We've followed the saga of Prenda Law for years year, documenting the bizarre, criminal conduct of the firm's principles, Paul Hansmeier and John Steele, who used shaky methodologies to identify people to accuse of pirating pornographic material, then demanding money to "settle the claim" on pain of having your name linked with the porn downloads in a court filing.
Steele and Hansmeier lied to judges, falsified records, and generally conducted themselves with a total disregard for the law. They also uploaded pornography to the file sharing sites, in order to lure their victims into downloading them.
The basic scheme worked like this: Prenda Law, or one of several attorneys who worked with the firm, would file a copyright lawsuit over illegal downloads against a "John Doe" defendant they knew only by an IP address. They would then use the discovery process to find out subscriber names from the various ISPs around the country. Once they got it, they’d send out letters and phone calls demanding a settlement payment, typically around $4,000, warning the defendant that if they didn't pay quickly, they would face public allegations over downloading porn.
While mass-copyright lawsuits over mainstream media have been a decidedly mixed bag, Prenda's fast-and-loose porn litigation campaign worked well, at least for a few years. In one interview, John Steele said he’d raked in $15 million. That might have been an exaggeration. A spreadsheet revealed in court showed that Prenda made $1.9 million in 2012 alone, and it isn’t clear that included all the accounts.
Once a few of those defendants dug in, lawyered up, and investigated Prenda, the lawsuits started to look questionable. Some key documents in Prenda lawsuits were signed by Steele's former housekeeper, Alan Cooper—but Cooper denied it, saying his signature had been forged. As for the porn movies that were the subject of the lawsuits, they weren't exactly big hits. In fact, forensic analysts found that they may have been uploaded to Pirate Bay by Prenda lawyers themselves as a kind of "honeypot" that could produce the profitable lawsuits they wanted.
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