Judge Otis Wright told the lawyers' state bar associations they'd engaged in "moral turpitude" by coercing people to settle porn copyright suits or else be outed as illegal porn downloaders.
The judge, who was overseeing a case against an alleged porn downloader, is forcing the lawyers to pay $81,320 in legal fees and penalties. The four lawyers are self-described "copyright troll" John Steele, Paul Hansmeier, Paul Duffy, and Brett Gibbs.
Steele, Hansmeier, and Duffy — who all have "shattered law practices" — formed two companies called AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13 in search of "easy money," Judge Wright says. Then they allegedly hired "willing attorneys" like Gibbs to file lawsuits using the only assets these companies had: copyrights to pornos.
They filed copyright suits against John and Jane Does identified only through their ISP addresses and used the court process to find out their true identity.
Here's how the lawyers used these copyrights to "outmaneuver the legal system," according to Wright.
They’ve discovered the nexus of antiquated copyright laws, 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.
When people do decide to fight these copyright lawsuits, the judge writes, Prenda usually just dismisses the case (presumably because they don't have enough evidence to move forward). They "have shown little desire to proceed in these lawsuits when faced with a determined defendant," he writes.
In the case Judge Wright oversaw, the "John Doe" did apparently fight back. He was sued for allegedly downloading a single movie: "A Peek Behind the Scenes at a Show."
David M. Majchrzak, a lawyer who represents Duffy, Steele, and Hansmeier did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment, nor did Gibbs.
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