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Prenda Copyright Troll Disbarred, Faces Fraud and Money Laundering Charges

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 24, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For John Steele, who now has been disbarred for his part in a copyright-trolling scheme, it could have been worse. He could be dead, like his law partner.

Actually, it does get worse for Steele. He is awaiting sentencing on fraud and money laundering charges. When it rains, it porns.

It all started with an ill-advised plan at the Prenda Law firm to upload copyrighted porn to file-sharing sites and then sue the people who downloaded it. The plan worked famously for a while as the defendants promptly paid to avoid court and public humiliation.

Trolling is bad enough, but why did it have to be porn?

Lawyers have hatched similar money-makers, like the patent trolls in an unrelated case decided by the Supreme Court this week. In that case, lawyers argued that companies are purchasing patents just to sue companies for royalties and infringement.

In the Prenda case, the lawyers followed a similar pattern. They set up shell companies to buy copyrights, but went a couple of steps further: they laid traps by uploading the porn and by making their own adult movies.

So how come the patent trolls aren't going to jail, dying, or getting disbarred? Just the lawyers, hm?

"Kill All the Lawyers"

It was not poetic justice that brought the attorneys down. It was Judge Otis Wright.

Wright was presiding over a Prenda copyright case when he figured it out in 2013. He didn't know how bad it was, but he smelled enough to refer it to the U.S. Attorney, the Internal Revenue Service, and the bar associations where the three lawyers practiced.

Paul Duffy, who died of heart- and alcohol-related conditions in 2015, was the first casualty. Paul Hansmeier lost his license last year but is still fighting the criminal charges.

Steele, in the meantime, lost his bar card last week.

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