Paul Hansmeier

Paul Hansmeier agreed to plead guilty to two charges related to wire fraud and money laundering on Friday, according to federal court documents that outlined the troubled Minnesota lawyer’s involvement in a scheme that made more than $3 million by uploading copyrighted porn videos to the internet and then suing individuals who downloaded them.

John Steele, another member of the Prenda Law copyright campaign, pleaded guilty in March 2017 to seven counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The pair were both indicted in December 2016.

Hansmeier’s plea agreement stated that he and Steele began representing holders of porn movie copyrights in 2010, filing suits against IP addresses they had observed downloading adult films. The duo would then ask federal judges for early discovery to seek internet subscribers’ names and contact information so they could send demand letters asking, often times, for a $3,000 settlement, according to court records.

In 2011, the pair uploaded movies to the BitTorrent website Pirate Bay, which made it easier for individuals to download the movies and easier for Prenda Law to track them, stated Hansmeier’s plea agreement. He and Steele also contracted adult actresses to film their own movies, which they then uploaded onto Pirate Bay. They hid their involvement and personal stakes in the litigation from courts, according to the plea agreement.

Copyrights to the movies were held in a variety of shell companies, such as AF Holdings LLC, Guava LLC and Ingenuity 13 LLC, the agreement stated. Hansmeier and Steele also set up an entity called Under the Bridge Consulting that they used to transfer more than $1 million from the litigation to themselves, stated the agreement.

The sentencing guideline in the plea agreement stated that Hansmeier faces between 11 and 14 years in federal prison, with the charges carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years. The government also agreed not to pursue other potential crimes against Hansmeier, who is also facing an investigation into a personal bankruptcy filing.

Hansmeier will also be allowed to appeal a court’s earlier decision to deny his motion to dismiss the charges. If he prevails, the government withheld the right to bring the remaining 15 charges that Hansmeier did not plead guilty to on Friday.

While Prenda has long been dormant, mass porn copyright infringement campaigns have only grown more popular.

Strike 3 Holdings, a plaintiff that owns copyrights to movies by pornography brands “Vixen,” “Tushy” and “Blacked,” has filed more than 1,500 copyright suits within the past year-and-a-half, according to data from legal analytics firm Lex Machina. In more than 1,000 of those suits the company has been represented by Fox Rothschild.

Fox Rothschild lawyers have sought to distance themselves from Prenda in court filings.

In one filing in an ongoing case in Washington state, the firm called Prenda a “big, dumb, malicious animal from years ago that unfortunately now poses the risk of trampling the rights of all the legitimate content creators, such as plaintiff, who have been forced to seek court intervention to address the tidal wave of internet infringement that puts content creators at risk of drowning in a sea of theft. The court should rest assured: plaintiff and its counsel are the anti-Prenda.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article mistakenly referenced a lawyer from Ciresi Conlin as having represented Hansmeier. The firm never represented Hansmeier. We regret the error.