Copyright Troll Gets Smacked Around By Court, As Judge Wonders If Some Of Its Experts Even Exist

from the zilly-zilly! dept

When last we checked in with Venice PI, the copyright troll claiming to hold rights to the movie Once Upon A Time In Venice and attempting to claim in court that a 91 year old man with dementia was part of a torrent swarm offering the movie who, oh by the way, had recently passed away, it was being lightly slapped around by judge Thomas Zilly. Zilly had barred Venice PI from contacting the family of the deceased, halted the trial, questioned the quality of the evidence Venice PI had put before the court, and likewise demanded more information on how that evidence was collected in the first place. Given that the evidence mostly amounted to IP addresses obtained by Venice PI, I had written that this particular judge was likely to be unimpressed by whatever the copyright troll provided.

Well, hoo-boy, was that ever an understatement. The end result of what Venice PI put before the court in response was the judge issuing a minute order declaring that the company essentially explain its copyright trolling efforts entirely across several cases and slapped the company around for some truly stunning misbehavior. The order goes into three different areas in which Venice PI appears to have really, truly screwed up, starting with the fact that the troll's claims of ownership and affiliations can't even be substantiated.

“A search of the California Secretary of State’s online database, however, reveals no registered entity with the name ‘Lost Dog’ or ‘Lost Dog Productions’. Moreover, although ‘Voltage Pictures, LLC’ is registered with the California Secretary of State, and has the same address as Venice PI, LLC, the parent company named in plaintiff’s corporate disclosure form, ‘Voltage Productions, LLC,’ cannot be found in the California Secretary of State’s online database and does not appear to exist.”

This rightly is giving the court the impression that something is shady in all of this. We've seen this sort of corporate shuffling shell game in copyright troll cases before and it's never a good sign. Still, the truly alarming stuff is further along in the order and has to do with exactly how Venice IP is collecting its supposed evidence.

GuardaLey CEO Benjamin Perino, who claims that he coded the tracking software, wrote a declaration explaining that the infringement detection system at issue “cannot yield a false positive.” However, the Court doubts this statement and Perino’s qualifications in general.

“Perino has been proffered as an expert, but his qualifications consist of a technical high school education and work experience unrelated to the peer-to-peer file-sharing technology known as BitTorrent,” the Court writes. “Perino does not have the qualifications necessary to be considered an expert in the field in question, and his opinion that the surveillance program is incapable of error is both contrary to common sense and inconsistent with plaintiff’s counsel’s conduct in other matters in this district. Plaintiff has not submitted an adequate offer of proof.”

Guardaley, of course, is the shifty, shady company out of Germany that we've written about many times before. In the past, it's been somewhat difficult to separate Guardaley from, for instance, Malibu Media and its notoriously suspect trolling efforts. As we've noted before, part of the Guardaley modus operandi appears to be supplying front-lawyers with so-called experts that proclaim the company's technology for finding real pirates somehow perfect in every respect, just as is happening here. Interestingly, the company's internal documents that declare the experts it relies on iffy at best haven't appeared to deter their use in the courtroom.

Guardaley also, somewhat infamously, has used a number of different names for its own operation, and variously names a bunch of "experts" who some sites have argued don't exist. Judge Zilly now seems to be wondering if these people exist as well:

The Court has recently become aware that Arheidt is the latest in a series of German declarants (Darren M. Griffin, Daniel Macek, Daniel Susac, Tobias Fieser, Michael Patzer) who might be aliases or even fictitious.... Plaintiff will not be permitted to rely on Arheidt’s declarations or underlying data without explaining to the Court’s satisfaction Arheidt’s relationship to the above-listed declarants and producing proof beyond a reasonable doubt of Arheidt’s existence.

Suffice it to say, when the judge in your case is questioning the very existence of one of the key people supporting your story, you're probably in trouble.

So, now we're coupling a shady company with shady software that collects evidence, written by someone who claims his software is infallible but doesn't have the necessary credentials to back up such an absurd declaration. It's pretty clear at this point that the Judge Zilly is quite suspicious of the type of operation he's dealing with, and with good reason. It's long been known that IP addresses are shaky evidence at best, and having someone claim he can gather IP addresses completely without false positives is totally laughable. That Venice IP decided its best expert witness to the quality of its evidence was the guy who wrote the software that collected said evidence is nearly hilarious in its vanity.

There's also the fact that Arheidt, if he exists, may be breaking the law, and the lawyer for Venice IP was aware of that... and failed to disclose this fact:

Nowhere in Arheidt’s declarations does he indicate that either he or MaverickEye is licensed in Washington to conduct private investigation work. See RCW 18.165.150 (performing the functions of a private investigator without a license is a gross misdemeanor); see also RCW 18.165.010(12)(e) (defining a “private investigator agency” to include a person or entity that is in the business of “detecting, discovering, or revealing . . . [e]vidence to be used before a court”). Plaintiff’s counsel has apparently been aware since October 2016, when he received a letter concerning LHF Productions, Inc. v. Collins, C16-1017 RSM, that Arheidt might be committing a crime by engaging in unlicensed surveillance of Washington citizens,2 but he did not disclose this fact to the Court or offer any analysis for why such conduct is not prohibited by RCW 18.165.150. Plaintiff’s counsel’s lack of candor was a serious breach of his ethical duties...

