Attorney behind Prenda copyright trolling scheme might finally be disbarred

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

Kate Conger

Kate Conger

Kate Conger is a politics and cybersecurity journalist who currently writes for Gizmodo. Her work has previously appeared in BuzzFeed, Digital Trends, Real Clear Politics, San Francisco Examiner, and elsewhere. Together with Dell Cameron, she won the Society of Professional Journalists' award for Best Scoop in 2017 for a report on the leak of data about 200 million American voters.