Archive for November, 2011

Troll of the week

“Weretroll” is a portmanteau of “troll” and “werewolf”, a name for a miserable kind of formerly decent attorneys who turn into trolls when the moon is full, confusing the full moon with a golden coin. Unlike a werewolf, a weretroll can bark, but cannot bite — just like any other representative of the troll genera. Like its relatives, it lives of those whom it manages to coerce into settling using deception and hollow threats.

A DC attorney Mike Meier was once listed on the EFF subpoena defense page. Although his name cannot be found there anymore, there are many articles saying that his “Copyright Law Group” defended those accused of copyright infringement in mass p2p cases:

“There are multiple reasons why the law firms may have tracked down the wrong person. For example, someone may have downloaded a movie by through a Wi-Fi network used by many people, or a minor child may have used the parents’ computer. Finally, there is the human or computer error factor, maybe the user was actually out of town when the alleged download occurred,” adds Mike Meier, of Counsel to the law firm. “Courts are still dealing with many unresolved issues in these cases where people allegedly download movies or other works from the internet.”

Moreover, in an interview to PilotOnline.com Mike Meier rightfully calls the troll tactics by the name they should be called:

Meier acknowledges the country’s long-standing copyright laws but said the lawyers’ tactics have been too aggressive.
“In my opinion, they are bill collectors for the movie industry,” he said. “They’re basically extorting money”.

However, having seen that his opponents make much more money using blackmail, Mr. Meier faced tough questions: does the so-called dignity have a monetary value? Is there a price that justifies abandoning a long and hard way of reputation building? Apparently, he answered “yes” to both questions and joined the growing army of blackmailers.

Mike Meier’s website before the transformation:

…and after the transformation:

There is a private yahoo group comprised of lawyers who defend copyright trolls’ victims. This group is attorney-only, because the members discuss strategies and tactics of fighting copyright trolls, and the group is very selective when it comes to membership. I don’t know if Mr. Meier was ever a part of this group, but if he was, imagine the harm that he is capable of inflicting now. I am not saying that Mr. Meyer will violate any attorney-client privileges, but he could still take advantage of the information once entrusted to him. Update: Rob Cashman noted in a comment below that Mike Meier is unknown in bittorent defense lawyer community. So probably the fear of acquiring some secret knowledge and using it against us is overstated.

Mike Meier employs the same “experts” as Ira Siegel – Copyright Enforcement Group (actually, Meier’s Copyright Law Group is listed as a partner) — the company that admits uploading copyrighted material to p2p networks in order to entrap file-sharers:

That’s what I meant back in September when I said that Ira Siegel participates in shameless honeypot schemes. Any accusation of copyright infringement based on such a brazen entrapment would be easily nullified based on the “unclean hands doctrine”, but remember: trolls have no intention to litigate these matters, so they don’t care about the piles of stinky filth on their hands (that’s how dirty money smells).

Update

8/7/2012

It came to my attention that Mike Meier was sanctioned in the amount of $37,415.00 under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 on 9/20/2011.

8/26/2014

Two years after this post was published, Mike Meier tries to remove it (and other articles about him) by sending a frivolous DMCA notice to my registrar.

Media coverage

Why is the logo on this site black today?

Posted: November 15, 2011 by SJD in Digital freedom
Tags: , ,

6 months, 80 posts, 1,500 comments, 100,000 visits… I managed to stay out of politics, being narrowly focused on a single goal: bringing down copyright trolls and their business model. And instead of writing this post, I would probably spend my time reporting news, good or bad, from our battlefield, but one particular event made me articulate my opinion on PROTECT IP/SOPA bill that is being pushed through Congress these days.

 

Yesterday I received a public tweet from @PiracyCensorsUs , an entity that presents itself as “…the artists, the filmmakers, the authors, the photographers, the musicians whose work is being stolen by digital pirates so they can profit from our work”:

I don’t know anything about this organization; it does not even have a website, which is odd. Most likely it’s an MPAA’s astroturf, maybe not, but to be honest I, don’t care. What was disturbing is the premise of the message, a well formed opinion that what I’m doing is somehow wrong and opposite to their goals of fighting large-scale commercial copyright infringers. That can’t be farther from truth: if they read all my and my guest’s posts and numerous comments, they would be surprised to find out that not even once did I encourage breaking the law. I fight against widespread law abuses, against predatory practices that some cynical lawyers use while pursuing easy money, disregarding an unacceptable level of collateral damage — the pain of innocents who are being wrestled to pay thousands of dollars for the deeds they never committed.

