Prenda Law Facing Federal Sanctions as Pirated Porn Copyright Infringement Practice Blows Up in a Big Way

Prenda Law, have you heard about them yet?  After three different clients asked me if I had heard about Prenda Law and was this the same as Righthaven, I thought I'd corral some information here in one post with lots of links to more detailed coverage in various other posts and news coverage.  And there's a court case or two to follow, as well, if you'd like.

Prenda Law: a Law Firm Targeting a Specific Niche

Prenda Law is a boutique law firm based in Chicago that in a manner akin to Righthaven has sought to dig for gold in federal copyright infringement law; however, unlike Righthaven, Prenda Law has much more of a TMZ twist to things.

There's porn involved.

That's right: pornography; specifically, pornography copyright rights.

Seems this group of lawyers got the idea of going after copyright infringement cases by filing federal lawsuits based upon federal copyright laws seeking damages from those defendants who downloaded porn from websites illegally.

Pirated Porn as a practice area.

Initially, the law firm had to file complaints with "John Does" as defendants until they could get federal court subpoenas to obtain names from the Internet Service Providers of their porn-downloading clients.  The Internet companies were asked to open their files, reveal the names associated with specific IP addresses whose download histories showed the computer at that address had grabbed  porn from sites without permission or payment.

The problem is that Prenda Law doesn't seem to have real live clients in all this.  

Prenda Law's clients seem to be lacking substance: what will Judge Wright do?

Federal Judges Not So Happy With Prenda Law's Plan

Defendants and ISPs in these cases didn't set idly by, and things exploded earlier this month when a federal judge set a show cause hearing for sanctions against Prenda Law asking that the defendants show cause why they shouldn't be sanctioned by the federal court for filing sham pleadings.

Elsewhere in the country, two men have challenged Prenda Law so far, alleging that they never gave their permission for their names to be used in these lawsuits and as a result, the law firm has committed identity theft.  In Florida, a Prenda Law case was dismissed by a federal judge after no one could point to lawyer and client in the courtroom (link to that hearing transcript shown below).

(After reading that transcript, am I the only one thinking of Chinatown and "she's my daughter ... she's my sister" here?)

Prenda Law faced off with U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright in a Los Angeles courtroom earlier this month; it wasn't pretty -- and lots of lawyers all over the country are talking about what happened in that courtroom back on March 11 - and what will happen when that show cause hearing resumes on April 2, 2013.

April 2013 Order to Show Cause - Federal Judge Gets Specific

Here is what Judge Wright has ordered for the April hearing (excerpted from the order as signed by the Judge):

Thus, the Court amends its February 7, 2013 Order to Show Cause (ECF No. 48) to include sanctions against the persons and entities in subparagraphs a–m below:
a) John Steele, of Steele Hansmeier PLLC, Prenda Law, Inc., and/or Livewire Holdings LLC;
b) Paul Hansmeier, of Steele Hansmeier PLLC and/or Livewire Holdings LLC;
c) Paul Duffy, of Prenda Law, Inc.;
d) Angela Van Den Hemel, of Prenda Law, Inc.;
e) Mark Lutz, of Prenda Law, Inc., AF Holdings LLC and/or Ingenuity 13 LLC;
f) Alan Cooper, of AF Holdings LLC;
g) Peter Hansemeier, of 6881 Forensics, LLC;
h) Prenda Law, Inc.;
i) Livewire Holdings LLC;
j) Steele Hansmeier PLLC;
k) AF Holdings LLC;
l) Ingenuity 13 LLC; and
m) 6881 Forensics, LLC.
These persons and entities are ORDERED to appear on March 29, 2013, at 10:30 a.m., TO SHOW CAUSE for the following:
1) Why they should not be sanctioned for their participation, direction, and execution of the acts described in the Court’s February 7, 2013 Order to Show Cause;
2) Why they should not be sanctioned for failing to notify the Court of all parties that have a financial interest in the outcome of litigation;
3) Why they should not be sanctioned for defrauding the Court by misrepresenting the nature and relationship of the individuals and entities in subparagraphs a–m above;
4) Why John Steele and Paul Hansmeier should not be sanctioned for failing to make a pro hac vice appearance before the Court, given their involvement as “senior attorneys” in the cases; and
5) Why the individuals in subparagraphs a–g above should not be sanctioned for contravening the Court’s March 5, 2013 Order (ECF No. 66) and failing to appear on March 11, 2013.
For more: 

  1. read the transcript of an earlier Florida judge dismissing a similar case filed by Prenda Law which we can assume that Judge Wright has read -- and one which TechDirt describes as worthy of a movie script.
  2. read Popehat's continuing summary of events here (Ken of Popehat was present in the California courtroom on March 11). 
  3. read ArsTechnica's continuing coverage of things here: it's good, too.
Image:  Wikimedia Commons, public domain