Copyright Trolling: Don’t Be a Victim

This article was written by Shaun Kaufman and is reproduced on the Elyse Bruce blog with written permission from the author.   It originally appeared on his website on June 14, 2015 and can be found on Mr. Kaufman’s website by clicking HERE.

Shaun Kaufman is a North Denver native and resident who graduated from CU Boulder in 1979, afterward excelling at DU law school and graduating in 1984. During law school, he worked in the Student Law Office where he won his first criminal jury trial. He was also a managing editor of the Denver University Law Review.  He is also a proud volunteer at CeDAR, a drug and rehabilitation center in Denver.

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice from either the author of the article (Shaun Kaufman) or the owner/author of this blog.


What Is a “Copyright Troll”?

It’s a pejorative term for a party (for example, a company that buys or owns copyrights) who aggressively enforces its owned copyrights through threat of litigation. These companies use frivolous litigation (lawsuits brought to harass defendants) to make extraordinary profits.

Copyright Trolling Isn’t Accidental

When we talk about copyright trolling, we don’t mean a company or individual who happens to learn their intellectual property (such as a picture) is being illegally distributed or copied so they ask their lawyer to contact the copyright violator with a request to please stop the undesired activity. For example, my wife is a published author. Recently she learned one of her stories, which she sold to a publication years ago, was being illegally distributed through an online site. My wife owns the copyright to this story, so she wrote a request to the site owner to remove the story. The site removed it. She wasn’t interested in further action, such as initiating a lawsuit or requesting financial damages.

Trolls Always Seek Financial Damages

In fact, copyright trolls’ sole reason to exist is to initiate copyright violation lawsuits, which is how the trolls make money. For example, Righthaven, LLC, purchased copyrights for old news articles from the publisher of the Las Vegas Review Journal. Righthaven’s sole purpose and business was to then seek out anyone who copied, distributed, posted or otherwise used these articles without Righthaven’s permission. Upon finding these violators, Righthaven filed lawsuits demanding damages of $75,000 per instance from each copyright infringer. Obviously, not everyone, if anyone, can pay $75,000 for illegally using a copyrighted item. Righthaven knew this. They would then agree to settlements of several thousand dollars per defendant. According to an article on the site Righthaven Victims, Righthaven has bitten the dust.

How Can You Not Be a Victim?

Do not reproduce or redistribute such items as:

  • 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.

Public Domain Images: Two Sources

There are numerous online sites and services that offer public domain images for no fee. Below are two:

The Getty Museum Open Content Program: Open content images can be used for any purpose without first seeking permission from the Getty. It requests the user acknowledge the digital image with the statement: Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Below is an example of a copyright-free digital image via the Getty Museum Open Content Program:

Card Players 1949 LA by Max Yavno (Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program)

Library of Congress, Carol Highsmith collection: The Library of Congress does not own the images, recordings, manuscripts, maps and so on in its collections, and advises users to verify rights and permissions before downloading any items. One collection whose content is within the public domain is photographer Carol Highsmith’s archive of her photographs that includes thousands of digital images. Highsmith offers all of her digital photographs copyright-free to the American public.

Below is an example of one of Highsmith’s photographs:

1933 Courtroom, James R. Browning US Court of Appeals Building, SF, CA by Carol Highsmith


Related Articles and Sites:

Fight Copyright Trolls

Electronic Frontier Foundation: Copyright Trolls

ars technica: “Furious judge decries ‘blizzard’ of copyright troll lawsuits

Wired: “Judge Orders Failed Copyright Troll to Forfeit ‘All’ Copyrights


NOTE FROM ELYSE BRUCE:  October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month with four components to this year’s awareness campaign.  This week is “Creating A Culture of Cybersecurity At Work.”

Please remember that year-round cybersecurity practices are important for helping to keep your personal information, assets, and third-party information safer when you’re aware of the dangers.

  • Set strong passwords and don’t share them with anyone, no matter how trustworthy they are.
  • Keep your operating system, browsers, and other critical software optimized by installing updates on a regular basis.
  • Talk about Internet safety and best practices with family, friends, colleagues, and your circle of influence.
  • Limit the amount of personal information you post online.
  • Use privacy settings to avoid unintentionally sharing information on the Internet with third-parties.
  • Be cautious about what you receive or read online.   If it sounds too good to be true, most likely it’s not true.

Commit to making your digital world safe just as you commit to making your real world safe.  Don’t be a victim.

Elyse Bruce


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