Over one thousand Does were sued by AF Holdings for downloading some of their adult-oriented movies. It was suspected that, in fact, AF Holdings is a front for Prenda Law, and that the massive lawsuit is just another case of copyright trolling. As it so happens, those suspicions are becoming facts.
After filing suit, the studio had asked the court of law to force down Verizon, AT&T, Bright House, and Cox to give up the names and addresses of their subscribers; although the request was initially granted, the ISPs took a stand and appealed the decision (you can read more about it here).
After managing to earn millions out of legal settlements throughout the years, the law firm stumbled upon the same legal system it was trying to abuse. Four of the lawyers associated with the case received penalties that summed up to $80.000, as the federal judge said that Prenda Law “outmaneuvered the legal system.”
Furthermore, the judge ordered an investigation on the firm’s principals, referring them to state/federal bar disciplinary panels, and to federal prosecutors and the IRS.
The best of this case, however, is yet to be revealed. Graham Syfert, a lawyer representing defendants in lawsuits filed by the rogue law firm, had a thought – who uploaded those movies in the first place? Well, he noticed that nearly all of those who shared the files in question came from the same place – sharkmp4 – an unknown user that’s been linked to a handful of videos, all serving as a base for Prenda’s copyright lawsuits. So, who is this mysterious user? To find out, Graham asked the help of Delvan Neville – the tech-head who developed a BitTorrent monitoring device.
By inspecting the hash values associated with the files, Neville found that they all point to one person. It’s suspected that this sharkmp4 has strings, strings that belong to 6681 Forensics.
The puppeteer is none other than Peter Hansmeier, brother of Paul Hansmeier, and the one who had monitored the BitTorrent traffic and pin-pointed the infringement. How convenient, isn’t it? Oh, and just so you know, Hansmeier and John Steele are the founders of Prenda Law.
Neville is suspecting that 6681 Forensics and sharkmp4 could be one and the same person. Proofs that the law firm was uploading the movies pile up – sharkmp4 shared the movies via The Pirate Bay, and the file-sharing portal stores its users’ IP addresses. As such, Neville discovered that some of the IP addresses belonging to Steele’s Go-Daddy website are identical to those used by sharkmp4.
“It appears from all the evidence that John Steele (or someone under his control or with access to his GoDaddy account records with authorization to make changes to domain names) is the most probable candidate for the identity of Pirate Bay user Sharkmp4,” Neville said.
“It’s the equivalent of jumping in front of a car to collect a settlement,” Syfert said.
“I have a friend who just released a music record. If he’s lucky he’ll make $3,000 off it, but if this [is legal], he can put it up online, hire someone to monitor the downloads, and then suddenly his album is worth $1 million,” he continued.
Contacted by telephone, Steele denied the accusations.
“I’ve categorically denied uploading a single torrent in my life,” he said.
“Nor do I know anybody who’s ever used the shark thing.”
“If someone were to be found uploading the torrent that they owned, I don’t know what the legality of it would be,” he concluded.
The whole fiasco is clearly an eye-opener, and we can only hope that Prenda Law will get what it deserves!