EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. A federal judge in East St. Louis, Ill., recently turned the tables on several lawyers accused of being copyright trolls, who attempt to collect money by suing people who download pornography.
Many cases focus on legal, adult pornographic movies that might still prove embarrassing to defendants ensnared by public litigation.
The lawyers who demand payment first obtain copyrights to the movies, then monitor who downloads them and sue in federal court to obtain the identities of the computers that accessed the material. They then sue the computer owners, often offering to settle the claim for less than it would cost the owner to hire a lawyer.
Critics call it a shakedown and the people who do it trolls.
U.S. District Judge G. Patrick Murphy called it abusive litigation in an order dated Nov. 27 in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.
He ordered three lawyers involved in a suit against a Metro East man, Anthony Smith, to pay $261,025 in fees and costs to attorneys representing Smith and Internet service providers entangled in the case.
Smiths case, filed in August 2012, was a variation on the legal strategy. It claimed he was one of a group of hackers who used stolen or shared passwords to access pornographic sites owned by Lightspeed Media Corp. Lightspeed voluntarily dropped the suit against Smith in March.
Judges in various courts nationwide have criticized this approach in which a single lawsuit may be filed as a fishing expedition against thousands of possible defendants.
Murphy is not the first judge to criticize the tactics. U.S. District Judge Otis Wright II, in California, issued an order in May saying, So now, copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow starving attorneys in this electronic-media era to plunder the citizenry.
The three lawyers who sued Smith were Paul Duffy of Prenda Law, based in Chicago; John Steele of Steele Hansmeier in Chicago; and Paul Hansmeier of Alpha Law Firm in Minnesota.
Murphy said in his order that Hansmeier and Steele had flat-out lied about their association with Prenda Law Inc., a prolific filer of porn copyright litigation. Court documents say both men were of counsel for Prenda.
In a hearing last month, Murphy complained, This is simply filing a lawsuit to do discovery to find out if you can sue somebody, according to a transcript made public Dec. 10. The judge later called the case pointless, worthless, a sham.
In the same hearing, Smiths lawyer, Daniel Booth, called it a shakedown racket.
Booth said the lawyers were not looking to impose actual liability on my client, Smith, who was fully innocent. They had simply picked an individual defendant so that it looked like a more substantive case. He said the plaintiffs got the wrong scapegoat.
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