Minnesota
08 March 2017
Reporter: Mark Dugdale

Lawyer admits copyright troll charges


One of the lawyers behind alleged copyright troll Prenda Law has pleaded guilty to fraudulently obtaining $6 million from illegal copyright infringement lawsuits.

John Steele pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering, at the US District Court for the District of Minnesota. He has yet to be sentenced.

As part of his plea deal, Steele accepted the charges brought against him and co-defendant Paul Hansmeier in December. Hansmeier has admitted no guilt and still faces a trial.

Steele admitted, through Prenda Law, to threatening individuals who supposedly downloaded adult movies from file-sharing websites with copyright infringement lawsuits between 2011 and 2014, and extracting some $6 million in settlements.

They went to extreme lengths in their scheme, Steele admitted, creating and using a series of sham entities to obtain the rights to adult movies—some of which they filmed themselves—and then uploading those movies to file-sharing websites such as The Pirate Bay in order to lure people to download them.

According to Steele, the pair filed bogus copyright infringement lawsuits to learn the identities of their potential victims. Once they obtained relevant subscriber information from ISPs, they used extortionate letters and phone calls to threaten the victims with enormous financial penalties and public embarrassment unless they agreed to pay a settlement of thousands of dollars.

Courts began to wake up to their tactics and restricted their ability to file suits against multiple defendants, prompting Hansmeier and Steele to claim that the computers of their various fake clients had been hacked.

Hansmeier and Steele then recruited the downloaders with whom they’d already settled to act as defendants and filed hacking lawsuits so that they could seek discovery against the ruse defendants’ supposed ‘co-conspirators’.

More news
The latest news from IPPro The Internet
Join Our Newsletter

Sign up today and never
miss the latest news or an issue again

Subscribe now
ICE and industry team up to fight IP crime
21 November 2017 | Washington DC | Reporter: Jenna Lomax
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has teamed up with Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator industry representatives and other US government enforcers to counter IP crimes
Alibaba in ITC spotlight
20 November 2017 | Washington DC | Reporter: Barney Dixon
Alibaba will be investigated by the US International Trade Commission over the importation and sale of insulated beverage containers, their labels, and packaging materials
Brexit a “material threat” to businesses, says Marques
20 November 2017 | Leicester | Reporter: Barney Dixon
Brexit could be a “material threat” to businesses that own trademarks in the EU, according to a position paper from intellectual property association Marques
Cozen O’Connor hires ex-DLA Piper litigator
17 November 2017 | Washington DC | Reporter: Barney Dixon
Cozen O’Connor has hired ex-DLA Piper litigator Hugh Marbury as member in its intellectual property department
Illicit streaming devices entering the UK fail to meet national electrical safety regulations, according to findings from FACT and Electrical Safety First
Mewburn Ellis opens Munich office
16 November 2017 | Munich | Reporter: Barney Dixon
Intellectual property boutique Mewburn Ellis has opened a new office in Munich, its first expansion outside of the UK
.UK suspensions doubled in 2017, says Nominet
15 November 2017 | Oxford | Reporter: Barney Dixon
Nominet has suspended 16,632 .UK domain names for criminal activity in 2017, doubling figures from 2016