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Attorney behind Prenda copyright trolling scheme might finally be disbarred

And victims might finally get some justice.


Kate Conger


Posted on Aug 22, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 2:53 am CDT

Victims of the Prenda copyright trolling scheme, which extorted porn viewers for money, might finally get some justice. 

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) filed a complaint against one of the two men who orchestrated the trolling plot, John Steele. The complaint asks the Illinois Supreme Court to hold a hearing and make a disciplinary recommendation. The court could opt to suspend or disbar Steele. 

Steele and his Prenda collaborators owned the copyrights to several porn films. They uploaded the porn to Pirate Bay, then threatened to sue individuals who shared it unless they paid a settlement to the law firm. Afraid of being outed in a public lawsuit, many porn viewers complied. 

The complaint alleges that Steele and his collaborator Paul Duffy convinced 5,000 individuals to pay up after sending the so-called “shakedown letters” and earned millions from the strategy. Duffy passed away earlier this month. He was 55 years old. 

The ARDC accuses Steele of seven counts of defrauding courts and bad faith litigation. Each count details the steps Steele and Duffy took to set up and maintain their scheme, from the first case in which a judge sanctioned the pair to the last sanction they received—an $11,758.20 fee they have yet to pay.

H/T Ars Technica | Photo via Peter Brantley (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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*First Published: Aug 22, 2015, 4:22 pm CDT