back to article Stiff penalty: Prenda Law copyright troll gets 14 years of hard time for blue view 'n sue scam

It was a simple plan: obtain the rights to pornographic films, share copies of them online, then threaten to sue those downloading the skin flicks for copyright infringement unless they paid a $3,000 settlement fee. Between 2011 and 2014, the scaper earned about $3m for two former Minnesota attorneys, Paul R. Hansmeier and …

  1. Whiznot

    Many judges unknowingly helped Prenda Law commit fraud but black California judge and retired marine Otis Wright smelled a rat and that was that, the beginning of the end.

    1. John Doe 12

      What does his colour have to do with anything? I am not trigger happy when it comes to calling out casual racism but seriously why??!!

      1. Rob Willett

        Agreed - Why black

        I've been following this and the SCO nonsense from the start.

        I've read the judges comments and never wondered if he was black, white, gay or straight. Don't care to be honest.

        The judge did the right thing. The colour (spelt correctly) of his skin is immaterial.

        Would you have said the White judge?

        Rob

        1. PhilipN Silver badge

          Re: Agreed - Why black

          Preferably to be a black, blind, deaf, tall, epileptic, ex-convict in her late ‘50’s

          (With apologies to NTNON : https://youtu.be/q8JEybbei60)

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Why have you not made a similar comment regarding the description "ex-marine"? Which AFAICS is as relevant or otherwise as the judge's skin colour. But, it's only the mention of a person's skin colour that seems to raise hackles.

        1. martinusher Silver badge

          There isn't really anything called an ex-Marine

          >Why have you not made a similar comment regarding the description "ex-marine"?

          The Marine Corps have some peculiarities. One is that their standards of dress and personal conduct apply regardless of whether their actively serving or not. Because of this there really isn't anything called an 'ex-marine', you join effectively for life, so an ex-marine might be expected to be just a bit more honest and upstanding than average.

          Color does raise some thorny issues; it really isn't the same as 'colour' in the UK. In the UK when we meet a black dude from the US our first thought is just "American". Despite years of social change in the US there are still large segments of US society that have a problem with this -- Negros are tolerated by them provided they know their place (and their place definitely isn't in the White House serving as President!). The first time you come across this attitude is quite mindblowing -- you don't think it can be real but there it is, right in front of you.

          1. Andromeda451

            Re: There isn't really anything called an ex-Marine

            I disagree , if you peruse the main stream media you'd swear the USA is falling apart due to some 'ism, take your pick. No we are not falling apart and the fact we had a black president with Mr. Obama points to the progress the USA has made. As an American when I see a black man I see a fellow citizen, he has to prove to be an ar$e before being pigeonholed.

        2. John Doe 12

          @Cynic_999 - Because his skin colour has absolutely no bearing on his skill set - whereas being an ex-marine just MIGHT have an influence of how he thinks / behaves. I also didn't raise hackles about him being referred to as a judge for the same reason.

          If you cannot see the difference between the two things then this is a sad reflection on your own upbringing. I was raised by a father who was racist, sexist, hated Jews and just about everything else it's fashionable to hate - and even I can see this is wrong.

          I guess 63 thumbs up and only 2 thumbs down (as I am typing this) shows I am not the only one who thinks this way.

          1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            ISTM that being black in the USA may (due to several factors) have just as much influence on the way a person thinks as being a marine.

            And how about the description "Californian"?

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Facepalm

      You would have got an up vote for this, except for the race comment.

    3. rcxb Bronze badge

      The legal profession reminds me of Chinese businesses. You can get away with a hell of a lot of unethical behaviour. But if you push it just a bit too far and end up in a major spotlight, the penalties are going to be severe...

  2. GrapeBunch Silver badge

    A bridge under which to harvest scum, with a special fishing rod.

    Usually I find sentences in US computer-related cases to be rather harsh, but not this time.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: A bridge under which to harvest scum, with a special fishing rod.

      I was wondering along the same lines, sort of... But I see headlines about violent offenders(killers, rapists) getting far less time in the US. Seems there is a huge disparity in how sentences are calculated and assigned, I guess chalk this up to Judges being people, people with an agenda (their own or someone else's)?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A bridge under which to harvest scum, with a special fishing rod.

        I was wondering along the same lines, sort of... But I see headlines about violent offenders(killers, rapists) getting far less time in the US.

