One of the key players in Prenda Law, a troll group that seeded smutty films onto file-sharing networks and then harassed the downloaders for payment, has been told he must sell his home and possessions to cover his creditors' bills.
In 2013, the civil courts found that Paul Hansmeier and two associates had set up Prenda Law with the intent of using copyright enforcement law to trawl pornography downloaders and make them pay for films the company had put online themselves.
The judge in that case delivered an epic Star Trek-themed smack down for the firm, telling the attorneys that they would "boldly probe the outskirts of law," but that their enterprise relied on deception and that their lawyer had lied to the court.
The three were ordered to pay fines and damages, but they have prevaricated ever since. Hansmeier, who owes $2.43m, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, meaning he could pay off the amount in small increments from his salary.
But on Thursday, Minnesota Judge Kathleen Sanberg changed this [PDF] to Chapter 7, meaning he has to sell off all assets to pay his debt. That includes his home, any vehicles, and assets that can be found by the court.
By coincidence, or awareness that a Chapter 7 was inevitable, Hansmeier, who has a wife and young son, is already selling his home, a downtown Minneapolis condo, for $1.3m. Meanwhile, the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility has asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to suspend or disbar Hansmeier.
It's a massive blow for the man, and a warning sign for his associates, who are thought to have made millions by threatening public prosecutions of those who downloaded films such as Alexis Texas Sucks and Fucks at a Porn Show or Sexual Obsession.
Lawyers will now be trawling through Hansmeier's assets to see if there is much to salvage. Based on past experience of these sorts of cases, they may be few and far between. ®