Lawyers who lied and obfuscated for years face disbarment and a $82,000 fine.
US District Judge Otis Wright has no love for the lawyers who set up the copyright-trolling operation that came to be known as Prenda Law. But Wright at least acknowledges their smarts in his long-awaited order, released today. Wright's order is a scathing 11-page document, suggesting Prenda masterminds John Steele and Paul Hansmeier should be handed over for criminal investigation. In the first page though, there's almost some admiration expressed for the sheer dark intelligence of their scheme. The copyright-trolling scheme that has reached its apex with Prenda is so complete, so mathematical.
"Plaintiffs have outmaneuvered the legal system," Wright begins. He goes on:
"They've discovered the nexus of antiquated copyright laws, paralyzing paralyzing social stigma, and unaffordable defense costs. And they exploit this anomaly by accusing individuals of illegally downloading a single pornographic video. Then they offer to settle—for a sum calculated to be just below the cost of a bare-bones defense. For these individuals, resistance is futile; most reluctantly pay rather than have their names associated with illegally downloading porn. So now, copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow, starving attorneys in this electronic-media era to plunder the citizenry."
And yes, if reading "resistance is futile" rattles something in your brain—Wright's order is thoroughly peppered with Star Trek references.
The plaintiffs have a right to assert their intellectual property rights, "so long as they do it right," Wright acknowledges. That's not what happened here, though. Prenda lawyers used "the same boilerplate complaints against dozens of defendants," without telling the judge. Instead, defense lawyers like Morgan Pietz flagged the dozens of related cases. "It was when the Court realized Plaintiffs engaged their cloak of shell companies and fraud that the court went to battlestations," stated Wright.