When you create original work on a tangible medium, like an audio recording or a book, it can be copyrighted. For example, think of your favorite song or book and understand that copyright laws protect them from unauthorized use. “Copyrights exist from the moment the work is created.” That last sentence is in quotes because that exact sentence was pulled from the U.S. Copyright Office’s website. The fact that we are re using their words and elaborating upon them is an example of fair use. Their words, and the words you are reading right now, have a degree of copyright protection.
The more important question is the enforceability of your copyrighted material. Although copyrights exist immediately, you must register your work as a public record. That enables you to file a lawsuit against the person or party infringing on your copyright.
There are Several Forms of Copyright Trolls
Before 1976, the copyright owner could transfer all or none of the rights associated with their copyrighted work to someone else. However, due to a revision in the law, copyright owners can transfer the enforcement right to someone else. Let’s pretend that person X takes a picture of the courthouse, and the image is registered appropriately. The photographer could transfer the enforcement right to a copyright troll, who could then go to great lengths to ensure that the image appears on searches to enhance the probability of someone seeing and using the image (this is not something a judge or a court is likely going to condone if it surfaces during litigation).
Imagine that a law firm is building a website, and they want to use an image of courthouse steps on their landing page. They search through images, screen grab one (or they use one of the various stock image sources), and post it.
Person Y runs a basic image search and sees their image being used by the law firm—which is what they wanted. The law firm may be contacted by the copyright troll claiming that the law firm infringed on a copyrighted image. Furthermore, the law allows people to recover statutory damages for every piece of work that is used. The troll tells the firm they are owed several thousands of dollars in statutory damages for their image being used.
What to Do if a Copyright Troll Contacts You
Contact legal counsel immediately. As soon as you are notified that you have infringed on copyrighted material, reach out to an attorney. Your attorney will establish whether the person who contacted you can sue you. If they do, the question becomes how much this issue will cost.
There are two types of damages: actual and statutory (as mentioned above). Statutory damages range from $750 to $30,000. Because actual damages will likely be very low, considering the troll was financially impacted minimally, they may threaten you with statutory damages to get you to settle a higher amount. Allow your attorney to determine a reasonable settlement amount, regardless of what threats are being made.
Your attorney may be prepared to argue that you didn’t infringe on someone’s copyrights intentionally and could award a few hundred dollars in damages.
Has a Copyright Troll Contacted You?
Trembly Law Firm represents over 250 businesses and handles their trademark matters. We understand intellectual property laws and have developed a strong reputation for protecting business owners. When your company is threatened by a copyright troll or someone who claims you have infringed on their IP, contact us immediately and schedule a consultation.