Lengthy Saga of Porn Copyright Troll Finally Ends in Jail Time

It seems like ages since legal news last covered the protracted court battles and wrangling between the federal government and Prenda Law’s infamous duo, Paul Hansmeier and John Steele, two copyright attorneys allegedly turned copyright trolls that terrorized victims through threats of expensive and embarrassing lawsuits and legal actions concerning copyright infringement of pornographic videos and content.

Attorneys Turned Copyright Trolls?

The two Prenda Law attorneys were back in the news recently as a federal judge handed down the first of two sentences against the Prenda Law attorneys, finding Hansmeier guilty of multiple charges that included counts of identify theft, entrapment, fraud, money laundering, perjury, as well as mail and wire fraud.  Ultimately, Hansmeier was sentenced to fourteen years, with Steele to be sentenced later.    

Further, the two attorneys that allegedly acted as copyright trolls and had terrorized and extorted victims out of sizeable settlements were ultimately ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution to their victims. The judge took especial affront to the attorneys’ use of their legal knowledge to intimidate and entrap their victims by creating a complex web that included pornography production and mass bit-torrent uploading designed to ultimately ensnare victims as copyright infringers.  

Actions Courts Considered Indicative of Copyright Trolling

The court specifically denounced that Prenda Law attorneys did not merely chase down copyright infringers but were also often found guilty of creating the exact circumstances and situations that led to the instances of copyright infringement they later pursued and attempted to “rectify.” Specifically, Prenda Law was found by the court to have acted as copyright trolls, knowingly creating or exacerbating the situation by uploading the very torrents of pornographic content to websites such as Pirate Bay that were at the center of their lawsuits.  By uploading the content themselves, the attorneys were able to more easily chase down “infringers” who downloaded the pornographic videos that Prenda Law itself had uploaded. To add insult to injury, the court noted that many of the pornographic videos uploaded were even produced by attorney Paul Hansmeier himself.  

In handing down the sentence, the judge opted to give Hansmeier fourteen years, almost two more years than the prosecutor had even asked for. The judge noted that in casting a wide web as a copyright troll, Hansmeier rarely bothered to even investigate whether the accused was in fact an actual infringer. The court had harsh words for the duo attorneys, noting that they used their legal knowledge to bully infringers and non-infringers alike, subjecting scores of victims to threats of expensive and embarrassing legal action if their settlement demands were not met. 

What Does This Sentencing Mean for Intellectual Property Law?

With Steele’s sentence to be handed out later this week, it appears to mark the end to a dark and embarrassing saga of how legal knowledge can be devastating when yielded in the wrong hands for the wrong reasons. While Prenda Law’s copyright trolling and later legal woes dominated copyright headlines intermittently for years, this sentencing seems to signal the end to a dark chapter in the legal IP field and should serve as stern warning against those who would use intellectual property law to punish and entrap those less knowledgeable of the law.

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