        The laws differ a lot from state to state, but there's a difference between involuntary manslaughter through negligence, premeditated murder, or vehicular homicide. (amongst many other types of killing)

        Each have usually the minimum and maximum sentence codified and it may be upon the judge to balance the sentence. The upper limit is for the most heinous of acts.

        Seems there is a huge disparity in how sentences are calculated and assigned, I guess chalk this up to Judges being people, people with an agenda

        The prosecution and defence may strike a deal before a sentence is given. The judges are of course bound by the laws - if a certain type of crime has a maximum prison time, they cannot issue more than that.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: A bridge under which to harvest scum, with a special fishing rod.

          Seems there is a huge disparity in how sentences are calculated and assigned, I guess chalk this up to Judges being people, people with an agenda

          Theoretically it's to uphold the law, because the law relies on the public obeying it, and believe that the system is fair. Standard challenge for government and politicians because that relies on the public trust, and there are more of us than there are law enforcement.

          OK, so there are a lot of lawyers in the US, but they're also expected to uphold the law given they're a pretty integral part of the system.. So generally take a dim view of lawyers abusing the system & bringing the legal profession into disrepute.

      2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: A bridge under which to harvest scum, with a special fishing rod.

        Most computer crime sentences are at the feral level as they often involve interstate and international activities. Feral sentences for computer crimes is harsh compared to other sentences. However, many crimes are handled at the state level. Here state law determines the sentence and state sentences are all over the place for harshness for the same crime. Some criminals manage to get both feral and state charges and often the charge with the harshest sentence will be tried (often the feral charges are harsher).

        This quirk is because the states have considerable leeway in defining what is a crime within there borders and the sentences that can be imposed.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
          Headmaster

          Re: A bridge under which to harvest scum, with a special fishing rod.

          The word you are looking for is federal (of, or pertaining to a federation). Feral means something quite different (i.e. "he was maimed by the feral donkey"); unless you were trying to make some sort of point by deliberately misusing the word, in which case, I'm not quite sure what your point is?

          1. Is It Me Bronze badge

            Re: A bridge under which to harvest scum, with a special fishing rod.

            It seems some of the Americans that comment seem to think it is amusing to refer to anything Federal as feral.

            Everyone's favourite troll (Bombastic Bob) was the one where I first noticed that it happens constantly.

            I do wonder if they have it set as an auto-correct in their spell checkers.

            1. OrneryRedGuy

              Re: A bridge under which to harvest scum, with a special fishing rod.

              Heck, I thought it was *just* autocorrect. Lord knows it's made me out to be saying worse things.

          2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: A bridge under which to harvest scum, with a special fishing rod.

            I'm not quite sure what your point is?

            To display ayl's scathing wit in the form of a trenchant and insightful critique of the US Federal government, of course.

    2. moiety

      Re: A bridge under which to harvest scum, with a special fishing rod.

      Making a lot of judges look like idiots by helping him out with the crime probably didn't help him much.

  3. JLV Silver badge
    Trollface

    One wonders what they could have achieved with the upcoming UK Porn Registry ;-)

  4. Mike Lewis

    The downside of vertical integration.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2

    The first thing ...

  6. Chris Miller

    Scaper?

    A Florida dialect word for 'rascal', according to Wiktionary. That's increased my vocab by one :)

    1. David Haworth 1

      Re: Scaper?

      A new word for me too, but unfortunately doesn't fit here. There would have to be a 3rd criminal (the scaper), but only two perpetrators are mentioned.

      I suspect it's supposed to be "this caper". Perhaps the story was dictated and mis-typed.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: Scaper?

        Not a caper. There's no way this guys ever going to be played by George Clooney.

  7. JassMan Silver badge

    Who says crime dorsn't pay?

    He 'earned' $3M but only had to pay back $1.5M. 168 months in prison still makes him almost $9K/ month. I know a lot of people who could live quite happily on that. He should have been forced to pay back in full with interest and a loading for emotional stress.

    1. gotes

      Re: Who says crime dorsn't pay?

      Make them pay rent for the prison cell.

      1. Ochib Silver badge

        Re: Who says crime dorsn't pay?

        They already do

        https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34705968

        1. Is It Me Bronze badge

          Re: Who says crime dorsn't pay?

          That is crazy, especially if they are still being used for doing work while in jail.

    2. eldakka Silver badge

      Re: Who says crime dorsn't pay?

