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Judge Hints At Jail Time For Porn Copyright Troll Prenda Law

timothy posted about a year ago | from the your-room-without-supper-forever dept.

The Courts 63

In December, we mentioned the attention that Prenda law bigwig John Steele has drawn for some questionable business practices; now reader rudy_wayne writes with news (excerpted from Ars Technica) of more scrutiny of Prenda from a California district court: "A federal judge in Los Angeles has suggested serious penalties for Brett Gibbs, an attorney at porn copyright trolling firm Prenda Law. Facing allegations of fraud and identity theft, Gibbs will be required to explain himself at a March 11 hearing. And if Judge Otis Wright isn't satisfied with his answers, he may face fines and even jail time. The identity theft allegations emerged late last year, when a Minnesota man named Alan Cooper told a Minnesota court he suspected Prenda Law named him as the CEO of two litigious offshore holding companies without his permission. Worried about exposing himself to potential liability for the firms' misconduct, Cooper asked the court to investigate the situation. Cooper's letter was spotted by Morgan Pietz, an attorney who represents 'John Doe' defendants in California. He notified Judge Wright of the allegations."

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63 comments

Couldn't happen to a more deserving guy (2, Insightful)

DCFusor (1763438) | about a year ago | (#42872153)

Or not - this is small potatoes. I want to see banksters hung - they stole a lot more.

I can think of one guy who deserves it more (5, Interesting)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about a year ago | (#42872299)

John Steele. He's pretty much the mastermind behind Prenda, the torrent scanning company, the litigation tactics, the shell companies, and all the underhanded pseudo-legal tactics inbetween. He's managed to use patsies like Gibbs to file briefs, but many indications point to Steele actually authoring many of the motions that make it to the judge and simply using Gibbs' electronic signature. The buck seems to stop at Steele in this operation, and with the heat on Gibbs, everyone is hoping he will roll over like a dog on Steele, implicating him in this whole mess.

Re:I can think of one guy who deserves it more (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#42872789)

John Steele. He's pretty much the mastermind

Taha! With a mastermind like John Steele behind this caper, we'd better fire up the bat signal. With a name like that he should be to Bruce Wayne what Lex Luthor is to Superman. I was getting tired of everyone running around wearing Joker makeup anyway.

Re:I can think of one guy who deserves it more (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42873797)

John Steele

Jesus, with a name like that, can you BLAME him for wanting to stop the world from watching porn by any means necessary? Think of the psychological torment he went through as a kid!

Re:I can think of one guy who deserves it more (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#42875323)

These people need to go to jail hard and long. When the gardener's lawyer inquired if they could show evidence the mystery CEO was someone else, they ignored him and turned around and claimed the gardener was trying to impersonate the CEO!

Is the the judge who filed for bankruptcy? (-1, Flamebait)

bogaboga (793279) | about a year ago | (#42872163)

I have a gut feeling that this is the judge who filed for bankruptcy. [wsj.com] Sorry, I had to mention this.

Re:Is the the judge who filed for bankruptcy? (0)

afidel (530433) | about a year ago | (#42872677)

Wow, the fact that his wife's company failed causing him to default on personal obligations is SO relevant to this article. Oh, wait, no it's not at all. Take your astroturfing campaign to somewhere where there are fewer rational people.

Re:Is the the judge who filed for bankruptcy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42873253)

somewhere where there are fewer rational people

Did you honestly just imply that there are any significant numbers of rational people on Slashdot? LOL! This glorified blog is filled with nothing but Apple shills and Linux nutjobs.

Re:Is the the judge who filed for bankruptcy? (1)

AF_Cheddar_Head (1186601) | about a year ago | (#42873519)

somewhere where there are fewer rational people

Did you honestly just imply that there are any significant numbers of rational people on Slashdot? LOL! This glorified blog is filled with nothing but Apple shills and Linux nutjobs.

And which are you? Shill or Nutjob?

Re:Is the the judge who filed for bankruptcy? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#42873843)

And which are you? Shill or Nutjob?

Process of elimination says Windows Fanboi, or bitter Amiga fan. There's not really many other platforms left. :-P

Re:Is the the judge who filed for bankruptcy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42875373)

somewhere where there are fewer rational people

Did you honestly just imply that there are any significant numbers of rational people on Slashdot? LOL! This glorified blog is filled with nothing but Apple shills and Linux nutjobs.

And which are you? Shill or Nutjob?

Not a Cheddar Head.

Re:Is the the judge who filed for bankruptcy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42873583)

So which are you, a Apple shills and Linux nutjob?

