Porn trolling lawyer jailed for 14 years

  • Published
Pirate keyImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The scheme involved uploading pornographic films and then prosecuting anyone who shared them

An American lawyer who ran an x-rated online fraud scheme has been jailed for 14 years.

Paul Hansmeier shared copies of pornographic films online and then sued people who downloaded them, for copyright infringement.

Victims were told to pay a $3000 (£2,383) "settlement fee" to avoid further legal action.

The scheme is believed to have raised about $3m for Hansmeier and his accomplice over a three-year period.

Cash returned

"It is almost incalculable how much your abuse of trust has harmed the administration of justice," the judge said at the hearing where Hansmeier was sentenced.

"The major harm here is what happens when a lawyer acts as a wrecking ball," she added.

While many firms have been employed by film and music makers to prosecute copyright pirates, Hansmeier - via a shell company called Prenda Law he set up to run the scam - owned the rights to the porn movies for which it sought fees.

In addition, Prenda uploaded the films itself to pirate sites and sharing networks, to ensure they were widely stolen.

Later, it made its own pornographic films and also uploaded these, so they would be pirated.

The scheme was unmasked because some victims refused to settle, and decided to fight the copyright claim in court.

This led to an investigation into Prenda Law, which saw both Hansmeier and accomplice John Steele charged with fraud in 2016.

Steele pleaded guilty in early 2017 to seven charges including mail and wire fraud. He also agreed to help prosecutors investigating the case. He has not yet been sentenced.

Hansmeier initially fought the federal case but accepted a plea deal in August last year. Under that deal he pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and money laundering.

The judge has also ordered Hansmeier to repay $1.5m to 704 victims of the scam.

"I'm looking forward at long last to put this whole mess behind me," The Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted him as saying after being sentenced.