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EFF to Appeals Court: Stop the Porn Troll Shakedown Scheme

PRESS RELEASE
May 14, 2013
EFF Urges Protection of Defendants in Case Linked to Notorious Prenda Law Firm

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal appeals court today to stop a copyright troll's shakedown scheme in a case linked to the notorious Prenda Law firm.

The plaintiff in this case, AF Holdings, is seeking the identity of more than 1,000 Internet users that it claims are linked to the illegal downloading of a copyrighted pornographic film. Over the protest of the Internet service providers who received subpoenas for those identities, a lower court approved the disclosure of the names. The ISPs appealed, and today EFF filed a brief in support of that appeal. EFF is asking the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to help keep the legal process fair and balanced by requiring AF Holdings to simply show that it has a good faith basis for going after these defendants.

The case is one of hundreds being pursued around the country that follow the same pattern: a copyright troll looks for IP addresses that allegedly downloaded adult films via BitTorrent, files a lawsuit against thousands of Does based on those IP addresses, seeks to subpoena the ISP for the contact information of the account holder associated with that IP address, and threatens to name the alleged infringer in a copyright lawsuit, right next to the embarrassing title of a pornographic film. The Doe is then offered a chance to settle before the lawsuit is filed, usually for a few thousand dollars. The key to the business model is flouting legal procedure by suing thousands of unrelated people—located all over the country—in a single lawsuit. For the price of a $400 filing fee and some stamps, the troll can extract thousands of dollars in settlements.

"Once AF Holdings gets the names it's looking for, then it already has what it needs to put its shakedown scheme in motion," said EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. "For the defendants, it will come down to risking being named in a lawsuit over a pornographic movie, or settling for less than the cost of hiring an attorney. As a matter of law and basic fairness, AF Holdings needs to prove that its case is on solid ground before putting more than 1,000 of Internet users in that kind of bind."

AF Holdings is one of a number of holding companies linked to Prenda Law, a firm that is facing serious questions about its use of stolen identities and fictitious signatures on key legal documents, and making other false statements to the courts. Earlier this month, a federal judge issued sanctions of more than $81,000 against Prenda and its attorneys and referred the matter to federal prosecutors.

"We're glad that judges are catching on to this abuse of the court system," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "But while the legal system tries to find answers about Prenda Law, AF Holdings, and other copyright trolls, it's important to remember that there are real people still being victimized by these unfair lawsuits in the meantime. We hope the appellate court will recognize that copyright owners have to follow the same rules as everyone else."

Also joining EFF's amicus brief are the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, Public Citizen, and Public Knowledge.

For the full amicus brief:
https://www.eff.org/node/74213

Contacts:

Mitch Stoltz
   Staff Attorney
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   mitch@eff.org

Corynne McSherry
   Intellectual Property Director
   Electronic Frontier Foundation
   corynne@eff.org

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