No jail for patent trolling - jail for ID theft (5, Insightful)

Firethorn (177587) | about a year ago | (#42872201)

Well, I think that we've identified a more serious issue than 'mere' patent trolling - identity theft is a rather serious crime.

Though I like the idea that if it's found that they lied about the identity of their CEO, they lose standing in their other court cases - making them fraudulent as well, compounding the issue.

In the end, I'd say it's 'Scum is Scum'. If they're not too worried about one aspect of the law, they're unlikely to worry about others, to the point that when one aspect fails, it all tumbles down like a house of cards.

Personally, I'd say 'hard labor until he's worked off all the court expenses'. That's regardless of the aspect they pick - people might find porn icky, I don't really care.

Re:No jail for patent trolling - jail for ID theft (5, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#42872381)

There is no patent trolling here since these are Copyright suits.

They're not the same thing, and there's no mention of patents anywhere.

Hating Is Hard! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42872765)

There is no patent trolling here since these are Copyright suits.

They're not the same thing, and there's no mention of patents anywhere.

Well what do you want me to do? I love you so much, man, and I just want to make you happy!

Re:Hating Is Hard! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42874441)

Take your homosexuality some place else. There's an opening in Rome.

Re:Hating Is Hard! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42874853)

Empress Nympho - Oh Bob, do I have any openings that this man might fit?
Crowd - Whooooaaaaaaa!
Bob - Well, we could use another wine steward.
Josephus - I got a great corkscrew!
Crowd - Whooooaaaaaaa!
Josephus - Damn, this a hip crowd!

Re:No jail for patent trolling - jail for ID theft (2)

Frosty Piss (770223) | about a year ago | (#42872463)

Well, I think that we've identified a more serious issue than 'mere' patent trolling

Who said anything about Patent Trolling?

Re:No jail for patent trolling - jail for ID theft (1)

Firethorn (177587) | about a year ago | (#42872873)

Oops - I'm so used to seeing 'patent troll' that I fixed this case of COPYRIGHT trolling. Please substitute 'copyright' for 'patent' in the parent post.

Re:No jail for patent trolling - jail for ID theft (1)

pswPhD (1528411) | about a year ago | (#42877573)

IANAL but...

Actually it is worse than that (for John Steel and Brett Gibbs). Reading the court order, they are guilty (at least accused) of 1) failing to comply with a court order and 2) fraud on the court (and therefore perjury). If they fail to show up to the March 11th hearing then you can add contempt of court to that list.

It will be interesting to see how this ends.

Re:No jail for patent trolling - jail for ID theft (1)

Firethorn (177587) | about a year ago | (#42884499)

Actually it is worse than that (for John Steel and Brett Gibbs).

Thus the "House of cards" comment. I'm also not a lawyer, yet could see potential crimes by the dozen. They've done screwed up good.

Headline (2)

rossdee (243626) | about a year ago | (#42872305)

So someone has a copyright on pron involving trolls? I guess theres all types of fetishes around.

And can some lawyer explain what a 'prenda law'is?

About time ... (4, Insightful)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#42872345)

In addition to the Alan Cooper issue, Judge Wright is concerned about the slipshod way Prenda identifies defendants. When a household has multiple members, Prenda evidently decides who to sue based on statistical guesswork. "For example," Prenda wrote in one court filing, "if the subscriber is 75 years old, or the subscriber is female, it is statistically quite unlikely that the subscriber was the infringer."

These shotgun approach lawsuits are just attempts at extortion when they have no real evidence.

I really hope this guy gets some pretty serious sanctions -- making some poor schmuck the CEO of an offshore company is some pretty serious stuff, the kind that should get you into jail and disbarred.

And if I read this right, he doesn't even have legal standing to be suing, and might stand to make money from this.

Re:About time ... (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | about a year ago | (#42872589)

I don't see how who you sue matters... The company is just being "sensitive" to the media coverage when somebody was P2P off a single mom or Grandma's wireless...

Re:About time ... (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#42872825)

I don't see how who you sue matters

Oh? So you come up with a subscriber based on questionable data, that subscriber is a little old lady and unlikely to have downloaded porn, so you select the nearest candidate and assume they did it.

Sorry, but from TFA it's pretty clear that this guy is filing suits with zero evidence other than some vague stuff which can't identify anybody, and making assumptions about who it likely is.

If your methodology is crap, your lawsuits are crap ... and if you're just suing random people, who you sue is really relevant.

Hopefully we get to the point where some more burden of proof is required. Because the "who" in this case is people you can't really show any proof ever did anything.