      He didn't make $3m:

      Between 2011 and 2014, the scaper earned about $3m for two former Minnesota attorneys, Paul R. Hansmeier and John L. Steele,
      Beween the 2 of them they made $3m, assuming an even split that'd be $1.5m each, which is how much he has to pay back.

    3. Paper

      Re: Who says crime dorsn't pay?

      I think he should have had to pay $3.5m restitution. 0.5m just to ensure he'll always be downtrodden.

  8. JassMan Silver badge
    Joke

    Stiff penalty?

    So at least the victims got a hardon even if it left them hardup. Did any juicy bits come out when the evidence was shown to the jury?

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Stiff penalty?

      As I recall, no trial took place as both defendants copped to plea bargains.

  9. Bloodbeastterror

    Robe...?

    @Whiznot

    Just curious - are you referring to the colour of the judge's robe? I ask because in the UK we also have "red judges".

    1. Breen Whitman

      Re: Robe...?

      Those pesky Russian judges...

  10. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Cheers

    See Title.

  11. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    About time too

    One down, but how many more to go?

    Also it's a great shame that groklaw is no more. They would have been all over this like a rash.

    1. red floyd

      Re: About time too

      I actually got all my Prenda-related news from Popehat, but Ken's off doing other things now.

  12. Nick Kew Silver badge

    Talking of which ...

    This is akin to a constant issue with software, where holders of patents (or other intellectual property) may seek to sneak something in to widely-used products, then sue for infringement.

    Serious developers have strong legal safeguards and audit trails, such as the legal agreements you sign before you get access to commit or contribute to a repo.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Talking of which ...

      > "This is akin to a constant issue with software, where holders of patents (or other intellectual property) may seek to sneak something in to widely-used products, then sue for infringement."

      Has this happened often?

      1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: Talking of which ...

        'Has this happened often?'

        Often enough to have a specific name (for at least one form of it).

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_patent

        1. Sandtitz Silver badge
          Holmes

          Re: Talking of which ...

          > "This is akin to a constant issue with software, where holders of patents (or other intellectual property) may seek to sneak something in to widely-used products, then sue for infringement."

          'Has this happened often?'

          Often enough to have a specific name

          Quite, but has there been many software issues where copyrighted code has been intentionally planted?

          Nick Kew mentioned the GIF format, but the LZW compression patent was granted before Compuserve created GIF and the patent was already licensed to other organizations.

          SCO claimed copyright infringement, but they didn't sneak anything into Linux kernel code, as far as I'm aware.

          1. Nick Kew Silver badge

            Re: Talking of which ...

            Nick Kew mentioned the GIF format, but

            Nick Kew was recollecting off the top of his head. If it had been a more serious issue - for example, if it was going into a book, or if I was due to give evidence in court, I'd have given it more time and effort. In the case of GIF, it became an issue when GIF became a standard for images on the Web. It's true that wasn't an ambush, but for millions of web users putting up pages in a more innocent age, GIF was just something we used without a thought to having to licence the format.

            As for SCO, that's a complicated story (even the name itself originally belonged to a different company), but the company that became SCO was itself a Linux distributor and wannabe-Redhat in the 1990s, before it fell into the hands of pirates who saw more money in extortion than in honest work.

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Talking of which ...

              the company that became SCO was itself a Linux distributor and wannabe-Redhat in the 1990s

              Caldera / The SCO Group only used the "SCO" name (without "The" and "Group") very briefly. Caldera was the "Linux distributor" you refer to. The real SCO used that name from 1979 through 2001, at which point it sold the OpenServer and UnixWare product lines and the UNIX IP to Caldera and renamed itself "Tarantella" (and was soon after absorbed into Sun and then Oracle).

              So it's better to write "the company that became The SCO Group", to avoid confusion.

      2. Nick Kew Silver badge

        Re: Talking of which ...

        There have been a few very silly cases (like BT and the hyperlink, or I-forget-who and XOR, or the now-expired GIF or Compress/Zip patents), and a lot of FUD. Most famously SCO, which might have profoundly affected our history if Novell and IBM hadn't stood up to them over many years in court. For a long time (perhaps even today in some dark places), corporate lawyers would look very suspiciously on *any* open source, for fear of submarine patents. Major open source foundations - like Apache and Mozilla - have been in the vanguard of protecting our developers and users.

        Ironically while all the focus was on SCO and Linux (and by extension/FUD, open source in general), it was MS who really came a cropper.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Talking of which ...

