For full coverage of the Prenda Law debacle, let me refer you to Popehat, where Ken has been following it closely for a while now and has written many excellent posts on the saga (with help from, among others, Cathy Gellis). As a quick summary, this tale involves a group of lawyers who obtained the copyrights to a few porn movies, monitored BitTorrent to see if anyone downloaded them, and then threatened the alleged downloader with a lawsuit unless they "settled" for about $4,000. Faced with potential embarrassment and high litigation costs, most people paid up whether or not they were actually the downloader, something that was often not at all clear. If anyone did stand up to these guys, they typically dismissed the case and moved on to the next victim. But because of the number of people they sued, this scheme brought in millions of dollars.
That's the unethical part, but here's the debacle part.
This all finally got aired out in a case filed in a California federal court, where Judge Otis Wright decided to get to the bottom of things, and he discovered that it stank down there. He ordered the principals to show up and explain what was going on, which resulted in the spectacle of those who did show up taking the Fifth Amendment. (Really not a good sign when the lawyers are the ones taking the Fifth.)
Anyway, in an order issued yesterday, which is a must-read, Judge Wright found that the lawyers had conspired to commit a fraud on the court and sanctioned them. For one thing, he found, the alleged copyright holder, Alan Cooper, was not involved in the scheme—they had stolen his identity. He also found the lawyers had lied to the court about things like whether they adequately investigated before suing people (tip: you're supposed to do that), continuing to lie even in the face of possible sanctions. In fact, he found, their entire "enterprise relies on deception," a phrase that will be heard many more times in the other jurisdictions where these goons are facing sanctions. End result: an order directing them to pay $80,000 in attorney's fees, and stating that the judge would be notifying the relevant state and federal bar associations about the matter and notifying the U.S. Attorney's Office and the IRS (they haven't paid any taxes, apparently).
The word "enterprise" has a triple meaning here, actually. First, the standard meaning of a "business enterprise," which this kind of was. Second, the legal meaning of a RICO "enterprise," RICO being the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, often used against organized crime and which the judge mentioned in his order. Third, the U.S.S. Enterprise.
I don't know where the Star Trek theme of the order came from, unless it was suggested by the word "enterprise." But this is yet another reason to read the order, which starts with a quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (I was hoping it'd be "Khaaaaaaannnnn!" but it wasn't) and then incorporates lots of Trek references.
Ken goes through them in some detail and adds some good ones of his own, but I'll stick to the one in the headline.