Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

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Don’t Fall Prey to Copyright Trolls

Posted by Writing PIs on November 2, 2014

Copyright Trolls: Who Are They?finger pressing key on keyboard

Copyright Troll is a pejorative term for a party, such as a company that buys or owns copyrights, that aggressively enforces its owned copyrights through threat of litigation. These companies use frivolous litigation, meaning lawsuits created for the sole purpose of harassing defendants, to make extraordinary profits.

This is different from a company or individual who learns their intellectual property, such as a photo, is being illegally distributed or copied, and they ask their lawyer to contact the copyright violator with a request to stop the undesired activity.

Trolls’ Business Is to Sue Internet Users

Copyright trolls make their money by suing Internet users

Copyright trolls make their money by initiating litigation against Internet users

Unlike an individual who requests his/her intellectual property to not be distributed, copyright trolls always seek financial damages, which is how they make money. For example, Righthaven, LLC, purchased copyrights for old news articles from the publisher of the Las Vegas Review Journal and the Denver Post. Righthaven then actively searched for any Internet users who had copied, distributed, posted or otherwise used these articles without Righthaven’s permission. After finding these violators, Righthaven’s lawyers filed lawsuits demanded damages of $75,000 per instance from each copyright infringer. Obviously, not everyone can pay $75,000 for illegally using a copyrighted item. Righthaven knew this. They also knew they would likely lose if the case went to court, so they’d pressure the person into a settlement of several thousand dollars, which unfortunately many people paid.

EFF Has Taken Up the Cause

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) attorneys, who defended several victims of Righthaven’s tactics, said, “It’s hard to interpret these lawsuits as anything else besides a way to bully Internet users into paying unnecessary settlements.”

Righthaven is no longer in business, and the Nevada State Bar investigated Righthaven’s founder and CEO, attorney Steven A. Gibson, as well as two other attorneys associated with Righthaven.

In 2013, EFF fought back against “a particularly nasty copyright troll tactic” by adult film producer Malibu Media, LLC, whose lawyers filed lawsuits against Internet users for downloading porn films with embarrassing titles, which are listed within the lawsuit. Their bullying tactic works as intimidated defendants have settled out of court rather than be publicly humiliated.

Although courts are becoming more critical of copyright trolls, unfortunately they continue to thrive because, as the EFF states, “copyright law give trolls a big club to wield.”

Tips for Not Falling Victim to Copyright Trolls

Do not reproduce or redistribute such items as:

Copyright trolls seek people who have thoughtlessly conducted downloads

Copyright trolls seek people who have thoughtlessly conducted downloads

  • Music
  • Images
  • Blogs
  • Stories
  • News articles
  • Movies

Also ask anyone who might use, or have access to, your computer to not reproduce/redistribute items.

How to Identify a Copyright Troll

Simply put, you can identify a copyright troll because the entity requesting extraordinary financial damages for an innocent copyright infringement is not the holder of the original copyright.

Violating Copyrights in General

Copyright trolls aside, violating copyrights can end up in litigation, costing the person who violated the copyright lots of money and time. Romance Novelist Roni Loren wrote about her experience when she thoughtlessly copied a photo on Google and used it on her blog. A photographer contacted her with a takedown notice, with which she immediately complied. But that wasn’t enough for the photographer, who next demanded financial compensation, as in a lot of money. She writes about her story here.

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All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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