          "Ironically while all the focus was on SCO and Linux (and by extension/FUD, open source in general), it was MS who really came a cropper."

          What happened to that one eventually? AFAICS it seems to amount to "let's pull data out of a transaction database into a reporting database and patent the idea".

          1. Nick Kew Silver badge

            Re: Talking of which ...

            I don't know the ending in the particular, except in that it led eventually to MS declaring that it would indemnify folks in future against patent violations in MS products. My main recollection of it was of reports that some third-parties had been stung and actually paid some very large sums to Timeline before that happened. Which seemed particularly ironic at a time when the FUD was telling the corporate world that was a risk with Linux.

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Talking of which ...

              Microsoft won a subsequent case against Timeline, in 2006. I don't know how that affected the 2003 judgement or what the ultimate outcome was. They may have simply fought Timeline until the latter ran out of funds.

  13. dnicholas Bronze badge

    No publicity is bad publicity

    They should release a box set of the movies in question. "The videos that got me 14 years HARD time"

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: No publicity is bad publicity

      Going down for a stiff sentence

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's only a matter of time before someone starts buying the rights to all the dodgy instrumentals that never quite made it onto starsky and hutch.

  15. Claverhouse Silver badge

    I think Trump has found his next Chairman of the FCC.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And not a tear was shed, pity Andrew Crossley couldn't join them and only escaped with a tap on the wrist from the SRA.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      For those not understanding your reference, here is a summary article on ACS:Law

      https://torrentfreak.com/acslaw-anti-piracy-law-firm-torn-apart-by-leaked-emails-100925/

      And the matching Hitler rant for Andrew Crossley's downfall:

      https://vimeo.com/15463930

  17. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Is there a lawyer in the house?

    I'm puzzled. If it was legal for them to distribute these videos via Pirate Bay then presumably it was legal for others to download them once there. If it wasn't legal to put them there (*), surely they are opening themselves up to a much larger lawsuit from the actual copyright holders.

    Also, is this not a possible defence for the downloaders? If, for example, I buy a CD on the High Street and I later find out that it is counterfeit then, yes, I have a duty to stop using the CD, seek compensation from the shop, and inform the police. However, if I do all those things then I would not expect the copyright owner to have much of a case against me. (Mens Rea and all that.)

    (* I'm guessing it wasn't, since the music industry has spent about 30 years trying to enforce this very point.)

    1. Paper
      Linux

      Re: Is there a lawyer in the house?

      The situation is more like this: You tell your wife you're popping out for milk, but meanwhile you pop down a back ally where a masked man freely gives you a penguin fury porn DVD. You know you should probably pay, but it's already free everywhere else (Pornhub etc), and you just wanna see the HD version.

      Meanwhile, the masked man actually owns the penguin fury porn. He then calls the authorities who sniff around and hear you m*sturbating to the penguin fury porn (who needs privacy?), and you get a letter either to pay up for "illegally obtaining said porn" or to go to court.

      Given you don't want your wife, or community, to know - you just pay the $3k rather than reveal your penguin fury porn fetish.

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Is there a lawyer in the house?

        Did you mean to type "furry"? Because "penguin fury porn" is a sub-genre that I can't even begin to comprehend... but hey, whatever turns people on, even if it's angry penguins...

        1. FozzyBear Silver badge
          Linux

          Re: Is there a lawyer in the house?

          is a sub-genre that I can't even begin to comprehend....

          Sure, but think of all the possibilities that cum to mind.....

        2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: Is there a lawyer in the house?

          rule 34

        3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Is there a lawyer in the house?

          This puts a dark twist on Mr Popper's Penguins.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: Is there a lawyer in the house?

            The inevitable porn movie rip off.

            Mr Poppups Penguins.

            With product placing by McVities which puts a whole new slant on "p-p-pick up a penguin".

    2. Updraft102 Silver badge

      Re: Is there a lawyer in the house?

      . If it was legal for them to distribute these videos via Pirate Bay then presumably it was legal for others to download them once there.

      This. I am not a lawyer, but the way I see it is this: If the perpetrators of this scam are, in fact, the copyright holder for the films, it would be perfectly acceptable for them to upload the films to Pirate Bay, just as it is lawful for a music band or their record company to upload copyrighted music videos to Youtube (while anyone else that does so is in violation of the copyright). It is their right as the owner of the IP to upload them anywhere they wish.

