Shady Lawyers Uploaded Movies, Sued Downloaders

John Lister's picture

Two lawyers have been jailed for five and fourteen years respectively for an online copyright scam. The pair uploaded adult material with the specific aim of suing those who downloaded it.

John Steele and Eric Hansmeir have been convicted on fraud and money laundering charges for their activities as "Prenda Law."

The pair bought the rights to adult films and even produced their own material. They then uploaded it to file sharing sites and waited until people downloaded it.

$3,000 Settlements Accepted

Prenda Law then got court orders for Internet service providers to identify the downloaders, then sued them for copyright violations. With the possibility that going to trial would lead to huge penalties, many accepted Prenda's offer to settle the case, usually for a payment of three thousand dollars. (Source:

In a few cases they struck a deal where they agreed not take any money from the accused, but instead carry out a bogus prosecution. That prosecution was designed solely to name other downloaders as "co-conspirators", making it easier to advance the legal process against them.

In the space of three years, the company took in more than six million dollars this way. The pair's downfall came in 2012 when they got even greedier and sued AT&T and Comcast, claiming they had been accessories to the copyright violations by their customers.

Bogus Claims Were Unlawful

That proved to be a mistake, as the subsequent legal battle uncovered the truth behind Prenda Law's operations. This included the fact that, contrary to the lawsuits against the downloaders and the accompanying offers of settlement, Steele and Hansmeir weren't "representing" third party copyright holders and passing on the payments.

Instead, they were using shell companies and collecting the money themselves. That was enough to lead to criminal fraud charges.

Hansmeir received a fourteen year jail sentence. Steele, who co-operated with authorities during the investigation and prosecution, received two five-year sentences but will serve them concurrently. Both had already been banned from practicing law and have now been ordered to pay $1.5 million in compensation. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Are the sentences fair? Do you have any sympathy for the victims, even if they did download the material? Are copyright laws fair and adequate when it comes to online videos?

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e5chultz_3890's picture

1. Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered.
2. Don't f*** with Ma Bell.

Had the two entrepreneurs not gotten greedy, they would still be in business today. The thought of a pirate downloader settling for $3K a pop, wouldn't raise many eyebrows. Any police complaint would be laughed out of the station. Justice only got involved when Big Data was threatened.

davolente_10330's picture

Just out-and-out charlatans but their sins found them out when they got greedy. Just desserts and all that, although I reckon the cell key should be thrown away!