Gross incompetence is a phrase that leaps to mind, and it is frankly one of the kinder assessments of exactly what's going on here. To that end, Zilly's order requires that the company provide further details to explain these deficiencies in over a dozen cases and orders Venice PI not to spend or transfer any money it has collected via settlements. That latter bit seems to indicate that the court may seek to have that money repaid to past victims of this trolling operation.

Next up: perhaps Judge Zilly can follow in the footsteps of Judge Otis Wright, and demand to know what the hell is really going on here... and refer those responsible for possible criminal prosecution.


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  • icon
    Madd the Sane (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 12:31pm

    Prenda Popcorn

    Stocks in Prenda Popcorn seems to have risen after having a slump. Should have bought stock in that.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2018 @ 12:53pm

      Re: Prenda Popcorn

      Hoo boy! Not even OOTB, or Hamilton, or Namehere are dumb enough to show up and try to defend this pile of rotting tripe, or are they...?

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

      • icon
        Toom1275 (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 1:46pm

        Re: Re: Prenda Popcorn

        Too busy with that John Steele appeal, maybe?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2018 @ 6:27pm

        Re: Re: Prenda Popcorn

        MyNameHere has thrown his "last" hissy fit after being shown the door, though he did post very vigorously in support of Prenda Law under the moniker "horse with no name". He's returned under various alternate nicknames, of course, but has wised up enough to not post in Prenda or Malibu Media articles. He was last seen favoring police decisions to shoot the unarmed, but it's only a matter of time before his secret man-crush on Masnick becomes too much to bear and he makes his self-righteous return.

        Hamilton hasn't been seen since Shiva Ayyadurai's case got knocked down, but there was a possible return (or a Poe's Law parody of him) on the article about Trump hiring Charles Harder.

        As for out_of_the_blue... give him time. He'll be screaming about how this is yet another "anomaly", or about "lawyers", and copyright law is absolutely unassailable.

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

    • icon
      Ryunosuke (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 2:03pm

      Re: Prenda Popcorn

      don't you mean Techdirt Brand Popcorn

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 1:00pm

    Running away in terror: Not just for English kings chosen by watery tarts

    I suspect that the troll will realize that they left their oven on, they had a dentist appointment that they forgot, and would you just look at the time?

    If history is any indicator they'll try to cut and run as soon as possible, as having to actually prove their claims where lying carries an actual penalty and the judge isn't buying their assertions tends to be a bit more than the 'experts' care for.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2018 @ 1:25pm

      Re: Running away in terror: Not just for English kings chosen by watery tarts

      and orders Venice PI not to spend or transfer any money it has collected via settlements

      It looks like they have left it too late.

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 1:01pm

    Expertly Existing

    Can't some of the experts submit depositions stating that the other experts actually exist? Then those experts can swear that the first group also exists.

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

  • icon
    slap (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 1:14pm

    The Judge.

    Zilly Zilly!

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

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 1:38pm

    Oh good, I was wondering if someone would replace the Prenda Players as the go-to for copyright schadenfreude.

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

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 2:01pm

    Prenda 2: Venice Boogaloo

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

  • icon
    sophisticatedjanedoe (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 2:02pm

    My favorite footnote in that order is the footnote #1.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2018 @ 3:05pm

    Breaking News: Lost Dog has eaten their paperwork.

    Judge Zilly not impressed with Arheidt's arbeit. Also, "Voltage" Pictures claims to own the copyrights to the Transformers franchise.

    'system at issue “cannot yield a false positive.”' is because those are redirected to /dev/null.

    And some leaked code has revealed the following declarations:

    10 Let a = 1
    20 Let false_positives = 0
    30 goto 10

    They've also perfected the implementation of anti-causal filters- see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causal_filter and https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20170526/12450337460/copyright-trolls-tech-experts-can-apparently- detect-infringement-before-it-happens.shtml

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 3:48pm

    Its nice when the courts catch up with the rest of us.

    One might want to ask to see the copyright transfer to the non-existent company, I mean its not like it would be just transferring the right to sue (which isn't legal).

    One might want to ask if the made up company is just meant to be a fig leaf, protecting Voltage from liability from bad acts of this "totally unrelated" company extracting cash that ended up in Voltage's coffers.

    One might want to see if investors in the film are getting any of the cash collected, I mean its not like there was a lawsuit against them to report how much they got and disgorge payments to the investors... oh wait.

    One might want to wonder how is it they can allegedly track every single person who was ever in a swarm, but can never ID the most important person.... the original uploader. I mean copyright trolls have NEVER EVER put the material out there themselves... well except Prenda, and all those times Malibu Media content was available on BT before it was ever posted to their site or was registered for copyright.

    There is no way that this has been a long running extortion scheme enabled by the courts, allowing bad actors to enrich themselves well in excess of the limit established in the law... oh wait.

