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Judge fines firm for improperly enforcing porn copyrights

May 06, 2013|By Stuart Pfeifer
  • The federal courthouse in Los Angeles is the second building on the left.
The federal courthouse in Los Angeles is the second building on the left. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

A company that made millions of dollars by suing people for improperly viewing pornographic movies on the Internet repeatedly deceived courts while “seeking easy money” from people too embarrassed to defend themselves, a federal judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II found that Prenda Law Inc., its attorney, its owners -- who also are lawyers -- and affiliated companies made false statements in court in an online piracy case.

He ordered the companies and the lawyers to pay $81,320 in fees and damages to the attorneys for one of the people they sued.

“Plaintiffs do have a right to assert their intellectual property rights, so long as they do it right,” the judge said. “But plaintiffs' filing of cases using the same boilerplate complaint against dozens of defendants raised the court’s alert.”

The judge said the companies purchased the copyrights to pornographic movie solely for the purpose of suing people who viewed them on the Internet without paying.

Then the companies filed lawsuits against people whose IP addresses were used to view the movies, offering to settle for less than the cost of defending themselves – about $4,000 in each case.

In one such suit, the company falsely claimed that a person whose IP address was used to view a pornographic movie lived in “a very large estate consisting of a gate for entry and multiple separate houses,” evidence that a neighbor could not have intercepted a wireless signal.

The statement was a “blatant lie,” the judge said, noting that the property was a “small house in a closely packed residential neighborhood.”

Prenda Law had initially sought to dismiss the lawsuit it filed in Wright’s courtroom, but the judge ordered the company’s attorneys to return to his courtroom to answer his questions.

Wright concluded that the company’s owners had been taking advantage of copyright laws to enrich themselves unjustly.

“Copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow starving attorneys in this electronic media era to plunder the citizenry,” Wright said.

Prenda Law and its attorney could not be reached for comment.

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