Minnesota lawyers' board seeks to disbar 'copyright troll'

The Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility is asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to suspend or disbar a so-called “copyright troll.” The Fox 9 Investigators recently profiled Paul Hansmeier, who in the last couple of years has filed more than 100 federal and state lawsuits under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Lawyers’ Board petition against Hansmeier, however, is concerned with a prior legal practice in which Hansmeier and his associates would serve legal notice on people who downloaded pornography. According to court documents, Hansmeier and his partners, operating under the names of various firms, would plant links to the pornography on various file sharing sites. Through the court discovery process, they were able to trace the internet protocol addresses by getting the names from internet providers. They then sent the downloaders of the porn letters threatening public exposure and litigation, or they could settle for between $2,000 to $4,000. No surprise, most settled.

But federal and state judges across the country were less than amused. "They were engaged in extortion,” said one California Federal Appeals Judge. “They sent out thousands of extortionate letters."    

The precise number of letters Hansmeier sent is unknown, but in Northern California alone the courts identified 118 suits against alleged copyright infringers involving more than 15,000 defendants.  A Hansmeier associate boasted to Fortune magazine that the enterprise made more than $15 million.

In one case, Ingenuity 13 v. Joe Doe, the judge issued a scathing ruling against Hansmeier, writing that “Plaintiffs have outmaneuvered the legal system.  They’ve discovered the nexus of antiquated copyright laws, paralyzing social stigma, and unaffordable defense costs… So now, copyright laws originally designed to compensate starving artists allow, starving attorneys in this electronic-media era to plunder the citizenry.”

Hansmeier is currently a defendant in federal bankruptcy court where he faces $1.5 in judgments and legal fees. Lawyers representing his debtors are asking that the Hansmeier case be changed from bankruptcy reorganization (Chapter 13) to bankruptcy liquidation (Chapter 7), because they claim Hansmeier has acted in bad faith playing a shell game with his assets by moving money to accounts controlled by his wife and toddler son. Hansmeier is in the process of selling his downtown Minneapolis condo at the Carlyle for $1.3 million.

Hansmeier told Fox 9 he intends to fight the petition, a process that could take up to a year, and points out the Lawyers’ Board said nothing about his practice of filing lawsuits under the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Hansmeier filed several more ADA lawsuits in U.S. federal court last week. 

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