1933 Courtroom, James R. Browning US Court of Appeals Building, San Francisco, CA by Carol Highsmith (image is in public domain)

1933 Courtroom, James R. Browning US Court of Appeals Building, San Francisco, CA by Carol Highsmith (image is in public domain)

Recently in the news, esteemed US photographer Carol Highsmith filed a billion-dollar lawsuit against Getty Images for trying to make her pay them for her own images—images she had generously contributed copyright-free to the US Library of Congress.

Seems Getty had been scraping the internet and locating thousands of Highsmith’s photographs, which it then charged the site/user with violation of Getty’s (false) copyright, claiming the innocent user’s violation could be resolved if they promptly sent Getty $120.00 for using the image.

In other words, Getty had been playing copyright troll. An interesting topic that is covered in Colleen Collins’s recently released How Do Private Eyes Do That? (Second edition, revised and enlarged)Colleen has given her permission for me to reprint the below book excerpt on copyright trolls.

Don’t Fall Prey to Copyright Trolls

by Colleen Collins, All Rights Reserved


Troll butting tree (illustration is in public domain)

Troll butting tree (illustration is in public domain)

Copyright Trolls: Who Are They?

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 ask their lawyer to contact the copyright violator with a request to stop the undesired activity.

Their Business Is All About Suing Internet Users

Unlike an individual who requests his/her intellectual property 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 all 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 that demanded damages of $75,000 per instance from each copyright infringer!

Obviously, very few people can pay $75,000 for illegally using a copyrighted item, and Righthaven knew this. They also knew they would likely lose if the case went to court, so they would 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 have defended multiple victims of Righthaven’s tactics, say, “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 worked as intimidated defendants settled out of court rather than be publicly humiliated.

Although courts are becoming more critical of copyright trolls, sadly 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

Copyright trolls seek people who have thoughtlessly conducted downloads of:

• Music

• Images

• Blogs

• Stories

• News articles

• Movies

It’s a good idea to also ask anyone who might use, or have access to, your computer to not reproduce/redistribute any internet 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.

-End of Expert-


Carol Highsmith Collection: Free to the Public

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 has offered all of her digital photographs copyright-free to the American public.

How Do Private Eyes Do That? by Colleen Collins

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

“A must-have for any writer serious about crafting authentic private eyes. Collins knows her stuff.” ~Lori Wilde, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“Colleen Collins is a fantastic resource—for detective novelists in training and anyone who wants to know more about the world of gumshoes. We cannot recommend her book highly enough!” Kim Green, managing editor Pursuit Magazine, magazine for private investigators

Amazon link: How Do Private Eyes Do That? 

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Managing Partner at Shaun Kaufman Law
Shaun Kaufman has 30 years of in-court experience, with hundreds of hours spent defending numerous high-profile cases including homicide, white-collar theft and RICO offenses. Specialties: Criminal defense, personal injury, business litigation, DUI.

Shaun Kaufman Law: 303-309-0430
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