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Judge hits porn troll law firm with fines, wants them disbarred

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If you had any doubt where Judge David Wright's loyalties lay in the legal conflict between a notorious cabal of lawyers and the countless Internet users they allegedly scammed, know this.

He packed his epic, 11-page ruling on Monday with a ton of Star Trek references. (For some reason.)

Wright fined copyright trolls Prenda Law—the firm that allegedly extorts American Internet users by claiming they pirated porn and threatening to publicly shame and sue them if they don't pay up—$81,319.72. And he recommended to the states where they're respectively registered that they each be disbarred.

The reason he gave is the same one that much of the Internet, especially the anti-copyright troll blogs that found themselves at odds with Prenda, have been giving for months. Prenda routinely engages in "fraud," Wright said.

"For these individuals [accused by Prenda], resistance is futile," he added, really hammering that Star Trek theme. "Seeking easy money, they conspired to operate this enterprise." He continued:

"Their litigation strategy consisted of monitoring BitTorrent download activity of their copyrighted pornographic movies, recording IP addresses of the computers downloading the movies, filing suit in federal court to subpoena Internet Service Providers ("ISPs") for the identity of the subscribers to these IP addresses, and sending cease-and-desist letters to the subscribers, offering to settle each copyright-infringement claim for about $4,000."

The writing has seemed on the wall for Prenda in recent weeks, beginning with Wright sniffing the firm out and demanding its lawyers show up in court—which most of them failed to do. Prenda then tried to get popular blogging platform Wordpress to reveal the names and IP addresses of everyone who had visited those anti-copyright blogs—which Wordpress refused to do. Once Prenda finally appeared in court, Wright demanded those lawyers spill their beans about what their operation could possibly be, if not an attempt to scam a lot of innocent people—something Prenda refused to do, choosing to simply plead the Fifth.

Wright cited legal precedent that pleading the Fifth doesn't get you off the hook, and that he could "draw adverse inferences” against Prenda if they didn’t tell their side of the story.

The judge's decision to fine Prenda for such a specific amount ($81,319.72 isn't exactly a smooth number) was especially clever. Since $4,000 is "calculated to be just below the cost of a bare-bones defense," Wright said, he fined Prenda for an amount "calculated to be just below the cost of an effective appeal."

Photo via Wikimedia Commons