Gather your pitchforks, for a new monster has emerged that must be slain! There is a witch to be burned, a vampire to be staked, and a copyright “troll” to be vanquished! According to the internet (or more specifically, a handful of defense attorneys who want your $$$), CopyCat Legal is a copyright “troll” that unfairly targets businesses accused of infringing its clients’ photographs, artwork, music, and other intellectual property. But as Abraham Lincoln famously stated – “don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”
“Copyright troll” is a term that is frequently and loosely used to describe both copyright owners and the attorneys who represent them in protecting against copyright infringement of their photographs, artwork, music, and other intellectual property. As with most legal questions, the answer to whether CopyCat Legal is a “copyright troll” is quite simple… “it depends.” It depends on your definition of what is a “copyright troll,” your perspective, and your preconceived biases – i.e., you may feel differently depending on whether you received a demand letter or whether you’re the artist whose copyrighted work was infringed.
What is Copyright Infringement?
Let’s start with the basics… what is copyright infringement? Generally, copyright infringement is when a copyrighted work (such as a photograph, artwork, music, etc.) is reproduced, distributed, and/or displayed without the permission of the copyright owner. Assuming that copyright owner timely registered the copyrighted work (which is highly recommended), it could sue an alleged infringer for ‘statutory damages’ ranging from $200.00 – $150,000.00 for each work that was infringed (or recover its ‘actual damages’ if the work was not timely registered). There’s obviously a whole lot more to the subject, but we’re talking general overview for our purposes today.
What is CopyCat Legal?
Moving on… what is CopyCat Legal? Great question – glad I asked. CopyCat Legal is a law firm with its primary offices in Coral Springs, FL that focuses on copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and other aspects of intellectual property law. We’re real people (or maybe we’re trolls masquerading as people… read on to decide for yourself) who represent real people – typically, that includes photographers, artists, music producers, and other creatives whose work was infringed.
How are Photographers/Artists Affected by Copyright Infringement?
Thanks for the elevator speech, but what exactly does that mean in the real world? Example time! Random client generator… generating… Blaine Harrington, III. Mr. Harrington was a professional travel photographer (he passed away earlier this year while pursuing his passion for photography) with 45+ years of experience that we at CopyCat Legal have had the pleasure of representing. Some of his magnificent photos can be viewed here or here. His works were widely published and he won multiple photography awards through his long career… yes, photography was his passion, but it was also his occupation, job, and source of income. If a business wanted to use Mr. Harrington’s photographs on its website, Facebook page, print advertising, etc., the proper thing to do would be to license those photographs from Mr. Harrington (i.e., pay for the use). If a business opts instead to use a photograph without permission, it not only deprives Mr. Harrington of immediate income, but it also creates further copies of the photograph on the internet and likely leads to even more infringements from other third-parties (thus perpetuating the problem).
When a photographer discovers one of his/her copyrighted photographs on the internet, he/she is often understandably upset. Typically, the photographer wants the photograph removed and wants to be compensated for the unauthorized use. In a perfect world, all of this could be accomplished without lawyers… but last I checked there’s a whole lot of lawyers out there which I think means the world is perhaps less-than-perfect.
So What Does CopyCat Legal Do to Help Photographers/Artists?
Enter CopyCat Legal. Our law firm is frequently retained by photographers such as Mr. Harrington whose work has been infringed. Our attorneys (like yours truly) typically will send a demand letter to the alleged copyright infringer that both demands removal of the copyrighted work and our client’s demand for payment (bearing in mind that statutory damages for copyright infringement in court can rise to $150,000.00). We (together with our clients) want infringers to take the matter seriously, but occasionally we are simply ignored (the ‘bury your head in the sand’ approach) or nonchalantly dismissed as a ‘scam,’ ‘trolls,’ and various other words/phrases that are not necessarily PG-13 (lawyers have been around for at least a thousand years… we’ve heard it all). On those occasions, our clients often decide to pursue their rights in federal court by filing a lawsuit. Our goal is simple – to represent the copyright owner through each step of that process and aggressively litigate (if necessary) our client’s claims.
Is CopyCat Legal a Copyright Troll? Stop Avoiding the Question!
Stop avoiding the question… is CopyCat Legal a copyright troll, a copyright bully, a monster to be tarred and feathered, etc.? Pretty sure I already told you “it depends” above, so stop hammering me with this same question! Wait, am I talking to myself at this point? I might have some identity issues here that go beyond whether we are “trolls.”
Many people don’t know this, but I grew up an orphan on the mean streets of Agrabah. I fell in love with a princess, befriended a talking monkey, and sang this heartwarming piece:
Riff-raff, street rat copyright troll. I don’t buy that.
If only they’d look closer.
Would they see a poor boy blood-sucking lawyer?
They’d find out there’s so much more to me.
Ok… that may have been Aladdin (I can neither confirm nor deny), but the point is the same. If you believe copyright owners who enforce their rights are trolls, then you likely feel the same about the attorneys (such as CopyCat Legal) who represent them. And it’s frankly easier to assign a label (such as “troll”) than acknowledge the ugly truth… you probably wouldn’t be using these words or reading this blog if you didn’t violate the copyright laws in the first place. I know it’s a shocking concept, but following the law (i.e., properly licensing the photographs/artwork you use) usually means you’ll never hear from an angry copyright owner or the lawyers who represent him/her.
I’m not even sure what a copyright “troll” is. Nor am I alone. The federal courts themselves have struggled to define the term and what relevance, if any, it has under the law. If the courts can’t even agree, what chance do we have to see eye-to-eye on the subject?
Is a “troll” someone who files a lot of lawsuits for copyright infringement? Doubtful… what if that someone owns millions of photographs created over a 20+ year career and discovers hundreds if not thousands of infringements online? If an infringer refuses to remove a photograph from its website and actively blames the copyright owner for its own infringement, is the copyright owner to blame when he/she files a lawsuit?
Is a “troll” someone who demands too much money when an infringement is discovered? What constitutes “too much”? The Copyright Act provides for statutory damages ranging from $200.00 – $150,000.00 (subject to broad discretion), so how much can any particular photographer demand when his/her work is infringed? $75,000.00? $50,000.00? $10,000.00? $200.00? Does the photographer (or the law firm representing him/her) need to call the infringer in advance to ask how much is reasonable to demand? If the photographer demands $0.01 more than such amount, is he/she now a “troll”?
And if someone is a “troll,” then what? If a business committed copyright infringement, should it not be held responsible under the law due solely to the likeability of the copyright owner or his/her attorneys? The law generally does not play favorites or treat victims differently depending on their character/reputation, so why should a copyright owner or his/her counsel be the exception? You can’t rob a bank and then excuse your conduct by pointing to the subprime mortgage crisis and the bank’s role therein… you still committed bank robbery and, if caught, are likely going to jail.
Flashy terms like copyright “troll” are not helpful to the overall discussion about copyright law and the rights that should be afforded to copyright owners/infringers alike. They are, in my opinion, meaningless catch phrases utilized by a small group of defense attorneys to drum up business and lure accused infringers into retaining their legal services. It looks good on paper, but when you remove the fluff, is there any meat on the bone? And trust me, as a “troll,” I’m always looking for a few good meaty bones!