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Lawyer in copyright-trolling porn shakedown pleads guilty

Kids, don't upload naughty films to file-sharing sites and bully downloaders into paying settlement fees.
David Lumb, @OutOnALumb
March 7, 2017
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Copyright issues typically follow big companies legally challenging folks who upload protected content without their say-so. But the two lawyers behind Prenda Law took file-sharing infringement to a bizarre level when they uploaded porn videos and laid in wait to sue anyone who downloaded them, raking in an incredible $6 million in extracted settlement fees. Both John Steele and Paul Hasmeier were indicted in mid-December for perjury, fraud and money laundering, and yesterday Steele pled guilty to the latter two. A porn troll has fallen.

Apparently, co-defendants Steele and Hansmeier had set up sham companies to get copyrights to pornographic movies -- some they filmed themselves. Then they uploaded the videos to file-sharing websites and waited to pounce on users who downloaded them. Once they zeroed in on someone, the lawyers subpoenaed ISPs to get their victim's information, taking a page from the patent troll playbook to threaten them with shame and legal penalties if they didn't cough up thousands of dollars in settlement cash. Both men obscured their role in making the films and hid that they would profit from the lawsuits.

The beginning of the end came in spring 2013 when a US district judge sanctioned both lawyers for defrauding the court and passed their case to the FBI. After years of odd twists and turns, Steele has finally thrown in the towel and will be sentenced soon. His partner Paul Hansmeier's case hasn't been resolved, though he did lose his law license last year after legal regulators accused him of the same fraudulent activity marking the FBI and IRS case.

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