      It would then not be an infringement for anyone to download them, as the copyright owner had placed them there knowing that this would happen. They knew that was what Pirate Bay does, and the word "Pirate" in the title doesn't automatically make any download from that site piracy. It's the lack of permission from the copyright holder that makes it piracy, and in this case, the copyright holder was the one doing it.

      As such, this is really a fraud case... the lawyers fraudulently claimed copyright violations that they knew, or should have known, did not exist. The copyright holders used TPB as a distribution site for their film, then tried to con people who downloaded it into paying. The victims of this scam didn't know that they hadn't, in fact, pirated the film, but the perpetrators of the scam did know that, or they should have.

  18. Fatman Silver badge

    About f-----g time!!!!

    I hope the judge, when Steele gets sentenced, gives Steele the maximum allowed by law.

    Steele (and Hamsmeier) deserves to have everything they own seized and sold off to pay any restitution ordered, and upon their release from prison, they get the clothes on their backs, and that proverbial 'pot to p--s in'. Not one thing more. Screw them any way you can.

  19. Jaap Aap

    Huh? I don't get it.

    Couldn't they have done this within the law? If they legally obtained the copyright, and used a torrent application to find out who wanted it, what's illegal about that? It's not that your torrent application goes looking for just anything, you'd have to tell it to download some nasty '70s german scheisse porno.

    If they would have done this part different, and disclosed their financial interests, would it be the same situation?

    "They would then file copyright lawsuits to obtain personal information about those downloaded their hardcore flicks using subpoenas obtained from courts without any disclosure of their financial interest in the lawsuits."

    Let's say I'm the owner/copyright holder of the XXX-rated title "bambi and the teenager covered in maple syrup". I've found out the information about a couple of people who want to download this piece of filth without paying me. We want to settle "out of court for an undisclosed sum". Isn't this the same?

    1. Updraft102 Silver badge

      Not a lawyer, standard disclaimers apply, just my take here.

      Couldn't they have done this within the law? If they legally obtained the copyright, and used a torrent application to find out who wanted it, what's illegal about that?

      Nothing, and that's the point. If the copyright owner is the one who uploaded it to a given site, it means the copyright owner is okay with it being on that site. They know that it's going to be downloaded by anyone and everyone, since widespread distribution is the purpose of the site, and they uploaded it anyway, giving the entire process their stamp of approval. That makes it fraudulent to claim that downloaders were in violation of a copyright.

      If the copyright holders had disclosed that it was they who posted the film for download, and they had worded their threat in such a way to not directly claim that a copyright violation had occurred (perhaps by saying that the downloader had demonstrated intent to download the file unlawfully, without ever saying that it was unlawful), and had offered to settle the matter out of court for x dollars, that may have worked.

      In that case, the copyright holders never would have made a fraudulent claim that there was a copyright violation when there clearly was not... they would have simply offered to settle a dispute without court, as people do all the time for things that are not actually violations of law or torts. The fact that there was no violation of anyone's rights doesn't matter if both parties agree to the settlement... that's the point of settling matters out of court. It's courts that decide what rights have been violated and what the remedy should be.

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      There's a further subtlety here - they may have known the IP addresses of the people downloading the films, but the only way they could get the names and addresses associated with those IP addresses was to obtain them through law enforcement channels - there is no legitimate way of doing this if the people downloading the videos weren't actually infinging the copyright, so they did so fraudulently, by claiming that their copyright was being infringed when they knew full well that they were the ones distributing the videos for free via a torrent site in the first place.

    3. Chris Malme

      There's more

      There was more - as this article says, the plea-deal allowed them to avoid the 16 other charges.

      In particular, from an earlier Register article:

      After that [uploading to Pirate Bay], the legal eagles allegedly created a sham "hacking" case in which they recruited people who pretended to be some hackers who obtained and leaked the porno movies online. That allowed the Prenda team to convince a court to subpoena ISPs to get the identities of people who downloaded the files as part of the discovery process while prosecuting the stooge hackers.

      Also worth noting that they made $3m apiece - the con netted $6m between 2011 and 2014. However, they had already been relieved of a lot of the profits in the civil court. This latest case was about the criminal charges.

      Do a search on The Register for Prenda Law, if you are interested.

  20. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Wow. Lawyers doing actual substantial jail time

    Wow.

    Be nice to set that happen in some other countries as well.

    The kind closer to Blighty

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