When the Copyright Trolls Came for Me

Header image: Troll casting dark shadow on a purple background (credit:  -Cheesyfeet- / Flickr.com)

Today I’m once again blogging over at Writer Unboxed.

If you’re a writer who’s serious about a career, you probably have some form of online presence: a website, a blog, an Instagram account. You may make use of images and/or videos created by others–to add visual interest to your blog posts or newsletters, decorate your website, and/or engage your readers and followers. For example, the header image at the top of this post.

If you use images online, you need to be aware of copyright trolls.

What’s a Copyright Troll?

Wikipedia defines a copyright troll thus:

copyright troll is a party (person or company) that enforces copyrights it owns for purposes of making money through strategic litigation, in a manner considered unduly aggressive or opportunistic[.]

This kind of copyright troll creates and registers copyright to content that they then make widely available online, to increase the possibility that people will re-post it without permission. Using search technology, they find infringers and use threats of litigation to shake them down for cash settlements. 

More indirectly, some companies and law firms specialize in copyright threats on behalf of third parties, seeking out infringers (and often roping in non-infringers as well), filing or threatening to file suit, and demanding large fees (in many cases, far exceeding the actual value of the intellectual property) to close the claim.

A major pioneer of this strategy was a company called Righthaven, which licensed rights to news articles and then used the threat of lawsuits to coerce people who posted the articles—or evens snippets of them—into paying thousands of dollars in settlements. Another notorious practitioner was former lawyer Richard Liebowitz, who employed a similar M.O. on behalf of photographers.

Karma did eventually bite back: Righthaven was sued out of existence, and Liebowitz was suspended from the practice of law in New York State. But copyright trolling is alive and well, and if you post images online, you may become a target—as I did a few months ago.

My CopyTrack Adventure

Like many people favored with attention from copyright trolls, I was a bit freaked out when I received an email from CopyTrack,…

Read the rest at Writer Unboxed


  1. I worked with New Leaf and Pearson Media (California) scammers both, and suffered because of a lack of knowledge. After being told that my books are selling in the USA, The Shadow and the Shards and Prophecy and Allegiance, I have yet again tried to contact them to remove my books from Amazon with little success. These two companies took advantage of a novice writer as a lot of companies do, and are still selling and profiting from all my hard work on Amazon despite me Emailing, phoning and messaging them not to do so. With little money and no contacts I have little hope of stopping this fraudulent activity. Receiving 100% of the profit’s from all of my hard work, total and utter bullshit, avoid these companies at all costs.

  2. Can you explain why it’s apparently so easy and profitable to sue people over images, but nearly impossible (and not profitable at all) to sue people over books?
    Books are on pirate sites all the time, and even when you catch a plagiarist you’re told the most you can do is to shut them down.
    What’s the difference? Surely writing a book is way more effort than snapping one stupid photo, shouldn’t the law be the other way around and protect books/authors more?

    1. The key is in your comment: people. Copyright trolls come after individuals because they’re easy to target. Pirate sites are amorphous blobs engineered to make untangling ownership and provenance difficult and expensive. If you can’t easily find a person or a company to sue, there’s no profit in hunting down infringers–and copyright trolling is all about easy profit. It’s a volume business.

      Copyright law protects all creators equally. Unfortunately it can also be abused. That’s what’s happening here–not lesser protection.

  3. Copyright exists for every legitimate author in the world, whether you like it or not. Know your rights, know the law. And stop whining. The 1980s copyright law protects most writers.

    1. That’s *one* way to yell “I didn’t read at all but I still want to yell my unsolicited and daft opinion.”

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