    Sadly the law has no remedy for this, looking at the Prenda case & the long time it took anything to happen, you can make millions & as long as you cash out before the questions get to tough. If you can play the shell game correctly, you can sacrifice a few empty shoe boxes & stay in the game for a couple million more in profits.

    You don't need a real company.
    Just a name that sounds good enough to take the blame.

    You don't need real experts.
    I made this thing, this thing works perfectly, trust me I said I am an expert.

    You don't need to mention how the experts get paid.
    The courts might be curious to know why they aren't paid a flat fee, but get a cut... can you trust an expert (who might be fictitious) who is paid based on the outcome?

    You don't have to provide evidence.
    Oh its in Germany, we can't get it here, its to expensive, we can't produce them, we can show you these spreadsheets though! We're lawyers, we would never lie.

    You don't need real people.
    Heck even when you show the court the person who signed documents can't be shown to exist, they've looked away rather than keep dealing with the troll.

    The lawyer just needs to submit docs.
    You can request the same costs in several cases & support it with sketchy documentation that don't add up. You don't have to do any of the work, its done at the mothership & you just file it.

    You can recruit from craigslist.
    You don't need awesome legal minds, just someone who managed to pass the bar.

    You can lie to the press.
    The press loves to report all about those Fanatical Internet Hate Groups who only hate them because they are the white knights of copyright defending, not because they have amassed huge amounts of evidence of the extortion scheme & called out all of the flaws.

    You can lie to the courts.
    Show the court headerless emails using names the FIHG has never heard of, making threats & plead for the docket to be sealed so we can't tear the case apart. They are so terrified they never file a police report, you'd think a lawyer willing to submit it to the court in total fear would contact the authorities... unless they were afraid it would expose the email came from 127.0.0.1.

    But then they tell the courts I'm the bad man... yet I've never shaken down senior citizens for their social security checks or sued the dead.

    Pity we don't have any investigative bodies charged with upholding the law with the fervor they invent terrorism cases.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 16 Jan 2018 @ 5:21pm

    Don't drop the soap!

    I say we send them some shovels in hopes they keep digging.

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

  • identicon
    TheCarl, 16 Jan 2018 @ 6:25pm

    "technical high school"

    This is not at all a defense of Benjamin Perino's character or even education.

    But I feel compelled to point out that 'Technische Hochschule' is absolutely not the equivalent of an American High School.

    It's a university in all but name.

    (I think that to be called a University in Germany, you have to offer a wide array of disciplines. If you limit yourself to medizine, you're a "Medizinische Hochschule". If you're only into arts, then you're a "Künstlerische Hochschule". And "Technische Hochschule" means that you exclusively offer STEM disciplines.)

    RWTH Aachen and ETH Zuerich in Switzerland come to mind as very prestiguous places to study STEM fields in German-Language settings. In both cases, the "TH" stands for "Technische Hochschule".

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

    • icon
      JoeCool (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 7:07pm

      Re: "technical high school"

      Oh great, he went to DeVry. That makes it MUCH better.

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

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 17 Jan 2018 @ 8:56am

        Re: Re: "technical high school"

        You really can't compare US for-profit schools and colleges (e.g., many are or became such egregious scams that they shut down)to systems other places. If you want to go by names, one may think MIT was some sort of scam tech trade high school.

        I would agree with TheCarl that this is the wrong thing to pick on, for a quick laugh or with serious accusation, without evidence. I wonder if these clowns-at-law will be smart enough to rebut that (assuming they wouldn't avoid the point for other shady reasons, including that the quality of his schooling and success as a student can be wholly irrelevant to the quality of this software or his "expert testimony").

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

    • icon
      The Wanderer (profile), 16 Jan 2018 @ 8:53pm

      Re: "technical high school"

      The idea of a university being multidisciplinary, and a college focusing on a single discipline, is by no means unique to Germany. Growing up in the USA, I remember learning fairly early on that the distinction between a college and a university is that a college only covers one subject ("discipline" as you put it), but a university is made up of multiple colleges. (Or as I think it would once have been put, "collegia", although I was too young to be expected to know that word at the time.)

      The conversation in which I learned this was about the college where my father attended, which was at the time called Anderson College, but has been succeeded in the intervening years by Anderson University. I rather suspect that a broadening of its scope is exactly the reason underlying the name change.

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

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 20 Jan 2018 @ 11:53am

        Re: Re: "technical high school"

        That was my impression of the difference as well. I graduated from the University of Houston, but most of my classes were at the Cullen College of Engineering. There were a bunch of colleges that made up the University of Houston, and they all had their own buildings... mostly.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 17 Jan 2018 @ 1:30am

    Came for Prenda and popcorn comments, was not disappointed!

    However... Nobody has noticed but I've seen right through the scheme. Darren M. Griffin, Daniel Macek, Daniel Susac, Tobias Fieser, Michael Patzer and Arheidt are all... *ominous drums* ALAN COOPER!!

    Clever tactics, Prenda, clever tactics.

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


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