RoboTrolls Threaten Alleged BitTorrent Pirates With Lawsuit

One of the law firms involved in the ongoing mass-BitTorrent lawsuits in the U.S. is deploying a new tool to threaten alleged pirates. Prenda Law is contacting the defendants through robocalls, announcing that a lawsuit will be filed against them because they failed to settle the case. While the new tactic might be effective, critics are pointing out that the way they are carried out might be against the law.

Starting two years ago, hundreds of thousands of BitTorrent users who allegedly shared films without the consent of copyright holders have been dragged to court in the US.

The aim of the copyright holders, or copyright trolls, is never to take any of the cases to trial.

Instead they want alleged infringers to pay a substantial cash settlement to make legal action go away. Some equal this scheme to extortion, but the copyright holders say they are merely protecting their work.

One of the most active law firms engaged in these mass-BitTorrent lawsuits is Prenda Law. The firm has filed numerous lawsuits on behalf of adult entertainment companies and is frequently accused of harassment-like practices once they obtain the identity of account holders. For example, the firm is known to call accused BitTorrent pirates at their homes, urging them to pay up.

Starting last week, however, these ‘live’ phone calls we replaced by so-called robocalls. Instead of a real person, the accused now hear a previously recorded message. While these calls may be cheap and effective, the way they are carried out by Prenda Law raises all sorts of question.

A transcript of the call was posted online by DTD and reads as follows. Note that the call suggests that the defendant is working for the law firm.

“This is [accused name] with Prenda Law. With our clients offer to settle being expired now for more than 30 days it is pretty clear to them that you don’t plan to enter into a settlement agreement with them which is fine. This call is to inform you that we are going to start the process of filing a lawsuit with your name in it.”

“At first, you will receive time sensitive documents. We have found that most people do have an attorney review them. If you would like to get an idea of what the complaint will look like just go to our website www{.}wefightpiracy{.}com. We do have some of our recent filings there. If you have any questions give us a call. We can be reached at 305-748-2102 and your reference number is xxxx.”

An interesting technique, but also one that might actually be against the law, as Sophisticated Jane Doe points out. For example, while robocalls are allowed in some states, they are not in others.

Perhaps more worryingly is the suggestion that Prenda Law is targeting their entire database of defendants with these calls. This means that defendants whose cases have been dismissed (even with prejudice) are contacted as well.

The same is true for those defendants who already hired a lawyer. Directly contacting a defendant who’s represented by an attorney is frowned upon, to say the least.

The above shows that the law firms retained by copyright holders can go to extremes to get their settlement fees. In recent months several judges realized this. For example, in the Eastern District of New York they are advised to throw these cases out because they’re a “waste of judicial resources”. In other cases we’ve seen that judges specifically state that ISPs can’t reveal telephone numbers of account holders.

The law firms, however, are smart enough to evade jurisdictions where they are not welcome. And as long as they can convince alleged pirates to settle, through robocalls or not, they will continue business as usual.

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