Tuesday March 07, 2017

Prenda Law Attorney Pleads Guilty to Operating a Piracy ‘Honeypot’

We all know that when lawyers step into a legal matter more than likely it's going to get expensive. But what happens when the lawyers themselves upload their own copyrighted materials to a website known for piracy to create a "honeypot" to catch offenders and then sue them for large sums of money? Is this ethical or even legal? Prenda Law attorney John Steele found out the hard way as he recently signed a plea agreement admitting that he is guilty of mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Steele and his alleged copyright troll partner Paul Hansmeier created sham entities to copyright and upload self made porn videos to the Pirate Bay with the intention of luring Pirate Bay users into downloading them. They would then track the IP address of Pirate Bay users by subpoena. After getting the IP address information, they would sue the alleged pirate for those sham videos and any other copyrighted works that they tracked them downloading at the time. "Steele and Hansmeier used extortionate tactics such as letters and phone calls to threaten victims with enormous financial penalties and public embarrassment unless they agreed to pay a $3,000 settlement fee," the DoJ writes. Pirate Bay founders were even brought into the case to release logs of the downloads and uploads.

Steele and Hansmeier are looking at a statutory maximum prison sentence of 40 years and many thousands in fines. They allegedly extorted over $6 million from the victims.

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No sentencing date has been set yet. In theory, the Prenda attorney now faces statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in prison as well as a criminal fine of hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, by signing a plea agreement Steele is likely eligible for a reduced sentence.

Steele’s co-defendant Paul Hansmeier remains innocent until proven otherwise. However, he appears to be worse off now that Steele’s words can be used against him.