Lawyers scare people into settlements over Internet porn

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MPR has the story of a reviled band of copyright lawyers – sometimes dubbed copyright "trolls" – who accuse people of downloading Internet porn whether they did or not. The goal is to collect settlement money out of court from people who are too ashamed to challenge the cases.

It's a small cottage industry, and the concept is relatively simple: Demand a few thousand dollars from lots of Internet users – some of whom wouldn't even know how to download pirated porn – to settle the case. The accused have the option to challenge the allegations in potentially embarrassing legal proceedings that would be made public. Trolls have even been accused of threatening to tell neighbors about alleged illegal conduct.

MPR talks to a Minneapolis comedian who was targeted and who denies downloading copyrighted porn. He successfully fought back by hiring a lawyer, and the trolls quickly dropped the case, MPR reports.

"It would be really difficult to embarrass me legally," Nate Abshire told MPR. "I'm typically uncomfortably honest in front of lots of strangers."

Among the lawyers who pioneered the strategy of targeting Internet users on alleged illegal porn use are two University of Minnesota law grads, MPR reports.

"Me and my partner were the first ones to ever really do it, about three and a half years ago," 2006 graduate John Steele told MPR. "Clients hoped going after people would scare people away from stealing their content."

Steele said that he and his partner had targeted a few thousand people, and that they had reaped settlements, mostly out of court, of a few million dollars.

A federal judge in California earlier this month said Steele had perpetrated a fraud on the court, the Star Tribune reported. “Plaintiffs have outmaneuvered the legal system,” the judge wrote. “They’ve discovered the nexus of antiquated copyright laws, paralyzing social stigma, and unaffordable defense costs.”

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