Anti-Piracy Porn Lawyer: “I’m The Original Copyright Troll”

We’ve written quite a bit recently about strong-arm tactics used by lawyers representing the porn industry to squeeze settlements out of alleged file sharers who would rather pay up than have their names publicly linked to downloaded porn. One attorney who has made millions from this practice says he is fully aware that everyone hates him.

“I’m considered the original copyright troll,” attorney John Steele tells Forbes.com. “At least my wife loves me. When I read about myself on the Internet, I think, ‘Who is this jerk?’”

For those unfamiliar with the game run by Steele and his cohorts, it works like this. The lawyers monitor file-sharing sites, harvesting IP addresses of people believe to be sharing their clients’ copyrighted content. But IP addresses on their own aren’t so great in a court of law, so the attorneys go to the Internet providers and demand that the ISP translate the IP numbers into actual customer names.

These customers are then threatened with legal action — in documents that often clearly state the embarrassing names of the movies alleged to have been shared — unless they agree to “settle” in advance for an average of around $3,000.

One of the major criticisms launched against Steele and his ilk is that, because IPs are frequently shared, and occasionally cloned, there’s a reasonable doubt that the person they accuse of downloading the porn may not have even heard of Butt Masters 5, let alone gotten it from a file-sharing site.

But this doesn’t faze Steele, who says, “Just because [the] wrong person [is] arrested for murder doesn’t mean murder shouldn’t be a crime.”

Yes, but if the police tell me I can pay them $3,000 to get out of a murder charge, that would just be wrong on every possible level.

“Don’t let people commit criminal acts on your network,” he says of people who claim innocence and say someone must have been using their network to download porn. “If you lend your gun to someone who commits a crime, you’re responsible.”

As Forbes points out, that isn’t necessarily true.

To those people who say that porn lawyers are just trying to bluff you into a settlement and really won’t prosecute you for allegedly sharing Naughty School Dudes 12: This Time It’s Personal, Steele counters “[W]e’re prepared to fight if you don’t want to settle.”

Though he’s never actually gone to trial with any of the defendants, Steele claims that, “Almost everyone who has not settled, we have sued… There’s a backlog right now.”

Steele claims to have settled around 5,000 cases since getting into this field, which he says comes out to a little less than $15 million.

Standing in these lawyers’ way is an unlikely foe, Comcast, which this past summer convinced a court to quash several subpoenas demanding the customers’ names and addresses behind their IP addresses. Comcast’s lawyers called what the porn companies are doing a “shakedown.”

“We have great relationships with many ISPS, but not with Comcast,” says Steele. “It’s a business decision for them. They don’t want to lose their clients. But if you step into shoes of your subscribers, you become responsible. Comcast is sheltering people so they can make money.”

With regard to the entire of using shame to urge people toward a settlement, Steele comments, “People don’t like to get caught doing anything wrong… They should be embarrassed about the stealing.”