Porn copyright trolls: Pay up or we`ll tell your friends, family - FOX 35 News Orlando

Porn copyright trolls: Pay up or we`ll tell your friends, family

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Imagine how embarrassed you'd be if your neighbors and friends learned you'd been accused of illegally downloading adult porn films. Some Chicago lawyers have been accused of playing upon those fears to collect millions of dollars in settlements.

Those millions of dollars in settlements don't come from big-multi-million dollar payouts, but instead from thousands of individuals who paid a few thousand dollars apiece to avoid being outed as someone accused of illegally downloading porn films.

Last November, Shannon Vincent received a letter from her internet provider, telling her that her personal internet records had been subpoenaed. A porn film company claimed that four of its films, including busty construction girls, had been tracked to an IP address linked to Shannon's account.

"Every time I would start to think, okay, I just can't handle it, I would think, I'm innocent, I'm innocent. So why would I pay them?" Vincent says.

Vincent says she never downloaded the busty construction girls video and had no clue how porn films showed up with her IP address. She could quietly settle the case for a few thousand dollars, or fight it and be outed publicly in a lawsuit.

"My understanding is that a lot of people pay the settlement fee because they don't want to be associated with this pornography title," Vincent says. "Either their jobs, embarrassment in the community, things like that."

Every year, lawyers for porn companies pursue thousands of people like Shannon who the companies believe downloaded copyrighted porn films without paying for them.

The lawyers often send demand letters, suggesting that suspects settle the case before neighbors and relatives are questioned about it.

"One of the defenses to people who get these letters is it wasn't me, it was perhaps someone else who had access to my wireless network," says Chris Buccafusco who teaches copyright law. "The response then is, okay, we'll interview them, we'll go talk to your neighbors and see about this."

Attorney Charles Mudd Jr. has defended numerous people accused of downloading copyrighted porn. He says porn company lawyers often target the wrong people and settlement demands of $4,000 are ridiculous for a thirty dollar movie. But his clients would still rather pay than be linked to porn.

"Some people are scared to death," Mudd Jr. explains. "There's no question that the people that I speak to, many of them are scared, frightened and pressured into settling just for that reason. It's not just the monetary aspects, it the public disclosure aspects."

The lawyers using these tactics have been labeled by their critics as "copyright trolls."

Ten days ago, a federal judge in California handed down this order, issuing sanctions against a Chicago law firm, the Prenda Law Group, for its alleged trolling practices.

Judge Otis wright wrote that Prenda's attorneys had used copyright laws to "plunder the citizentry" and he accused attorneys of "brazen misconduct and relentless fraud." The judge even referred the case to federal prosecutors.

One of the attorneys cited by judge wright was Paul Duffy of the Prenda group, another was John Steele, who is no longer with Prenda.

The judge suggested they had collected millions of dollars through copyright trolling.

Charles Mudd says that's not surprising.

"Based on the settlement amounts per individual, and the number of cases out there, not just those that we represented, but that have just been out there, across the United States," Mudd Jr. says. "There's no question there's been millions of dollars made."

Neither John Steele nor Paul Duffy responded to our requests for comment, but in a magazine interview after the sanctions, John Steele said, "this judge is completely biased against our type of litigation. Anyone who's researched this judge knows it. There have been some very harsh rulings by this judge against intellectual property plaintiffs. I think there were some errors made, and that's why we have appellate courts."

Speaking of errors, Shannon Vincent eventually convinced her accusers that an error had been made. They dropped her case, and now, she's selling T-shirts that warn others about copyright trollers.

"The only way it's going to stop is if people start talking about it and bringing attention to it," Vincent says.

Shannon says when all this started, she wasn't going to let the copyright trolls spread her name all around the neighborhood. She went knocking on doors herself, telling her neighbors what they might hear about her, and that it wasn't true.

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