Minnesota kills copyright trolling in its infancy

One of the best ways to kill an impending flu is to take an extended dose of vitamin C and have a good sleep at the very first, subtle signs of sickness. If you ignore slightly sore throat and running nose, and let the disease take over, you will have to live with fever and headache for at least a week.

The above is analogous to our judicial system based on the case law. Those districts where judges fell for trolls’ lies, are dealing with consequences of letting scumbags use courts as a cheap way to obtain personal information of ISP subscribers. These consequences include clogged dockets, inconsistent rulings, and judges realizing that they were gamed but being reluctant to admit the initial shortsightedness.

On the other hand, those districts where judges sensed abuse at once and killed the disease in its infancy, don’t have this plethora of unnecessary problems. Virginia and Georgia are among the states that ousted trolls quickly, and now Minnesota has joined the club.

On 7/5/2012 Magistrate Judge Franklin L. Noel, killed five identical cases¹ against individuals that Prenda Law (under the disguise of an earlier Steele’s outfit — Alpha Law Firm) brought on behalf of a phony offshore porn purveyor, AF Holdings².

This order is both symbolic and humiliating to Prenda. Symbolic because Minnesota is the state where Steele made his first steps as a troll (and where his wannabe forensic “expert” Peter Hansmeier lives), and humiliating due to its brevity: as if the judge tells us that Prenda’s foul intentions are so painfully clear that it is not worth time and paper to explain the obvious.

Not surprisingly, the crooks appealed the magistrate’s decision to the district judge on the same day, but I bet that this is futile: once judges understand the anatomy of the scam and learn about Prenda’s criminal activity all over the country, there is no way their opinion can be swayed.

Meet the attorney

For almost a year John Steele promises to hire an army of attorneys, and it was a rolling joke all this time. At best, he was able to hire an army of robots to call and harass people in violation of multiple state and federal laws. Despite the public perception, it is very hard to find an attorney who is eager to take a sleazy, borderline illegal job no matter how good the salary is. However, it is not impossible, especially if a lawyer is an arrogant college graduate and lacks the wisdom of a seasoned professional.

Meet Michael K Dugas, a Prenda employee that I never heard about, though he lists Prenda as his employer since August 2011 (NB: Prenda Law did not exist at that time).

I mentioned arrogance and lack of experience not merely to insult Dugas. Look what he wrote in the above-linked objection:

The final factor on which Magistrate Judge Noel premised his denial of Plaintiff’s expedited discovery application was that “the pornographic copyright holder’s activities in pursuit of settlement agreements may constitute an ‘abuse of the judicial system.’” (ECF No. 7.) (emphasis added). Plaintiff is deeply disturbed by the prospect of inferior access to the federal courts by virtue of its participation in the adult industry. Surely it would not be appropriate for a federal judge to say, “the female copyright holder’s activities”, or “the black copyright holder’s activities,” or “the Muslim copyright holder’s activities.” Yet, for reasons that are unclear, Magistrate Judge Noel was comfortable referencing “the pornographic copyright holder’s activities.” Plaintiff readily concedes that it, as an adult content producer, is unlikely to win a popularity contest with the general public. Nevertheless, it believes that it, as well as every other unpopular group, is entitled to equal access to the courts.

Even for a person who never heard about trolls, it is clear that the emphasis in the judge’s phrase was not the one Dugas was trying to explore, but rather the “activities in pursuit of settlement,” a reasonable concern, to put it mildly. “Pornographic” was just a statement of the fact. As a result, the entire paragraph turned out to be nothing more than a red herring. In addition, invoking racism/sexism analogies was disingenuous.

The objection is also full of lies about how discovery has helped Prenda identify the infringer in the past. Troll cite to Prenda’s negligence cases and deposition cases in support of this, despite the fact that those cases specifically say that Prenda doesn’t know who the infringer is.

To be honest, I’m tired of Steele’s games. When I think about all the mingled connections, real and phony, attempts to hide truth and ongoing puke of a desperate evil mind, I imagine a product of the drain rodding: tangled hair mixed with grease. The good thing is that the rodding is underway, and soon we will forget about the sewer smell Prenda.

¹ 0:12-cv-01445-JNE-FLN, 0:12-cv-01446-JNE-FLN, 0:12-cv-01447-JNE-FLN, 0:12-cv-01448-JNE-FLN, and 0:12-cv-01449-JNE-FLN.

