Copyright Trolls: Who Are They and How to Deal with Them

By Jayden Andrews. June 28, 2020

You may already know that you need to have a license to use someone else’s content – writing, music, videos, or photographs. You also need to acknowledge at least the owner of the content you want to use. This is standard practice.
But sometimes, things can get out of hand, and you may find yourself on the wrong side of the practice.

Copyright Trolls: Who are They

When you download and share content using BitTorrent, fail to pay for a license, or fail to acknowledge the rightful owner of the content, someone may begin bugging you to pay for the content or face legal action – commonly known as “copyright troll.”

We’ve put this article up to explain what a copyright troll is, who they are, and how to deal with them.

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What Is a Copyright Troll?

Sometimes, people make mistakes. You may have forgotten to license content or failed to give a courtesy acknowledgment of the use of a given picture. Or perhaps you unknowingly used a photo on your brochure without the owner’s authority. Perhaps you downloaded or shared a file or content (video or film) online using BitTorrent.

In this case, you might receive a warning from a lawyer or a letter from a company requiring you to either remove the content, pay to license it for your usage, or face legal action. So, with good intentions, you remove the content from your usage and think that’s the end of it. But sometimes, it never ends there.

You may later receive an invoice from a company or a law office requiring you to pay some money for copyright infringement or face legal action.

You are dealing with a copyright troll.

Sometimes it is easy to mix up copyright trolls with the copyright companies.

For example, in 2011, the producers of the movie Hurt Locker sued about 25,000 BitTorrent users for sharing the movie through a P2P site. The case dismissed most of the lawsuits because of the difficulty of tracking the users’ IP addresses. However, this incident was an indication that it is possible to prosecute torrent users for downloading and sharing pirated content.

In another case, in the Spring of 2010, the USCG (the U.S. Copyright Group), a Washington D.C. law firm launched many predatory lawsuits against thousands of alleged BitTorrent users claiming copyright infringement specifically targeting those that downloaded movies, such as “Far Cry” and “The Hurt Locker.”

source: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

Trolls have, for a long time now, threatened torrenters with lawsuits. They monitor users’ torrent activities through the IPs, and send threats asking them to pay up to avoid litigation. For instance, the infamous porn copyright troll, XArt/Malibu Media, has used multiple law firms (Lipscomb Eisenberg and Baker (now “Lipscomb Partners “) over the decade to extort money from alleged pirates.

You’ll never know that the content you’re about to use is copyrighted because copyright trolls want you to slide and commit copyright infringement so that they can earn from your mistake. Instead of the negligible fee of licensing a picture for say $30 per year, strolls hope to land $2,500 from the people who aren’t legally exposed or don’t know their rights. All a copyright troll is after is easy money – what’s known as a nuisance-value settlement, or a “go away” money. But that is what you need to deny them.

Copyright Trolls List

You may be asking yourself, who are these copyright trolls. Here are examples of companies that are known to conduct copyright trolls:

  • The U.S. Copyright Group (USCG)
  • Getty Images
  • Hawaiian Art Network
  • McCormack Intellectual Property Law.
  • DeBoer IP
  • Carolyn Wright – photoattorney.com
  • Copyright Services International
  • Linda Ellis
  • Alaska Stock
  • Copyright Defense League
  • NCS IP Recovery
  • Righthaven
  • XArt/Malibu Media – porn copyright troll
  • Strike 3 Holdings

How to Deal with Copyright Trolls

For what it’s worth, you should never agree to settle with a copyright troll, which is known as “feed the troll” as this will motivate them to troll more people.

In some cases, like porn trolling or torrent trolling, trolls use your IP to detect your internet activities and gather facts around them. Hiding your IP using a professional VPN could help protect you from such cases and techniques.

There are different other ways you can use to deal with copyright trolls.

1. Protect yourself from copyright infringement claims.

Before you even deal with the trolls, your first call of action should be to protect yourself from the infringement claims. The internet is free, but the content on the internet is not free to use. Refrain from the assumption that any content – film, picture, writing, etc. – online is free to download, share, or use. This will keep the copyright trolls away.

You can check free-to-use images in Google. On Google Search, you can filter your search results to find free-to-use text, images, or videos. To do this, you’ll need to use an Advanced Search filter known as “Usage Rights,” which lets you know when you can download, use, share, or modify some online content.

Also, you can use Creative Commons copyright Licensing to protect yourself. The Creative Commons (CC) copyright licenses and tools help protect you from the traditional “all rights reserved” copyright laws. They’ll grant you copyright permission to your creative work with a pool of content that can one can download, modify, copy, share or distribute, edit, remix, and build upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law without facing any usage troubles including trolls.

Google images use rights

2. Do not assume that unauthorized will qualify as fair use.

The copyright doctrine of fair use might protect some unauthorized content uses from copyright infringement. But this is on rare occasions. Do not make this assumption when you want to use online content.

3. Get permission from the copyright owner before using content.

This is a hard one, but it is the right thing to do to avoid copyright trolls. Don’t just take a video or an image from the internet and use it. This will expose you to copyright trolls. Instead, get the owners and seek their acceptance to use the content, then acknowledge them.

4. Establish a DMCA protection, if you let others post content on your site.

If you have other people posting on your site, you can be liable for infringement claim if they post unauthorized content on your website. However, copyright law has a provision called the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)” that can protect you from such liability. For you to be protected under the DMCA, you must follow the required process.

5. Do not ignore a troll demand.

Take any copyright troll demand that you receive seriously, unless the demand appears automated e.g., it asks you to log on to a given site and pay the claim. Ignoring an infringement notice is not a wise call of action.

It is, however, wise to listen to an infringement notice and their case basis. If the claim is not valid (e.g., you qualify for fair use), you can ignore it. But that also has to be determined by a legal practitioner.

6. Lawyer up.

If you have established that you’re dealing with a copyright troll, hiring a lawyer is a very important first step. Do not allow yourself to get scared and “feed the troll” (settle the claim) as they hope.

The most important thing to do when dealing with a copyright troll is to lawyer up. If you involve a lawyer, you might end up not paying anything because they do not like dealing with lawyers.
Lawyers, and parties represented by lawyers, presumably know their rights and have a better understanding of the case’s value and will not just settle, which is against what the trolls want.

Trolls want you to settle and give them easy money, and using a lawyer will deny them that opportunity.

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