Wednesday 8 May 2013

Prenda: copyright trolls and Star Trek references

US District Judge, Otis D Right II, has handed down his decision in the Prenda copyright troll case, saying that Prenda (a firm that claimed to fight copyright piracy) ran a fraudulent scheme to extort millions of dollars from people who shared pornographic videos online.

As Ben has reported before (here and here) Prenda came to prominence as a "porn troll", filing lawsuits against internet subscribers whom it alleged had downloaded copyright protected X-rated films and then demanding a sum of money to settle the matter.
This blogger is not particularly knowledgeable when it comes to Star Trek, however it is hard to ignore the plethora of references in this decision which opens with a quote:

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

—Spock, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982).
Aside from providing an entertaining read (it's not often that judgments are so blatantly and inexplicably littered with Star Trek references) this decision is a salient reminder that the aim of copyright should not be forgotten. As the judge said, "copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow, starving attorneys in this electronic-media era to plunder the citizenry."

In his decision, the judge condemned Prenda for its "brazen misconduct and relentless fraud," which justified his order for damages of $81,319.72.5. Further he said that some of Prenda's controlling parties (Steele, Hansmeier, Duffy and Gibbs) suffered from "a form of moral turpitude unbecoming of an officer of the court" and that he would therefore refer them to their respective state and federal bars.
Finally, though the claimants "boldly probe the outskirts of law" he said that "the only enterprise they resemble is RICO. The federal agency eleven decks up is familiar with their prime directive and will gladly refit them for their next voyage. The Court will refer this matter to the United States Attorney for the Central District of California. The [he?] will also refer this matter to the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service and will notify all judges before whom these attorneys have pending cases."
So although the damages awarded were comparatively low, the real damage is to the reputation of Prenda and its associates.


Francis Davey said...

Footnote 5 on page 10 is really nice.

Ben said...

I just noticed that Arts Technica have published an update on Righthaven,the Las Vegas operation that sought to turn newspaper article copyright claims into a business model: the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has now ruled on the two Righthaven appeals in what appears to be a terminal judgment saying (amongst other things!)

"Abraham Lincoln told a story about a lawyer who tried to establish that a calf had five legs by calling its tail a leg. But the calf had only four legs, Lincoln observed, because calling a tail a leg does not make it so," the opinion begins.

and more opinions on Prenda and the business of trolls on Boing Boing here