² It is rumored that AF Holdings is nothing but MCGIP resurrected in a tax haven of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Now-defunct MGIP has been dubbed as “mini-Righthaven” by Nicholas Ranallo. While it is just a rumor, it is very plausible, especially if you read Nick’s article and notice the role Alpha Law Firm plays in Steele’s criminal activity, and I hope that IRS and/or FBI will be checking this lead soon.

Note that a “reputable” lawfirm Alpha Law erased its website: Steele’s accomplice in extortion, Steve Jones, erased the website of his allegedly forensic company “Arcadia Security” too. An expected behavior of desperate idiots?

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34 responses to ‘Minnesota kills copyright trolling in its infancy

  1. “The pornographic copyright holder’s activities in pursuit of settlement agreements may constitute an “abuse of the judicial system””

    If not for the word “pornographic” I believe the statement would apply to a lot of such cases involving settlement letters, but it’s still great news. Every defence lawyer fighting these cases should be informed of the above statement.

  2. And I naively assumed the Alpha Law Firm was legit, time to get even more cynical about this business.

    Great news and a great post.

  3. This part is my favorite from the appeal:

    The final factor on which Magistrate Judge Noel premised his denial of Plaintiff’s
    expedited discovery application was that “the pornographic copyright holder’s activities
    in pursuit of settlement agreements may constitute an ‘abuse of the judicial system.’”
    (ECF No. 7.) (emphasis added). Plaintiff is deeply disturbed by the prospect of inferior
    access to the federal courts by virtue of its participation in the adult industry. Surely it
    would not be appropriate for a federal judge to say, “the female copyright holder’s
    activities”, or “the black copyright holder’s activities,” or “the Muslim copyright holder’s
    activities.” Yet, for reasons that are unclear, Magistrate Judge Noel was comfortable
    referencing “the pornographic copyright holder’s activities.” Plaintiff readily concedes that it, as an adult content producer, is unlikely to win a popularity contest with the
    general public.

    The Judge was clearly using pornographic to describe the nature of the copyright and not describe the plaintiff. Noticeably, they do not address the crux of the Judge’s concerns, “abuse of the legal system.” As for a popularity contest, I totally think they could win a most sleazy outfit in America contest.

  4. You should add a Peter Hansmeier tag.

    Where he gets off claiming to be a computer forensics expert is beyond me. There is no evidence he has any technical skills beyond that of your typical undergraduate. If Steele really payed him 250k for his forensics services it’s probably just an excuse to bilk a larger share of the money from his clients. If only his Go buddies Matthew Curran,Tim Hoel, and Aaron Broege could see the heights to which he’s recently risen.

  5. LOL. I just pulled a mess of gunk out of my utility sink’s drain yesterday. I’m going to think of MN trolls as I watch the drain flow free and clear today.

  6. I know readers of this site will hate me but the Magistrate Judge is clearly wrong. If there is a reasonable basis for the plaintiff to believe that an IP address is associated with infringement, then the judge is obligated under binding precedent (and the Federal Rules) to allow the discovery. Futher, the settlement letters are entirely appropriate—-remember-it is illegal to download copyrighted works without permission. At least 90% of the owners of these IP addresses are responsible for the illegal downloands, and they should be held responsible. I cannot fathom a justification for defending those who illegally engage in copyright infringement. Whether the work is porn, or music, or a movie is irrelevant. Clearly, the Magistrate Judge’s decision should be overturned It would be a grave threat to our system of fair play and due justice if the plaintiffs in cases like these were not permitted to discovery so as to find out the names and addresses of those who are responsible for the IP addresses that engaged in illegal infringement. There is nothing moral, ethical or fair about those who defend blatant copyright infringement. Sorry, but those who illegally download copyrighted are wrongdoers, and their names should be published and made public. The lawyers who handle these cases are servinjg the public interest

    I represent and own a piece of a record label, and we are totally ripped off every day by these illegal downloads. The courts should be open to the claims of plaintiffs’ in these cases. Illegal downloads take money out of the pockets of artists, musicians, filmmakes and many others who contribute to your society by creating original works. The only way to stop this illegal conduct by infringers is for the courts to allow plaintiffs to conduct discovery and then demand settlement from the wrongdoers. It is absolutely crazy for people to assert that this is unfair—the bad guys are the infringers.

    • I think you’ve clearly missed the point of this blog. Many of us understand the plight of copyright holders who are legitimately harmed by copyright infringement. However what is at issue in these cases is the tactics. We have offshore shell companies set up for the sole purpose of tracking bittorrent and extorting settles far beyond any actual damages. Lawyers who are recruiting companies into the sham and kicking back $.10 on the dollar back to the actual rights holders. I can go on and on and one about what’s wrong with these cases, but it would not be worth it. I suggest you please read more articles here before jumping to conclusions.

