represent a monkey in a PETA lawsuit.

    Or even more embarrassing, trying to defend Comcast over its hidden bogus fees.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 3:52pm

    Yeah this is going no where.

    Attorney Client Privilege would need to be broken to lay out 99% of the required proof.
    So he can threaten them, but they can destroy him for breaking the rules that protect their extortion scheme using the courts as a cog in their shakedowns.

    Due Diligence... its for OTHER lawyers.
    Every player he touched base with has volumes of info online about the questionable cases, the shitty case management, the delays in serving people, claiming they were DLing for 450 yrs (its hyperbole), the lawsuits from the alleged actual owners of the films rights who never authorized litigation and have never gotten a dime from it.

    I'd love for this to be the tipping point in this, but lets be honest. The courts are still convinced that no lawyer would lie to them or use the courts as a cheap shortcut to extort millions of dollars.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 7 Aug 2017 @ 6:23pm

    Lawyer lured into dumpster, smells smoke and wants out at all costs.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2017 @ 6:54pm

    This is what happens when copyright law is actually enforced - the system finds rot in it, polices it, and removes it.

    out_of_the_blue and MyNameHere would disagree, of course, but they've already laid claim to their role as exclusively contrarian.

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 6:21am

    What I want to know

    Did James S. Davis suddenly have an attack of personal conscience and ethics? Or is something deeper going on below the publicly known facts? Something that we cannot see (yet).

    For example, could this copyright trolling business _already_ be in trouble in front of lower level courts, similar to how the Prenda fiasco got started? I still remember the lawyer who supposedly represented his client, but didn't actually represent them, couldn't bind them to anything, etc. The questioning by the judge was enlightening.

    Did James S. Davis, or one of his coworkers find themselves in a difficult situation in front of a judge with a defendant who was standing up to fight? Then James S. Davis suddenly realized, especially in light of Prenda, what a deep pile of, um, steaming something, that he had gotten himself into?

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

    • icon
      sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 7:19am

      Re: What I want to know

      2 cases I can think of (doesn't mean I don't miss something important):

      Note that the defense attorney in the former case was Nick Ranallo, who was instrumental in the Prenda demise and overall a very effective and competent in this area of litigation attorney. Now he is after Crowell: so I believe that Davis, while being somewhat ripe to turn against his former employer, is not that important: it could be anyone else in a similar situation. The forces who dream to destroy Guardaley are always ready to jump on an opportunity: either a "clean" defendant who is resolved to fight, or, like in this case, a former troll with a heightened sense of inevitable crackdown.

      When such an opportunity presents itself, it's a win-win situation: the worst case scenario is a sizeable settlement unfavorable to a troll (as recently happened in Malibu Media v Doe CAND 15-cv-04441), yet I always hope for a bigger, Prenda-sized, outcome.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 10 Aug 2017 @ 3:56pm

    Wow there's a lot here. Davis, a lawyer, files a lawsuit (1) against former clients, admitting (2) that he agreed to represent his former clients in copyright litigation even though he was unfamiliar with copyright litigation, (3) didn't know his clients' claims had no basis in law or fact when the suits were filed, (4) had no written contract with his former clients and (4) chose the attorney of his former clients' adversary to represent him.

    That sounds like a final exam question in Ethics class (yes, they do teach Ethics in law school).

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

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