When an opinion opens with a quote from The Wrath of Khan, something is about to happen.
What followed was a straightforward benchslap littered with Star Trek references. More than a little fitting that an opinion about allegedly illegal porn downloads would focus on the pop culture universe most closely associated with 40-year-old virgins.
It’s not the cohesive, brilliant opinion about strip clubs that we recently got out of Judge Fred Biery. Instead, the opinion draws wry smiles for laying out nothing but a string of references to Star Trek seemingly designed just to prove to his fellow nerds that the Judge knows Star Trek.
Which, in a sense, makes this opinion the most “Star Trek” thing ever…
Attorney John Steele says he has sued more than 20,000 Internet users. Now he's the one in legal trouble.
“It should be clear by now that this court’s focus has shifted from protecting intellectual property rights to attorney misconduct.” — U.S. District Judge Otis Wright
John Steele, the lawyer who told me he’d made “millions” going after people who illegally download pornographic movies, is experiencing some legal trouble of his own. A district judge in Los Angeles has questions about the way in which Steele and his colleagues have conducted their litigation. Ars Technica and Popehat have been providing detailed (and often gleeful) coverage of a series of hearings that may lead to the unraveling of hundreds of lawsuits filed by Steele and his colleagues at Prenda Law against alleged XXX-movie lovers whose IP addresses were caught downloading the films online.
Steele and his colleagues have been pursuing “John Does” who download XXX films without paying for them for copyright violations. When I interviewed him last year, he told me he had filed over 350 of these suits, and that he was at that time suing approximately 20,000 people. The tactic is similar to the one employed by the recording industry years ago, but where RIAA wanted to scare people out of illegal downloads by getting massive, scary judgments in highly publicized cases against individual Napster users, Steele and the lawyers like him are content to get relatively small settlements — deal letters often ask for $3000 or so — from individuals who pay up quietly to avoid being named in public court filings for allegedly watching a film such as “Illegal Ass 2.”
But now Steele and his firm are starting to run into serious problems.
You can do so much with a law degree: securities litigation, real estate, executive compensation, porn production…wait, what?
The Internet, one of the greatest technological achievements in human history, is mostly for porn distribution (not really, but that’s the popular misconception). And if the Internet is littered with copyrightable pornographic material, there’s an opening for attorneys to make some money helping clients go after those who steal that material.
But what if a law firm, operating through shell companies, started making its own porn in order to concoct its own causes of action? I mean, that couldn’t happen, right?
Well, Judge Otis Wright of the Central District of California suspects that may have just happened in his courtroom, and he’s not happy….
Attorney John Steele is currently suing approximately 20,000 Internet users.
The rather long list of “People Most Hated By The Internet” — that guy who sued The Oatmeal, RIAA, Hunter Moore, Julia Allison, Violentacrez… — would be incomplete were it not to include John Steele. Steele is a lawyer who has partnered with the pornography industry to go after “pirates” who download their XXX films without paying for them. He has filed over 350 of these suits, and says he is currently suing approximately 20,000 people.
The tactic is similar to the one employed by the recording industry years ago to sue people who were amassing huge music libraries through peer-to-peer sharing rather than buying CDs. But where RIAA wanted to scare people out of illegal downloads by getting massive, scary judgments in highly publicized cases against individual Napster users, Steele and the lawyers like him are content to get relatively small settlements from individuals who pay up quietly to avoid being linked by name in public court filings for allegedly watching a film such as Illegal A** 2….
It doesn’t take much to get people riled up about peer-to-peer file sharing and everything that goes along with it. Who is the RIAA is suing or not suing? Which Oscar-winning director thinks illegal downloading is maybe kind of OK after all? The list goes on and on.
Often file-sharing doesn’t much concern us here at Above the Law, but sometimes the P2P attorneys themselves become important and/or easily despicable characters within the always-hot topic. A few months ago, I wrote about an attorney named John Steele. A court found his methods of going after P2P porn downloaders to be unsound.
Last week, two more British attorneys were fined almost £200,000 and suspended from practicing law for their unacceptable Internet pirate-baiting schemes.
It’s not everyday you get porn, file sharing lawsuits, amateur motions to quash subpoenas, and a federal judge quoting Shakespeare’s King John, all wrapped up in a nice legal bundle of joy.
Here we go, from the beginning:
Chicago attorney John Steele, whose firm website is located at www.WeFightPiracy.com, represents CP Productions, the filmmakers behind — wait for it — Cowgirl Creampie. The movie was part of their website, www.chicasplace.com (obviously NSFW; I can’t believe I just looked that up in Starbucks).
On behalf of his client, Steele sued 300 people who allegedly downloaded and shared the movie via BitTorrent. No one actually knew, however, who these supposed downloaders were. The plaintiffs only had IP addresses — not names, phone numbers or mailing addresses.
Steele subpoenaed various Internet service providers to get the personal data. He spent months unsuccessfully trying to contact all of the defendants, who lived conveniently in a single Chicago apartment building all over the damn country….
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