      And just FYI, there is no binding precedent or Federal Rules that require allowance of early discovery.

    • You say blatant infringement but on what proof? An IP address alone is the weakest “proof” you can have for a multitude of reasons. The trolls are going about this the entirely wrong way. What is wrong is the ulterior motive of why these cases are being filed. The kick-back to the actually producer(s) of said films aren’t getting much of anything. The troll lawyers are milking/abusing the judicial system and terrorizing/extoring the percentage of people who aren’t doing anything wrong. This is in itself is so off-base, regardless of what stance you take. Get that through your head. I doubt you realize how easy it is for someone educated in the arts to hack some old granny’s wi-fi connection and use it illegally. Heck, there are You-Tube videos out there to teach anyone just about anything. Millions of people live in highly populated areas such as apartments where these internet connections are being abused but there is a right way of going about in stopping what is going on.

      The method used by these dumbass lawyers, most of which have no clue in how this stuff works, waste tax payer money in a shitty economy like this to flood the court system with abusive cases. This particular judge sees through what this case is and more and more judges are doing the same. Extorting people through some mass Doe filed cases is not going to solve the problem. As a matter of fact, these porn producers are probably making more enemies and losing fans than anything cause of what they are party to. If they honestly want to get rid of what is going on, then name and go after people individually with actual, substantial proof, which more than likely these punks don’t want to do because their methods are flawed. Stupid, idiot trolls do not have any interest in helping their clients, it is all about fattening their own pockets. As a country we have bigger fish to fry in the court system than to be tied up with this nonsense.

    • The lawyers are serving the public interest? Go fuck yourself.

      So the 10%, by your estimate (others say higher), who are innocent and have their lives ruined by the actions of these trolls is justified? How in your sick fucking mind do you rationalize this?

      Hey, as long as you can extort money out of whoever’s IP gets caught in the crossfire you’re golden. You are obviously owed millions of imaginary dollars.

    • So because an IP address harvested by technological methods that have never been verified for reliability or accuracy brings up a few random numbers you want to demand money from whatever poor sap might be associated with those numbers.

      Sorry, but no dice. The sheer number of false positives that the RIAA hit ever since they began their decade of intimidation and litigation is proof enough that your “numbers” cannot be trusted. And even if the numbers might be accurate why is it that most of these cases don’t go all the way? Why dismiss any cases if your numbers are right and you nabbed the right people? After all, according to you “at least 90% of the owners of these IP addresses are responsible”. Out of the judges that are willing to process your claims why isn’t there a similar rate of these lawsuits going all the way, and instead, most of them are getting dismissed?

      That you would defend dragnet litigation tactics, have complete disregard for anyone innocent caught in them and would willingly intimidate innocent people for several thousand dollars speaks volumes about who you are beyond the weak pseudonym you choose to use. (Isn’t Maurice Ross a Scottish footballer?) Are you afraid that people won’t buy your music, now that we know what your stand is on demanding money from the innocent? No fear – since I don’t know who you are I can’t support you even if I wanted to.

      • As a matter of fact, Maurice is a real person, an IP attorney from NY, and this is his name, not a pseudonym. I have a long history of quarrels with Mr. Ross, started almost a year ago and continued to a couple of Avvo threads.

        Not that I have nothing to say, you know that I do, but I’m done debating with Mr. Ross. I’m happy to see that, unlike last year, it is not necessary anymore as many who are more articulate than me watch this blog and chime in when there is a need. I have a limited resource — time — and trying to use it optimally: working on posts, pages and upcoming Wiki project, helping attorneys and replying to emails — admittedly not every single one: I’m sorry!.

    • Hey Maurice, can you point us to records in PACER that show a statistical trend towards 90% of Does listed in these cases being found to have infringed on the merits in entered judgements?

      You do know that in Liuxia Wong vs. Hard Drive Productions, Inc., a judgement was entered stating Wong had not infringed on Hard Drive’s copyright, don’t you?

      Can you find one mass-BitTorrent case in which a defendant was found by a jury to have infringed on plaintiff’s copyright?

      If you can’t provide some evidence by way of court documents you should be ashamed of yourself. As a lawyer you should either know how the American justice system works or do us all a favor and quit your job.

