Have the pernicious copyright-related practices of the Prenda law firm finally come to an end? Judges on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have bench-slapped the firm as sternly as can be, with a recent decision affirming U.S. District Judge Otis Wright’s sanctions against the Prenda lawyers.
This tawdry tale includes some strange twists: Wright, a Southwestern Law alum and Star Trek fan, wrote a scathing decision that was one of several decisions from judges nationwide, calling out the Prenda lawyers for their copyright trolling. Judges have termed firm actions to be “legal shakedowns,” and abusive of the judicial system.
Just to remind: The now infamous Prenda lawyers created a commercial business targeting those who liked to download adult videos. The lawyers had, TechDirt says, “sketchy copyright trolling practices that appeared to include Team Prenda uploading their own content to torrent sites, [and] tracking who downloaded them.” Then the firm, on behalf of its dummy corporation that “owned” copyrights on the blue videos, would sue rafts of down-loaders claiming infringement; rather than risk the embarrassment of public exposure of their naughty hobby, defendants agreed to relatively small settlements that soon added up to significant sums.
The appellate court slaps back
The appellate ruling, ARS Technica reports, “defends Wright’s sanction in its entirety and doesn’t give one iota of credit to the copyright troll’s claims that its due process rights were violated.
In coming to their decision, the court writes, by “misusing the subpoena power of the court, the Prenda Principals made millions of dollars from suing hundreds to thousands of ‘John Does’ across the country.”
As a Reuters blog reported, the appellate judges “concluded Prenda’s business was basically a shakedown scheme that took advantage of the court system to extract ‘settlements’ from defendants who didn’t want to be exposed for watching porn or risk damages of as much as $150,000 per download.”
The appellate court held that sanctions up to $230,000 were justifiable to remedy attorney fees for the harmed defendants and “for expenses incurred in this vexatious lawsuit, especially for their efforts in countering and revealing the fraud perpetuated by the Plaintiffs.”
Further, the court found that Wright’s sanctions within his discretion, saying the Prenda lawyers were responsible for abusive litigation based “on the myriad of information before [them] – including depositions and court documents from other cases around the country where the Prenda principals were found contradicting themselves, evading questioning, and possibly committing identity theft and fraud on the courts.”
The appellate judges left the Prenda firm little legal room for further action, saying it had gotten due process for civil sanctions with requisite notice and opportunity to be heard. Judges also affirmed Wright’s finding of bad faith by Prenda, giving him authority to sanction the attorneys for fees and costs of their conduct.
Where are they now?
The bad news hasn’t stopped for the Prenda lawyers. Wright’s order, as ARS Technica notes, also referred the lawyers to regulators and criminal investigators (where “there’s every indication that federal agents are pursuing them for criminal matters”).
As for the individual lawyers involved, ARS Technica noted says two have been disbarred and a third has died.
The practices that the firm pioneered, alas, persist: A lawyer for told a Reuters blogger that another adult website made up nearly 40 percent of all copyright filings in 2015; the site’s suits against anonymous down-loaders “and other copyright enforcers, made up nearly 60 percent of the federal copyright docket last year.”