Picture This: “Photo Image” Copyright Trolls?

Our firm has been working in a bubble for over two years now, focusing exclusively on copyright infringement lawsuits as they relate to accusations of piracy through the use of bittorrent (“torrent”) peer-to-peer programs over the internet.

However, it has been brought to my attention that our “copyright troll” problem is bigger than just bittorrent.  People even today are receiving DMCA threat letters for the so-called infringement of other things, such as the unauthorized use of pictures, articles, poems, you name it — even works that are not copyrighted at all.  However, unlike our federal copyright infringement lawsuits, these settlement extortion “scare” letter campaigns take place on a larger scale, outside of the courtroom, and there is no federal judge overseeing an actual lawsuit.  The Copyright Enforcement Group appears to now be doing it, Getty Pictures has been doing it for years, and most recently, non-attorney John Jolin is doing it on behalf of Linda Ellis and her poems.

These new kinds of threat letters are obviously less “sexy” than the six-figure [and sometimes seven-figure] lawsuits in the federal district courts across the U.S. that our law firm has been dealing with, but these smaller copyright trolls need to be dealt with, and they need to be handled with the same harshness as the larger copyright trolls we have been fighting for years now. Maybe it is time for a few of us attorneys to explain to these smaller trolls the definition of a declaratory judgement. If they want to throw around threats of “we might sue you unless you settle,” well, maybe we should bring a few of these threat letters in front of a federal judge and see what they think about this.

On a personal note, I am not sure whether approaching this topic in our “Torrent Lawyer” blog will muddy the waters since our blog has been focused on copyright trolls of the bittorrent kind, but whether we discuss “photo trolls,” “literary trolls,” or “music trolls,” they are still all copyright trolls.


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15 thoughts on “Picture This: “Photo Image” Copyright Trolls?”

  1. I’m surprised you did not know about it. Yes, other forms of trolling (especially pictures) are flourishing and occupy a much bigger area relative to the sector we are dealing with. I had many emails from people asking me to publicize those “other” trolls, but I politely declined, citing the necessity to stay focused. I referred them to extortionletterinfo.com — a well established community that deals with picture trolls. I correspond with the founder of this site once in a while.

    1. That shows you what a bubble we live in when we work on these lawsuits day and night. It was actually your tweet yesterday that led me to find them. I’ve seen their name before, but I always thought that they were just one more law firm working their angle on the copyright trolling problem. Quite frankly, the number of “photo copyright trolls” out there appears to be staggering. As long as my list is of “bittorrent” copyright trolls, “photo trolls” have a list just as long, with little overlap.

    2. Yes this has happened to me. I am an independent massage therapist and I got a lawyer bugging me from Caroline Wrights offices saying I infringed on a copywrited photo I had up on my site for a few months. I found the image on google images and thought it was ok to download because there were no watermarks. The letter says they want over $4K!! I counter offered “nothing” and said I took it down because it was the right thing to do…had no idea it was someones property etc. We have been going back and forth for months and she says that I could be liable for tens of thousands of dollars if this goes to court!! CAN YOU FRICKN BELIEVE IT???

  2. I would not say you lived in a bubble. It’s more like you guys have your hands full and overflowing dealing with the bittorrent copyright extortionists. I am overwhelmed by the expansive scope of bittorrent trolling.

    Similarly, we have our hands full deal with all the various stock photo copyright extortionists (whom work the underground bypassing the court systems) to deeply get into the bittorrent trolls. I consider us all brothers-in-arms in the multi-front wars against copyright trolling and copyright extortionists.

    1. I agree. The ramifications, however, are that the stock photo copyright extortionists deserve to be included in my attempts to convince Congress to reform the copyright laws to stop the copyright trolls and their activities.

      My attempts [to date] have been to stop copyright trolls from SUING individual downloaders in federal court (or at least to limit their remedies if they do not first make attempts to take down the offending content, e.g., by sending DMCA “take down” letters to the website content owners).

      Stock photo extortion victims are not sued, and they would only have been indirectly affected by my efforts (by taking away the threat of a lawsuit). Seeing this second world of copyright trolling makes me think that I should be trying to stop not only the lawsuits, but the settlement attempts themselves.

      1. Attorney Oscar Michelen has been my partner-in-crime in helping dealing with stock photo copyright extortionists. Feel free to add your brainpower, creativity, presence, and resources to the fight. 🙂 The biggest problem we have with our victims is legal ignorance despite the fact that, for most, there is not much legal jeopardy.

      2. Thank you. I will go through the wealth of information you have provided, and if there is anything I can contribute, I will be happy to do so. At the very minimum, I have a good following on the bittorrent end of things, and our trolls have already sued, named, crashed, and are in the process of burning in the federal courts (I expect photo trolls would suffer the same results once they mature to the point where they start naming defendants of their own). Keep up the good work. -Rob

  3. It’s a sorry state of affairs when extortionistic business models become the norm. The stock photo agencies can no longer sell their cheesy images, between micro-stock and everybody owning a decent camera, they are hurting big time, but would never admit this..

  4. My father was called by such an agency a few years back, before I was aware of the BT Trolls, I dealt with it by removing the content from the website it was on…otherwise I would’ve told him to pound sand.
    The details are: a website (don’t remember which stock site) claimed we had a stock picture on our site that we didn’t pay for. We did, but through a different vendor, but the proof of receipt was long lost (we bought it back in the late 90’s). We made the troll go away by remove the content and then telling him if he contacted us again we would sue for harassment…never heard from him again.

  5. In many ways, for many people the Internet has become the Town Square, Floyd barbershop from the old Andy Griffith show, or simply your neighborhood bar — a place for people to get together and discuss the issues of the day.

    What has happened to Mr. Chan into ELI is the equivalent of eliminating these comfortable places we go to discuss issues and share stories. The PPO against Mr. Chan is, IMHO, far overreaching and has not only forced Mr. Chan to be very careful but forced dozens to stop talking.

    I will let others post a story or two about the victims of Linda Ellis and her tactics. I hope that you will all see that the way she exploits the grieving (at their weakest) and the ways she attacks her enemies are FAR overreaching.

    If you will only take 15 minutes to absorb what she is doing, I believe you will see she deserves her own wing in the copyright-troll Hall-of-Fame.

  6. For those of you not familiar with for lack of a better word “poem-trolling”. Here is how Linda Ellis does it.

    A typical scenario goes like this. A family loses a loved one. The poem is read at the funeral and subsequently published on an internet tribute page for the deceased.

    LInda Ellis has an employee who searches the internet for her poem “The
    Dash Poem”. The poem on the tribute site appears in the search. The funeral home who maintained the tribute page gets hit with a letter demanding $7500. The letter also contains a threat of a lawsuit and damages up to $150K. The funeral home settles and everyone is left feeling “invaded” for lack of a better term.

    Would a simple take down notice suffice, I would argue yes.

    Is Linda Ellis’s operation as big as the ones you are fighting here? No.

    But do her letters to the funeral homes which inevitably get passed on to the grieving hurt? Yes.— they hurt a lot actually. Most of the time the poem gets posted with full attribution and link back to her site — fans are responsible for this and for some reason Linda Ellis has decided she doesn’t need internet fans, or at least not 90% of what she could have.

    My apologies for the long post, but I thought a brief insight into her tactics would help others see why some get infuriated at her trolling scheme (which does afford her a very nice living).

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