Prenda Nailed to the Honeypot

LOS ANGELES—When the dust finally clears and the full story of the Prenda Law saga is able to be told, it will seem inconceivable to some that it was allowed to continue on for as long as it has. No one will be particularly surprised by the copious allegations of sleazy tactics used by Prenda lawyers, each of whom in their own inimitable way has become infamous in legal circles and beyond, but it will still seem like a tall tale dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter, titled The Gang That Couldn’t Litigate Straight.

We’re not yet there, however, not by a long shot. An entity named Prenda may no longer exist on paper, but cases are ongoing and the fallout is very much still being felt, not least by the flesh-and-blood Prenda principals whose handiwork is finally coming home to roost. The latest revelation could very well be the coup de grâce, seeing as it represents smoking-gun proof that Prenda lawyers, in a honeypot scheme, were seeding Torrents with content that they used to lure people into downloading. The accusation that they were doing this has been out there for a few months, ever since defense lawyer Graham Syfert claimed as much in a court filing, but during discovery in another ongoing Prenda case, AF Holdings v Patel, a subpoena request by the defense attorney returned the smoking gun.

Syfert’s claims were based on forensic investigation conducted by Delvan Neville, who runs a company that specializes in monitoring BitTorrent users. His subsequent report, according to TorrentFreak, “hinted that the law firm was seeding the very files they claimed to protect, and found that many of the torrents detailed in Prenda lawsuits originate from a user on The Pirate Bay called ‘Sharkmp4.′”

TF reported yesterday, “In an effort to expose the alleged honeypot, The Pirate Bay then jumped in and revealed the IP-addresses that ‘Sharkmp4′ used to upload the torrent files. Since the site wipes all IP-addresses after 48 hours, The Pirate Bay team had to decrypt older backups to eventually offer the list below.”

The list was eventually compiled and released publicly, and then came the subpoenas submitted by defense lawyer Blair Chintella in the Patel case, and especially one in particular.

“One of the subpoenas covered the Comcast IP-address used by ‘Sharkmp4,’” reported TF. “After a few weeks Comcast returned the subscriber details that matched the IP-address at the time the files were uploaded. As can be seen from their response detailed below, this IP is indeed the Comcast account of Steele Hansmeier PLLC, which is directly connected to Prenda Law.” Steele Hansmeier is another in a series of Prenda-related entities: Steele refers to Prenda principal John Steele and Hansmeier to his colleague, Paul Hansmeier.

However, they add, “The honeypot strategy is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit an important one. The defense team has filed more subpoenas which are expected to be returned later, in the hope of uncovering more dirt on Prenda and its associates.”

This latest wrinkle in the Prenda Law saga has now reached the Washington Post, which added its perspective on the matter in an article published today. “A copyright lawsuit is based on the assumption that content distribution is unauthorized, but that may not be so clear if the video was uploaded to the network in the first place by the legitimate copyright holder,” wrote Andrea Peterson and Timothy B. Lee for the paper. “Even worse for Prenda, judges may not look kindly on the firm’s failure to disclose the fact that it uploaded the videos. The firm has already faced scathing criticism from judges for its ‘lack of candor.’”

That’s putting it mildly, to be sure, but while the accusation of running a honeypot will likely be greeted unfavorably by most judges, to say the least, and may well result in dismissals for remaining Prenda cases, the actual seeding of Torrents by copyright owners of their own content is not illegal. It’s when lawyers do it and then turn around and not only hide the fact but also deny it that sanctions for the sanctimonious can be expected.

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, it’s all a black eye for the porn industry, which was warned about Prenda long ago, but which at least in part decided to embrace their reckless strategy. One would hope that more caution will be exercised in the aftermath of the Prenda meltdown, but don’t hold your breath on that one.