Attorney John Steele is currently suing approximately 20,000 Internet users.

The rather long list of “People Most Hated By The Internet” — that guy who sued The Oatmeal, RIAA, Hunter Moore, Julia Allison, Violentacrez… — would be incomplete were it not to include John Steele. Steele is a lawyer who has partnered with the pornography industry to go after “pirates” who download their XXX films without paying for them. He has filed over 350 of these suits, and says he is currently suing approximately 20,000 people.

The tactic is similar to the one employed by the recording industry years ago to sue people who were amassing huge music libraries through peer-to-peer sharing rather than buying CDs. But where RIAA wanted to scare people out of illegal downloads by getting massive, scary judgments in highly publicized cases against individual Napster users, Steele and the lawyers like him are content to get relatively small settlements from individuals who pay up quietly to avoid being linked by name in public court filings for allegedly watching a film such as Illegal A** 2….

Unless you’re Sasha Grey, you probably don’t want your name publicly linked with this movie.

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

Attorneys like Steele identify allegedly guilty parties by monitoring file-sharing on BitTorrent (an increasingly surveilled place) and capturing the IP addresses of people sharing movies made by their porn producing clients. They then sue the IP address as a John Doe, and get a judge to force an ISP to reveal the paying customer behind the IP address. Those people then get a letter from the lawyer informing them that they’re accused of downloading a particular movie and that they have the opportunity to pay a settlement (usually around $3,000) to make the legal matter go away, or risk being taken to court.

Steele’s tactics are controversial. They have inspired a huge online backlash, replete with critical stories from Ars Technica, TechDirt, and specialized sites such as DieTrollDie. Those who believe that everything should be free online are especially vocal.

Read on at Forbes.com.


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