And yes, I’m sympathetic even with those who indeed committed alleged infringement and found themselves in the state of frightening uncertainty. I strongly believe that the punishment they face is grossly disproportionate, hence unconstitutional. I don’t have the right to break the law, but I do have the right to question its fairness.

As anyone who has some understanding of Internet technologies and copyright law, I was already strongly against SOPA, which is bound to break the Internet, trump privacy rights and prompt abuses far worse than the ones I’m fighting against. After reading the twitter message, I realized that my 6-month work, as well as the emerging community, is under a threat. Why? Because I defend those accused of copyright infringement, so it is not implausible that some ignorant copyright maximalist, without trying to understand what this site is about, declares it a facilitator of copyright infringement. Even those who fight on a similar frontier, against Righthaven, tend to jump to the conclusion that I’m just a petty thief, so what do you want from others? Or it can be a cunning troll lawyer, whose “business” was seriously damaged by all the exposure, and who definitely wants to silence me. Enacting this bill makes it possible to censor this site out based simply on allegations.

You think that my fears are unfounded? Look, this summer a French judge ruled that a site was dedicated to infringement simply because… its URL contained the word “torrent”. So I can’t afford underestimating ignorance, stupidity or malice of certain groups and individuals. The broad definitions and vague language in the SOPA bill will only fertilize these “virtues”.

This bill is wrong, probably the worst anti-piracy bill ever. I don’t want to reiterate all the dangers of it, you can read about them all over the Internet and make up your mind if you have not already done so. I can talk only for myself, and besides the fears of being censored, here’s another reason why I’m against SOPA: even theoretically assuming that I knew nothing about this bill a priori, its supporters’ arguments cannot convince anyone who can research various sources of information and is capable of critical thinking.

I definitely respect filmmakers, authors and musicians regardless of their position on copyright: I trust their professionalism and expertize when I need to know how to write a movie script, or set up movie scene lights, but…

Ignorance is our worst enemy.

If your ISP contacted you regarding the subpoena related to this case, please contact me

 

Well, this event is rather minor, but since this blog’s initial goal was to cover mainly IO Group/Gill Sperlein cases (I was an unnamed defendant on the IO Group v. Does 1-244 case, which ended with two default judgments recently), I feel obliged to shed the light on Mr. Sperlein’s each and every predatory move.

So, he is back in “business”, this time representing not IO Group, where he is (or was) an in-house counsel, but another gay pornography studio, Celestial, Inc. I thought that Mr. Sperlein was cleverer than many other trolls and he sensed that it was time to quit this reputation-damaging business. I was mistaken.

On 10/14/2011 Sperlein filed a lawsuit in the Central district of California against unnamed does who allegedly shared an “audio-visual work” with a classy name “Big Dick Glory Holes, vol. 6”. I saw many complaints by various copyright trolls, but this one is the sloppiest to date. The entire complaint was copy-pasted from IO Group’s and other trolls’ earlier complaints, the dates are mixed up (the alleged infringement took place on November 8, 2011, i.e. almost a month after the case was filed), even the number of Does is ambiguous: the number “10” is handwritten on top of erased “32”, while the body of the complaint still lists 32 IP addresses.

To give Sperlein some credit, he is trying to preempt one potentially successful defense raised by defendants in similar lawsuits: all his victims allegedly shared the same file over 12-hour period: many judges have found joinders impermissible when the occurrences of alleged infringements were spread over months. One of a few additions to this document, otherwise copied from other sources, says:

Defendants acted in a collective and interdependent manner in the unlawful reproduction and distribution of Plaintiff’s motion picture by exchanging pieces of the motion picture (bits) between themselves and other bit torrent users during a less than twelve-hour period, with the first infringing action documented at 11:31 a.m. and the last recorded at 10:31 p.m.

The list of defendants shows IPs from different states and different broadband providers. My wild guess is that reducing the number of defendants from 32 to 10 has something to do with addressing the issue of multiple providers: 10 IPs belong to Comcast, which was historically very troll-friendly. We’ll see what his motion to subpoena broadband clients’ identifying information will say.