Re:About time ... (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#42877187)

His lack of legal standing to sue comes directly from the company not actually having a CEO since the named CEO never agreed to hold the position. No CEO = not actually a corporation = not actually a legal entity = no standing to sue.

Being a lawyer who knows all of that and files the suit anyway = criminal.

Re:About time ... (1)

Kalriath (849904) | about a year ago | (#42878789)

Substitute "Prenda Law" for "Recording Industry Association of America".... and the story remains just as accurate. Yet which is facing sanctions?

Re:About time ... (1)

infinitelink (963279) | about a year ago | (#42892229)

"For example," Prenda wrote in one court filing, "if the subscriber is 75 years old, or the subscriber is female, it is statistically quite unlikely that the subscriber was the infringer."

Lies. Damn Lies. Statistics.

Enforce ethics codes. (5, Interesting)

concealment (2447304) | about a year ago | (#42872383)

Good for this judge. If someone is systematically benefiting from unethical behavior, we don't want them in our legal, political, medical or other professional systems. Lawyers, doctors, etc. get paid the big bucks for good work, and also for behaving at a level above the norm. When they don't, it's a clear sign they need "another career."

Re:Enforce ethics codes. (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#42872501)

If this is what they say this is ... this is far enough beyond an 'ethical' breach as to be obscene.

This guy really needs to be jailed, fined, flogged, disbarred, and everything else available to the courts. TFA seems pretty clear this is wide-scale fraud on the courts. And judges don't like it when lawyers lie to them.

Re:Enforce ethics codes. (1)

Schmorgluck (1293264) | about a year ago | (#42874257)

Disbarring should be a given. If I remember it right, lawyers in the USA take an oath when they enter the carreer, don't they? I think I saw that in The Firm.

The ethics threshold. (3, Insightful)

concealment (2447304) | about a year ago | (#42874297)

If this is what they say this is ... this is far enough beyond an 'ethical' breach as to be obscene.

True. I sympathize with your statement. At the same time, I think that we should view ethics not as subject to violations, but as something we keep in good standing to be able to practice any number of professions linked to personal responsibility. It's a threshold measurement. A person stays in good standing so long as they are below that threshold, but as soon as they transgress and go beyond it, it doesn't matter whether it's a small or huge violation; they lose the right to have the power conveyed by that profession.

Re:The ethics threshold. (1)

dkf (304284) | about a year ago | (#42875835)

It's a threshold measurement. A person stays in good standing so long as they are below that threshold, but as soon as they transgress and go beyond it, it doesn't matter whether it's a small or huge violation; they lose the right to have the power conveyed by that profession.

But going sufficiently far beyond the threshold tends to attract additional penalties. Like fines and jail time. There's never just one threshold, but many layers of them. (Go far enough, and you'd better hope to get arrested and tried instead of just being ripped to shreds by an angry mob. Thankfully that's incredibly rare.)

Re:Enforce ethics codes. (3, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#42872607)

Good for this judge. If someone is systematically benefiting from unethical behavior, we don't want them in our legal, political, medical or other professional systems.

I dunno, there's a lot of risky medical testing that we are currently forced to do on imperfect animal models... Might be the only way that these people could make a positive contribution.

Bunnies are innocent. Humans are not. (1)

concealment (2447304) | about a year ago | (#42874255)

I dunno, there's a lot of risky medical testing that we are currently forced to do on imperfect animal models... Might be the only way that these people could make a positive contribution.

There's a lot of truth in that. I am always tempted because I like bunnies, cats, and other fluffy beings and would prefer they did not suffer testing when we have too many humans, and so few of them worth knowing, that we could easily lose a few to sadistic and disturbing chemical testing.

However, we'd have to follow due process rules, and those would be heightened because of the severity of the punishment (most likely unconstitutional anyway, since it would probably be found to be "cruel and unusual") which means that we would have very expensive test animals. However, bunnies. It is possible also that hardened violent criminals could be used as well, although the aforementioned constitutional bar would still be a problem.

Then again, who would want to do something unethical in pursuit of the unethical? I'm of two minds on this. Mind #1 (left side) says who cares if the method is ethical so long as the result is good. Mind #2 (right side) says that I'd be a hypocrite, I'd be signaling acceptance of their methods, and worst of all possibly, I'd be making myself more like them. Reminds me of that great Nietzsche quotation:

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

Oh, please (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year ago | (#42873961)

Lawyers, doctors, etc. get paid the big bucks for good work

Lawyers are paid to be as devious, cruel, and inhuman as possible without getting disbarred, period. From telling the jury she was 'asking for it' as she was dressed like a slut, to refusing to release someone when the DNA evidence doesn't match, but stating it is merely from an 'unidicted co-conspirator'. If your shark wins, I suppose it is 'good work', in an expediently sociopathic sense.

