Copyright Trolls

When Copyright Litigation Becomes a Business Model

Authored by: Scott J. Sholder

The Routledge Companion to Copyright and Creativity in the 21st Century

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138999251
eBook ISBN: 9781315658445
Adobe ISBN:


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A copyright troll is a specific breed of plaintiff or plaintiff’s lawyer who engages in specific forms of predatory behavior using the legal system as a means to a financial end. Copyright trolls are most frequently associated with pornography or photographers and photo/video aggregators. While recent trends in copyright trolling skew toward fewer than hundreds or thousands of defendants at a time, the “numbers game” is the same: pressure the defendant(s) to settle for less than the cost of litigation but for far more than the copyrighted property is worth. This essay explores the origins of the copyright troll business model, discusses some noteworthy cases that set boundaries around, and establish consequences for, troll-like behavior, and addresses recent measures taken by the copyright defense bar to combat what that segment of the legal community deems to be abusive and inappropriate exploitation of the legal system. Until Congress overhauls the 1976 Copyright Act or institutes an effective small-claims system for copyrights, content users must look out for themselves, be proactive and diligent in their procurement of content, and use the available strategic litigation tools to stem the tide of copyright trolling.

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