Some other problems with this lawsuit

  • A strange fact is that the alleged infringement happened a year ago. Yet another proof that Sperlein has no slightest intention to litigate: threats to perform forensic analysis of defendants’ hard drives are rather hollow: even if the alleged infringement indeed took place and some defendants once had the file in question on their systems, the probability of a positive discovery result greatly diminishes over time.
  • No declaration in support from a technology side is filed. IP collectors are referred only as “plaintiff’s investigators”, so a reasonable judge would conclude that the IP addresses were pulled from… you know where. [Update – Declaration in support was filed later, on 11/23]
  • Document #2, “Certificate of interested parties” is very strange. It lists only one interested party — plaintiff. Isn’t it clear by definition that plaintiff is an interested party? Maybe the Central district of California has some bizarre rules requiring to always file this type of document, even if it contains a single tautological entry, I don’t know.
  • It is suspicious that the certificate of interested parties does not list the abovementioned “investigators”. As a leaked ASC:Law email show, Media Protector (a German company that provided IP lists to both ASC:Law and IO Group/Sperlein) had a vested interest in the moneymaking settlement factory, so it is unreasonable to assume that IP harvesters provided the list for a flat fee this time. At least it is a good question that should be asked by the judge: he should request the agreement between the “shake-down” and “pull-numbers-from-the-ass” participants of the conspiracy to be disclosed.

So, getting back to this movie “of obvious high production values and [...] easily disceranable [sic] as a professional work”… I can’t help envisioning the following dialog in a courtroom:

Judge: What is the name of the movie in question?
Sperlein: Big Dick Glory Holes, vol. 6, Your Honor.
Judge: What does it mean?
Sperlein: I beg your pardon?
Judge: I understand all the words, but they don’t make up a meaningful phrase.
Sperlein: Oh, probably Your Honor doesn’t know what “glory hole” means.
Judge: I thought it was some term used in mining industry. Wasn’t it?
Sperlein: Not exactly, your honor, in the context of adult entertainment, “glory hole” is a hole in a partition between stalls in a public restroom.
Judge: Interesting. And what it is used for?
Sperlein: Well… umm… err… to have sex through it, anonymously.
Judge: Since public sex is illegal, why those “glory holes” even exist?
Sperlein: They are made with pocket knives, usually in bathrooms that are cleaned rarely, once a week or even month, otherwise maintenance people would patch them quickly.
Judge: Fascinating…

So, what is my point? I don’t really want to make any point here, I just thought about this imaginary scenario when I re-read the copyright clause in the Constitution:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

All this would be funny if not for the fact that the fear of being associated with gay pornography incentivizes innocents and/or closeted gays to settle rather than fight. Let’s face it: our society is not as tolerant as it is often portrayed, and in some states and communities being openly gay may be outright dangerous, and even judges don’t always understand this.

I hope the judge will recognize the tremendous real harm that Sperlein inflicts on his victims. This harm significantly exceeds his client’s imaginary “losses” from piracy. I pray that this case be dismissed after the first motion or sua sponte.

Today I received an interesting email regarding 11-cv-01741-JDB case, “Hard Drive Productions, Inc. v. Does”, filed in DC. Paul Duffy is listed as plaintiff’s attorney in this case. One of the defendants had forwarded his email conversation with Duffy/Steele. Yes, you read it right: with both. The victim gave me his permission to share the emails.

On a side note, I personally think it was stupid to admit anything even if it was merely trolling for fun (and I believe it was: “Since then I stopped using Bittorrent and removed all the movies I downloaded up to day [sic] (including about 8 from of the Hard Drive Productions)” — it can’t be serious). Be careful, guys, even when not talking seriously: one mistake and a troll gets a huge gift: an admission of guilt. Trolls don’t have any sense of humor, or at least it is overwritten by their sense of greed in most cases.


Paul Duffy

So, what’s interesting here is that my correspondent wrote to Paul Duffy, but got a reply from John Steele. Steele did not even bother CC-ing to Paul Duffy. What does it mean? Paul Duffy is just a façade, proxy. Steele is the one who runs this case. Paul Duffy is not a copyright lawyer (and even not a divorce one), and Steele uses him only because he has a DC license. DC so far has been friendly to trolls, but it may change soon. I strongly believe that Wayne O’Bryan from Virginia is exactly the same — a mere proxy. Proxies do not write complaints or motions — they just forward correspondence and sign documents when needed. Isn’t it just another solid proof that these con artists don’t have a slightest intent to litigate? I would understand using a local attorney as a representative, but Paul Duffy lives and works in Chicago, what the hell?

Well, this is not really a “discovery”. It was clear to me that someone, most likely John Steele, was behind the DC lawsuit. But now I doubt no more.