Attorney: from the Latin attorni: to twist (both the truth and the opponent).

Lawyers may be human too. (1)

concealment (2447304) | about a year ago | (#42874277)

Lawyers are paid to be as devious, cruel, and inhuman as possible without getting disbarred, period.

Do you think all lawyers are this way?

It seems to me that some are not, just like some humans are not cruel, narcissistic and vain.

That there are very few shouldn't bother us, since most people can't code either but we still let them all use computers.

Is Porn Copyrightable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42872601)

Little-known fact: "Hard-core" porn (i.e., porn) is actually illegal to distribute in the US. So my question is: is porn actually copyrightable?

Part of me thinks yes, because it is a "Writing" under the Constitution. On the other hand, none of the policy rationales behind copyright would support the claim that porn is copyrightable.

Discuss.

Re:Is Porn Copyrightable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42872935)

Little-known fact: "Hard-core" porn (i.e., porn) is actually illegal to distribute in the US.

Uh, no.

Re:Is Porn Copyrightable? (1)

rudy_wayne (414635) | about a year ago | (#42873003)

Little-known fact: "Hard-core" porn (i.e., porn) is actually illegal to distribute in the US. So my question is: is porn actually copyrightable?

I don't think it's entirely "illegal". But based on the old "community standards" ruling by the Supreme Court many years ago it is possible for material to be declared obscene in a particular area. Although you don't seem to hear much about that any more.

But it is an interesting question. Can material that is considered "obscene", and therefore illegal, be copyrighted?

Re:Is Porn Copyrightable? (4, Informative)

Mister Whirly (964219) | about a year ago | (#42873051)

Wikipedia can answer that. [wikipedia.org] Some courts have applied US copyright protection to pornographic materials. Although the first US Copyright law specifically barred obscene materials, the provision was removed in subsequent extensions of copyright. Most pornographic productions are theoretically work for hire meaning pornographic models do not receive statutory royalties for their performances. Of difficulty is the changing views of what is considered obscene, meaning works could slip into and out of copyright protection based upon the prevailing standards of decency. This was not an issue with the copyright law up until 1972 when copyright protection required registration. When congress changed the law to make copyright protection automatic and for the life of the author, some courts have held it effectively granted copyright protection to pornography because materials once considered obscene might no longer be considered as such. Congress's decision also made ascertaining the copyright status of pornographic materials nearly impossible because of the secrecy conferred to the identity of the models and producers.

The copyright status of pornography in the United States has been challenged as late as February 2012.

Re:Is Porn Copyrightable? (1)

Kaenneth (82978) | about a year ago | (#42875803)

I think the general principle behind obscene material not being copyright protected is that the courts will not support an illegal enterprise. In this context, 'obscene' is whatever has been otherwise determined to already be illegal material in the jurisdiction of the court.

You can't sue for an getting ripped off by your drug dealer. You can't sue because you didn't get your agreed cut of the bank robbery proceeds. You can't sue for copyright because someone put your copyrighted child porn on the internet.

Setting aside that you would get listed on the 'dumbest criminal' website for any of those; since there are many people in prison who spend their copious free time filing frivolous suits, they might not be bringing any new evidence to the courts attention, but instead just intentionally wasting the courts time and money.

Now, in my state as least, there is a provision that it's not a fraud on the court is both parties agree to a 'proxy' description. That is, if the above bank robbers can't agree on a fair split of the proceeds, they can go to court with the metaphor of 'we baked a pie' and are deciding slice sizes to share, and it would explicitly not be perjury.

Is obscenity covered by copyright restrictions? (1)

girlinatrainingbra (2738457) | about a year ago | (#42929423)

Re:Is Porn Copyrightable?
Let's change that to "Is obscenity copyrightable?" and conjoin that with another interesting idea "Crazy copyright restrictions are obscene!"
.
Now let's add those two concepts together and come up with "Is obscenity covered by copyright restrictions when I think the copyright restrictions themselves are obscene?!?!".
.
Does the conjunction of those two concepts mean that anything which I feel is obscenely restrictive therefore does NOT have any valid copyright, and thus I may copy it at will? (hyperbole used in this argument; this note added specifically for the sarcasm unaware populace; if this comment whooshes over your head, then please do not bother to reply to it).

