Copyright troll lawyer is finally disbarred for fraud

Extortion isn't legal, either, sir.

Michał Ludwiczak

While it is illegal to download copyrighted files from file-sharing sites, it is also against the law to extort downloaders. John L. Steele, a Chicago lawyer who pled guilty to perjury, fraud and money laundering resulting from alleged "honeypot" schemes, has just been disbarred by an Illinois court. Both Steele and his law partner, Paul Hasmeier, were indicted last March for uploading porn videos that they acquired through sham companies in the West Indies and then suing whomever downloaded them, resulting in a staggering $6 million in settlement fees. That's quite a honeypot.

According to the Cook County Record, Steele's law firm, Prenda, would use court subpoenas to find out who had downloaded the pornographic content -- some of which they filmed themselves -- and then allegedly pressure the downloaders for settlement money in exchange for dropping the suit. Profiting from such extortions without disclosure is what led to a US district judge sanctioning Steele and Hasmeier in 2013, as well as passing the case along to the FBI. Hasmeier's case is still pending, though his law license was suspended in 2016.