Copyright Trolls as Intellectual Property Bullies
Copyright law is a bit different from trademark and patent law. But beware, copyright trolls are lurking. In copyright law, you don’t need to make use of your work to prevent others from using it. You also do not need a registration to gain rights. However, you would need a registration to sue or claim statutory damages (A damage award specified within the statute rather than calculated based on degree of harm to plaintiff. Damages may be set by statute when calculating losses is difficult). The primary point of copyright law is to encourage artistic creation.
We want to reward the author/creator with the exclusive right to use and profit from their creations. This includes items that are substantially similar to or derived from their creations. For example, if I took a series of pictures, I would own the exclusive right to sell or distribute them. I’d also have the exclusive right to develop and sell photo books, publicly display the images or any similar item related to the pictures. Anyone other than me who did this would be violating my rights. With few exceptions, (e.g., fair use) I could sue for damages.
Many creators don’t have the interest and/or means to capitalize on these rights. For example, maybe I don’t want to make a photo book out of my pictures. The law allows me to sell or license my rights to others. In many cases these parties also have the right to sue for damages if an unauthorized party also sells a substantially similar work.
So, What are Copyright Trolls?
A troll is a party that collects the rights from others’ creations for the sole purpose of suing people who are using substantially similar items. One reason they have a bad reputation is that they often create traps. Going back to my example, I could sell all my rights in my pictures to a third party.
This party could then post my pictures online with words like “these would look excellent on a website.” The troll would then scan the web for that image to find anyone who copied the picture and placed it on their site. They often demand statutory damages of $30,000 per infringement plus their lawyer’s fees. Disgusting!