Re:Is Porn Copyrightable? (1)

Mister Whirly (964219) | about a year ago | (#42873079)

Not quite. "Obscene" material is illegal, however the definition of "obscene" is not a federal standard. It is up to local government to decide what is "obscene" and what isn't. So there can't be any federal law making pornography illegal to distribute.

Re:Is Porn Copyrightable? (2)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | about a year ago | (#42873407)

"Little-known fact: "Hard-core" porn (i.e., porn) is actually illegal to distribute in the US."

It is a "little-known fact" because it isn't a fact.

Re:Is Porn Copyrightable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42874637)

There is no such thing as "copyrightable". Copyright is something that comes with anything that is written, drawn, sung, or another activity that involves creativity.

Re:Is Porn Copyrightable? (1)

poofmeisterp (650750) | about a year ago | (#42875403)

There is no such thing as "copyrightable". Copyright is something that comes with anything that is written, drawn, sung, or another activity that involves creativity.

Poindexter, is that you?

They were making a statement, not a direct reference to definitive elements.

Re:Is Porn Copyrightable? (2)

akozakie (633875) | about a year ago | (#42876795)

What does "illegal to distribute" have to do with "copyrightable"? Having a copyright does not imply distribution. And lack of distribution does not imply impossibility of copyright breach (hint: "leak"). I'd argue that if it was illegal, the position of a copyright owner might even be stronger, since permission to distribute could not have been legally given - unless his intention to distribute can be proven, the mere fact of distribution could be viewed as proof of copyright violation (in addition to being illegal anyway).

Obligitory (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42872811)

Since its extremely rare to post porn pics on here and be relevant to the article:

Sunny Leone, who runs the company that supposedly hired Prenda Law for these cases: http://www.freeones.com/html/s_links/Sunny_Leone/

Don't assume she knows the service's tactics (2)

raymorris (2726007) | about a year ago | (#42873425)

Sunny Leone may have signed up for Prenda's "remove your content from sites that steal it" service, but don't assume that means she knows anything about how they go about doing so. As the link shows, Sunny is busy doing other things.

Re:Don't assume she knows the service's tactics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42875681)

"As the link shows, Sunny is busy doing other people."

There, fixed that for you.

Not that I support Prenda, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42873369)

To be fair, their process of selecting an executive to act as the CEO of a company was no less rigorous or profit-driven than the executive selection process of any other company.

Re:Not that I support Prenda, but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42873569)

Generally the CEO wants to be the CEO though.

Re:Not that I support Prenda, but... (2)

ub3r n3u7r4l1st (1388939) | about a year ago | (#42873773)

You don't want to be named CEO out of nowhere from a random company that is about to engage in nefarious activities.

Rules (2)

DickBreath (207180) | about a year ago | (#42874513)

Please notice that the judge laid down two rules [wordpress.com] :

RULE 1. IN ORDER TO SUE A DEFENDANT FOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT, YOU MUST PROVE THAT THE DEFENDANT DOWNLOADED THE ENTIRE COPYRIGHTED VIDEO.

RULE 2. A “SNAPSHOT OBSERVATION” OF AN IP ADDRESS ENGAGED IN DOWNLOADING AT THAT MOMENT IS INSUFFICIENT PROOF OF COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT

So looking at RULE 1 for a moment, suppose someone had an incomplete download that was missing important parts such as:
1. the unskippable commercials
2. skippable commercials
3. previews of craptacular upcoming attractions
4. the FIB warnings
5. the "Macrovision Quality Protection" notice at the very end
Etc.

Does that download count as an incomplete copy?

I am not a lawyer, so I wouldn't know.

Re:Rules (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42876753)

IANAL but from what I understand the numbers you list are part of the performance of a copyrighted material. They are not necessary to the completeness of the copyrighted work itself, and probably wouldn't count in court.

At the same time however, a 20-minute segment of an hour-long TV show, or a single sex scene from a porn movie, may arguably be copyrighted material. If someone distributes said clip, they are distributing a copyrighted work. You could arguably consider it fair use, but even fair use of copyrighted material doesn't void the copyright.

IMO downloading the entire clipped video would be considered a complete copy of a copyrighted material even if it's not the complete movie itself. This would be in contrast to someone downloading the first and last blocks of a video to preview it, for example, to see if it's really a copy of Shakespeare's complete works as claimed by the filename*, rather than goat porn.

* It's amazing when using (insert downloader here) to get your kicks, to see how many copies of the file's hash exists out there with names like 'my homework folder' or the name of the latest hot game.

Re:Rules (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42889057)

Even worse, if that's the case and you do download the whole kit and caboodle, can the commercials / trailers / whatever count as additional copyright violations?

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