    • Please, what a load of baloney. These Copyright Trolls don’t give a crap about people illegally downloading copyrighted material or stopping infringement at all, what they do care about is all the money the can make by abusing the Copyright laws created by and put in place largely by lobbyist on behalf of the various entertainment industry groups to ever expand the reach of what is copyrightable and adding ever new legal protections to protect them. These Trolls are simply taking advantage of these laws and of the unfortunate ignorance of many judges of how Bitorrent and IP actually work.

      Going after end user infringers with two or three thousand dollar settlement extortion demands, with the threat of lawsuit or possible 100,000 dollar judgments for refusal to accept their generous offer is morally offensive to me and many other people, that it is not to you deeply troubles me. Such draconian measures go too far, regardless of whether the Doe(s) is actually guilty or innocent of the alleged act of infringement. The majority of Americans don’t have thousands of dollars to waste either in the paying the settlement demand to make it go away or to higher a defense lawyer to defend them, not to mention the inherent unequal position of the alleged infringer to the Copyright Troll in both understanding of the judicial system and financial resources.

      The Trolls’ business model is not about stopping infringement, but according to them, recouping lost income and compensation for alleged financial damages their clients have incurred through the illegal download of their sometime and sometimes not copyrighted material. Lets be real, this is about them abusing the American Judicial system for monetary gain at little expense to themselves, but at great expense to average Americans who have been a recipient of their settlement (extortion) letter or intrusive phone calls, and not to mention the wasted tax dollars used on processing and managing these frivolous lawsuits clogging up courts across the US. They do nothing to stop the torrents; they don’t send DMCA notices to torrent sites or trackers. What they do is milk a particular torrent for all the IP’s they can, they seem to have no problem watching the same torrent for 8 or more months all the while recording the ip’s of alleged infringers while doing nothing to actual stop the infringement itself. These guys’ are nothing but a new breed of sleazy profiteers seeking the easy buck at the expense of the common man, the American judicial system, and general human decency who have plague mankind since civilization began. To pretend they are something other they what they are, is either an act of willful ignorance on you part Maurice Ross, or a laughably bad and utterly failed attempt to defend these trolls simply because yourself are an intellectual property lawyer. Either way your argument fails to impress or convince anyone with any real insight into these predatory copyright trolls and their tactics who have been plaguing the US the past couple years. In the end they will get what is coming to them.

    • Please backup your statement of “fact”.
      “totally ripped off every day”
      How are you arriving at the numbers you claim in losses?

      Please explain how when the recording and movie industry are having fantastic years, that piracy is costing them billions of dollars.
      Please explain which record label, so that we as consumers can opt to not do business with someone who is supportive of demanding “settlements” with unproven evidence.
      Please explain how it is you can ignore the university study showing how flawed this type of IP gathering is.

      You presuppose that people targeted are “responsible”, that is a dangerous assumption to make.
      There is no negligence claim that will stick to those who just pay the bill and had no part in the alleged downloading.
      Your coming out in support of lawyers who have gone on record saying they will question everyone who visits the targets home, and neighbors asking if they were the ones who downloaded the movie with the scandalous title.
      They couldn’t possibly be trying to scare people into settling to just avoid the embarrassment could they?
      They are, they can, they have.
      Steele tried to shake down a 80 yr old woman with his never wrong system, once the papers looked into his extortive claims he suddenly decided his foolproof system had made a mistake.
      How many other senior citizens who’s only crime was the ISP giving them a crappily secured wifi router, settled to avoid the hassle?

    • Even if it were as low as 10% innocents being trashed through this process it is appalling. Even if it were 1% it would be appalling. I do not think you get this. I do not think you get what it is to be innocent of this accusation and then have someone come to you and threaten your reputation, your job/career, family, home….your entire life, with destruction if you do not pay this ransom. Not only do you not get it but you and those like you cannot care. It is beyond your ability to understand. There is criminal behavior going on, that is for sure……You are the criminals. When you succeed in destroying the life of an innocent person you have committed a crime worthy of many years in prison…..that is if you get that far. When you attack a person, please try to understand that person has the right to defend themself. You cannot say that this is not a physical attack. When you threaten to destroy a persons life how can that not equate to a physical attack? You and those like you have been so fortunate thus far, but the flavor of our nation is changing so rapidly and times so desperate, that the troll outfits and their clients might want to rethink what they are doing. Of course you live your lives breaking laws and living corrupt lives. For those like you, criminality is all in a days business, and so you cannot understand what it is to live a respectable life.

