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A Few Nasty Words about Copyright Trolls and Shakedown Lawyers

March 26, 2011

First Come the CA Business & Professions Code §17200 et seq.  Shakedowns

So my anger over shakedown trolls began almost a decade ago, when these scumbag Beverly Hills lawyers called the Trevor Group started using California’s wonderful Unfair Competition Law (UCL) @ Bus. & Prof. §17000 et seq. to shake down small business owners like hair salons, restaurants, and repair shops for alleged code violations, etc. — anything they could hang a potential statutory violation on.  See, the CA UCL allows you to bring an action on behalf of the general public for the violation of any law, including fed, state, case law, and even ordinances.  Sweeeet … unless abused.

So, notwithstanding that the UCL doesn’t allow for damages (only disgorgement), these Trevor Group folks sent out loads of C&Ds to unsuspecting small business folks, filed tons of lawsuits, and proceeded to try to shake these folks down for a couple grand each.  This for minor code violations posted on regulatory agency websites and the like.  The idea being the small biz will cough up the blood money rather than pay more to prove the lack of merit of the suit against it.

Thank some major demigod that the CA Bar didn’t think that was cool.  CalBar brought disbarment proceedings against three Trevor Group attorneys, who ultimately resigned from the Bar.   See, we lawyers have a bad enough reputation already.  We certainly didn’t need this.  It was sickening that these guys would use perfectly good law degrees and perfectly good law for such a nasty purpose – ripping of regular folks.

Not surprisingly, the CA legislature amended the UCL in response.  That created some trepidation whether the UCL would be eviscerated.  Nah, you just have to have an actual client who actually suffered the damage you’re suing about. That’s a good thing.

Now the Copyright Trolls

Then more recently,  folks like the US Copyright Group started filing lawsuits John and Jane Does alleged of  P2P and BitTorrent downloading movies like “Far Cry” and “The Hurt Locker.”   The biggies were filed in D.C. District Court, with lawsuits naming thousands of Does, followed by a subpoena campaign to learn their identities, motions to quash, and increasing skepticism by the Court.  There were also the attendant shakedown notices to the BitTorrenters, trying to squeeze them for a few grand.

I’ve spoken with a few of these Doe defendants.   Of note one potential defendant I dealt with extensively had never heard of “Far Cry” (this apparently hideous movie … no link from me).   And stories abound of little old ladies in quaint little towns getting sued and shaken down.

The courts started holding these lawyers’ feet to the fire and actually prove jurisdiction, and of course the Electronic Frontier Foundation got involved.  This is a continuing saga.  For loads of coverage, see The EFF’s Copyright Trolls Page with lotsa links to what they’ve been doing in this area.  Bravo.

And here’s what happens to lawyers who try to help the trolls’ victims:  The Escapist : News : Copyright Lawyers Sue Lawyer Who Helped Copyright Defendants.

Do I really need to note that copyright infringement is bad?  My objection is to the lawsuit-as-revenue-model-regardless-of-merit approach.

…And Finally This Lawyer Dude Who’s Not

Then like super recently, I was speaking with a party who had gotten a Shakedown Notice from some lawyer in Michigan regarding … well, something to do with Michigan consumer law. (I redacted the IDs here, feeling it bad form to out the dude in a blog. )   There is so much wrong with this letter. First, according to his letterhead, Mr. Troll is a lawyer – in Texas.  But he ain’t one in Michigan, where his “law office” and the law he is citing are located.  Second, he doesn’t even bother to redraft his letter to reflect a change in domain name, or that he changed his claim from unsolicited “e-mails” to “false and misleading offers” … which means that legal cites to CAN-SPAM and Michigan’s spam law are inapposite and deceptive.   Oh, yeah, and he apparently doesn’t even have a client, or forgets to mention that part.  And of course, sending letters directly to Domains By Proxy without pretty prominent reference to the domain you are talking about shows a certain lack of … you get the point.

The letter ultimately got to the domain owner, and thereby into my hands (and is used with permission).  And yet, here we have a guy just sending letters out to who knows how many people, and who knows how many will freak out at the big letters “Attorney at Law” and “CAN-SPAM”; missing the “Not licensed to practice in the State of Michigan” part, and actually pay up.   In my book, that’s deceptive at the very kindest, and it makes me mad.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2011 4:17 pm

    I got a shakedown letter from an attorney in New York. I submitted a press release. I’ve talked to him and he threatened a lawsuit but so far nothing. I understand there is a group trying to file a class action suit against the instigator of this shakedown, but I don’t know for sure. See my press release at http://www.prlog.org/10815914-3m-attorney-attempts-shake-down-of-small-web-retailer.html

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