Firm accused of uploading porn, shaking down people who download it

August 16, 2013

Piratebay user sharkmp4 was just outed as a Prenda honeypot (via Magnus Bråth)

Prenda Law is one of the Internet's most prolific copyright trolls: firms that catch users downloading content from peer-to-peer networks, threaten them with lawsuits and then offer to "settle" for less than the cost of defending a lawsuit. The tactic is particularly effective for pornographic works because many users are afraid to have their name associated with titles like "In Love with Jynx Maze", "Sexual Obsessions" and "Look What I Found in the Street 5" in public court documents.

But Prenda has repeatedly been accused of cutting legal and ethical corners. In one case last year, a Minnesota man sued Prenda for alleged identity theft after the man's name was listed as the CEO of a Prenda shell company without his permission. The allegations have led to tens of thousands of dollars in fines against the company.

This week Prenda faces fresh allegations of unethical conduct. TorrentFreak says it obtained documents that appear to show that someone associated with Prenda uploaded some of the copyrighted pornographic films that it subsequently threatened users for downloading.

Earlier this summer, an expert report filed by a Bittorrent monitoring company associated with a suit involving Prenda suggested that one user who allegedly uploaded many of the videos, sharkmp4, may have been associated with Prenda itself. The file-sharing site the Pirate Bay, then jumped in and identified several IP addresses that it said were used by sharkmp4.

Now Comcast says it has confirmed the association. In response to a subpoena, Comcast said that one of the IP addresses revealed by the Pirate Bay was registered by Steele Hansmeier, a defunct law firm whose principals are the masterminds behind Prenda's litigation campaign.

That means that someone associated with Prenda would have uploaded pornographic films, waited for users to download them and then threatened to sue those users for copyright infringement if they didn't pay Prenda several thousand dollars.

Obviously, this could complicate Prenda's litigation campaign. 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. 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."

An attorney for the Prenda-linked plaintiff in the case didn't return our call seeking comment.

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Timothy B. Lee | August 16, 2013