      I, like so many others in this forum respect the rights of copyright holders. But these rights were created through a process of laws and with certain intent. The creators of those laws did not intend for unscrupulous lawyers to twist the intent and manipulate the courts and process into a mass extortion business. Now these trolls and their clients whine that their efforts to pervert the law are being found out. Seriously? I actually have less sympathy for copyright holders now than I ever have. You expect compliance through fear???? That not only never works but it actually makes the problem worse. The trolls are only interested in their cash they make. The real harm will come to the content owners. The recording industry started to get a clue they were cutting their own balls off (but they actually have some brains). The porno studios will go extinct due to stupidity.

      Maurice, I am sure you command respect in some circles, but you seem to think it is ok to have an acceptable casualty rate for innocent people. That might be ok in your world, but when you are innocent of the accusation and you public name gets trashed, you lose your job and cannot find another one, and your home life begins to collapse then I dont think it is so ok after all. But then you dont have to worry about that do you? You dont know these people. You will never have to meet them face to face. Just a string of numbers on a piece of paper.

      Those trolls, their clients, and those who share your views Maurice are beyond contempt. I sincerely hope your sad lot reaps all that they so richly deserve. And I commend this site and SJD and Raul and so many others who work so hard to make this a reality. They are the true heroes.

      • Maurice demonstrates that he is a fundamentally amoral person, probably a sociopath. He fits right in with the Trolls and I wonder why he doesn’t call them up and ask for some work.

    • Hi, Maurice. There is an existing remedy for copyright infringement in the digital era. It’s called the DMCA. There are clear provisions in that Act that copyright holders must abide to in order to enforce their copyright. As an attorney, you are obligated to follow those rules to seek remedy. At issue here are the attorneys and pornographers who are not following the rule of law to seek remedy. What they are doing is circumventing the DCMA and instead threaten people into settlements without following the rule of law.

      People who download copyrighted materials illegally are criminals, that goes without saying. But what do you call a group of attorneys who do not follow the rule of law and instead threaten people into settlements?

      • Greedy, perhaps? Money won’t fix the greedy lawyers problems and hookers will never love them. Pathetic bastards.

    • Mr. Ross I’m sure you have long run away after your hit and run since so many people have so solidly refuted you. I do have a question thought. Is the record label you “own a piece of”, the same one that gave you a positive review on avvo?

      CEO of Gomination
      Posted by Kazuiko, a Entertainment client,

      Do you mean employee? Co-worker?

      from the footer…

      Copyright © 2012, Gomination. All rights reserved. Website designed by Brian Carroll and maintained by Maurice Ross, Kazuhiko Gomi and Phil Yu</blockquote

    • Notice how Maurice doesn’t have the confidence to come back and defend his statements.

      He is only comfortable when he is able to make unfounded statements and have them accepted at face value because of his perceived authority and expertise; no stomach for actually having to support and defend his statements.

      He really should give Buffy and Duffy a call and ask if they have any openings.

  7. i agree that illegal downloading is a problem, but i also think that the punishment should fit the “crime” a single case of prove-able infringement should not be met by fines of thousands of dollars. i think 5-10x the retail cost would not only be reasonable, but also sufficient to help recoup the costs of “lost” sales. in reality 1 case of infringement is actually to close to .05-.1 lost sale. this is more than a reasonable solution. the problem is that the harmed entities (copyright holders) choose to be unreasonable and pursue the over valued settlement amounts. that is why people are so angry. i will not deny that illegal downloads do in at least some small way harm the industries, they cannot possibly harm them by the staggering amounts that are pursued by the plaintiffs. if you want us to have any empathy for the rights holders then act like reasonable human beings, not greedy money hungry assholes.

    another show of good faith would be to release a statement that 90% of the settlement moneys will go to the industry workers and not just the rights holders and their lawyers. you cry that illegal dl’ers hurt the whole of the industries, but yet are not trying to pay these settlement moneys to the whole of the industries labor force. by not offering a part of the settlements to say the guy who ran the soundboard, then your cry’s ring hollow with the masses.

  8. I have a general question that deals with this. When a judge in a particular district strikes down a case, like this one in Minnesota, does that decision usually carry over with other judges if other cases come up in the same district? Do they look at past decisions or what is taken into consideration?

    • Judges in the same District (or Division in a District) sometimes but not always follow the lead of a judge who has specially scrutinized a case.

      If the decision comes from the Chief Judge of the jurisdiction, and/or similar cases are consolidated and trolls denied, obviously that carries more weight.

  9. All judges within the same district talk with each other. But similar to a large company, just because you work together does not mean everyone likes each other.

    • True, but even if you don’t like your colleague, it does not mean that all your decisions are made with a single goal to annoy him.

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