From: John Doe from Chicago
To: pduffy@pduffygroup.com
Date: Fri, 04 Nov 2011 16:58:10 -0500

Mr. Duffy,

I’m one of the potential defendants on 11-cv-01741-JDB case. I did download the movie, although at that time I did not think it was illegal. Since then I stopped using Bittorrent and removed all the movies I downloaded up to day (including about 8 from of the Hard Drive Productions).

Since I don’t do it anymore, I believe I should be dismissed from the case. Let me know my options. I’m willing to pay a reasonable amount. I’m a student, so I can’t afford much.

After you tell me the amount you expect me to pay, and if it works for me, I’ll tell you my IP and Doe#.

Also I would like to see the release agreement if possible.

John Doe


From: jlsteele@wefightpiracy.com
To: John Doe from Chicago
Date: Sat, 05 Nov 2011 09:16:42 -0500

Mr. John Doe,

I need your IP address so that my client can determine how they wish to proceed.


John Steele
Licensed only in
the state of Illinois

jlsteele@wefightpiracy.com
1111 Lincoln Road, #400
Miami Beach, FL 33139

T: (305) 748-2102
F: (305) 748-2103


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From: John Doe from Chicago
To: jlsteele@wefightpiracy.com
Date: Sat, 05 Nov 2011 13:37:49 -0500

Mr. Steele,

Since you did not answer my question, I will probably wait and see. Yesterday night I read a ton of information about this and similar cases and I’m convinced that this is not the worst strategy. Revealing my IP address prematurely, without knowing the amount you would claim, is stupid. If the amount is reasonable, I would pay and move forward with my life. If it is too high, I would probably spend money on a good IP lawyer (as far as I know, neither you nor Mr. Duffy specialize in copyright). Given the latest developments on the case, it is quite probable that I can even find a good lawyer who would defend me for free, as the chance to claim court fees is rather high.

So, it’s your call: either you let me know the amount, or you won’t hear from me any more. I offer you money (given that your claim is reasonable), so it is up to you: take it or not.

John Doe.


From: jlsteele@wefightpiracy.com
To: John Doe From Chicago
Date: Sat, 05 Nov 2011 14:06:27 -0500

After careful thought, our client, AF Holdings would prefer not settling with you at this time. Im sure it would be much easier for you to find an attorney to work for free in DC than simply deal with our firm like an adult. Keep your insults and save up for the litigation. I think e should wait until your isp gives us your information before any settlement options are discussed.

Here is how a user experience guru Edward Tufte describes Charles Joseph Minard’s famous work:

Probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn, this map by Charles Joseph Minard portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales.

Click on the picture to see it in the full resolution.

Charles Minard's flow map of Napoleon's March

What does it have to do with our trolls? I don’t know… just had an acute desire to share this fantastic work.

I mentioned IO Group v. Somoza case a couple of times. That’s the case where Sperlein and his New Jersey proxies (who are currently being investigated for fraud) sued a guy who is in extremely dire financial situation and who has serious health problems. In addition, the guy said that he did not even live at the address at the time of the alleged infringement.

This case is finally over. The document says that “the parties reached a confidential settlement agreement.” We will never know if any money was involved, and I want to believe that it wasn’t. First, Carlos does not have assets to pay any large amount, and second, last week the judge on this case noticed that this lawsuit was improperly filed, so the haste in closing is suspicious. In any case, I’m glad that it is over for Carlos, and wish him all the best.

Sperlein, with the help from proxies, filed 4 suits vs. individuals in different states:

  • IO Group v. Somoza.
  • IO Group v. John Doe. Dismissed — I wrote about it earlier.
  • IO Group v. Anthony Uy. Dismissed after defendant’s attorney Stewart Kellar filed a short and precise reply to accusations. Dropping cases when more or less serious opposition emerges is nothing new: we witness many trolls use this tactics. Remember: opposition means a danger of litigation, which trolls have no intention to start, and which is rather impossible to win given the quality of the “evidence” in p2p lawsuits.
  • IO Group v. Almeida. This is the only case that is still alive, and IO Group is represented by Marc Randazza. I don’t know what is going on this case. I strongly believe that Antonio Almeida did not do what he was accused of doing: he was out of the country, and his laptop was broken (with a very solid proof). Unlike Somoza, Antonio probably has some assets, which proves that copyright trolls care about money, not justice. I hope that Antonio will stay strong, so the trolls will retreat under the bridge and let him live his life, which they impudently trespassed.