Copyright Trolls

When the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) declared an end to its litigation campaign against music fans who used peer-to-peer technology to share music, many people thought that would be the end of mass copyright litigation—after all, hadn’t the RIAA demonstrated that suing customers was no way to improve the bottom line?

Apparently not everyone got the memo. Since then, at least three groups have begun to experiment with using mass copyright litigation to extract settlements from individuals. These copyright trolls try to grow businesses out of suing Internet users — their tactics include targeting large groups of anonymous "Doe defendants" to improperly minimize their court costs and exploiting the massive damages in copyright law in order to pressure defendants into settling quickly.

EFF is working hard to help victims get access to the resources they need to defend their rights call the court's attention to trolls' disrespect for due process and educate the public about the harms of copyright trolling.

U.S. Copyright Group

Have you been targeted by a USCG subpoena? Learn more about the claims made against you, explore possible defenses, and try to find legal counsel.

The U.S. Copyright Group (USCG) approaches independent film producers and offers to collect money from people who are illegally downloading their movies on BitTorrent. USCG currently represents the producers of several films including The Hurt Locker and Far Cry. USCG then files predatory lawsuits implicating thousands of unnamed John Does, subpoenas their identities from the ISP's, and then sues the individuals themselves. Once the user's identity is known USCG threatens a judgment of up to $150,000 per downloaded movie — the maximum penalty allowable by law in copyright suits and a very unlikely judgment in cases arising from a single noncommercial infringement — in order to pressure the alleged infringers to settle quickly for $1,500 to $2,500 per person. The judge in two of USCG's cases has dismissed many of the defendants though thousands more remain.

Righthaven

Righthaven brought hundreds of lawsuits in federal court claiming copyright infringement, even though it does not create, produce or distribute any content. Instead, Righthaven created lawsuits by scouring the Internet for content from Las Vegas Review-Journal stories posted on blogs and online forums, claiming to acquire the copyright to those particular stories from Stephens Media LLC (the Review-Journal's publisher), and then suing the posters for infringement.  Righthaven also worked with the Denver Post.  As part of its lawsuit business model, Righthaven claims damages of up to $150,000 under the Copyright Act's statutory damages provisions, seeks the target's domain name and uses these threats to attempt to push defendants into a quick settlement.

Righthaven is no longer filing new lawsuits, and almost all of its cases have been dismissed.  While many defendants paid settlements, Righthaven has never won a single case on the merits and has been ordered to pay over $200,000 for defendants' attorneys fees and $5,000 in sanctions. Righthaven's domain name, righthaven.com, was auctioned to help pay these judgments, and founder and CEO, Las Vegas attorney Steven A. Gibson, was investigated by the Nevada State Bar.

Righthaven v. Democratic Underground.  EFF, Fenwick & West LLP, and attorney Chad Bowers represented Democratic Underground in a case over a five-sentence excerpt of a Las Vegas Review-Journal news story that a user posted on the forum, with a link back to the Review-Journal website.

Stephens Media, the original owner of the article, disclosed the Strategic Alliance Agreement ("SAA") it had entered into with Righthaven, which governs assignments from Stephens Media to Righthaven and the relationship between them. The Court found that the SAA prevented subsequent assignments from transferring the exclusive rights necessary to maintain standing in a copyright infringement action.  Later, Democratic Underground secured a declaratory judgment against Stephens Media determining that it did not infringe Stephens Media's copyright.

Righthaven v. Tad DiBiase.  EFF, Colleen Bal and Bart Volkmer from the law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and attorney Chad Bowers are represented DiBiase, an attorney who consults with law enforcement across the country on "no body" cases -- where the victim is missing and presumed dead, but no body has been found. DiBiase runs a website at www.nobodycases.com to gather information on these complex investigations in order to help other prosecutors as well as family and friends of "no body" murder victims.

The Court found that Righthaven was not entitled to seize DiBiase's domain name.  Later, the federal court determined that Righthaven did not own the copyright, and dismissed the litigation. Righthaven appealed, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal heard oral argument on February 5, 2013.

Porn Downloading Lawsuits

In these cases the owners of the adult movies filed mass lawsuits based on single counts of copyright infringement stemming from the downloading of a pornographic film and improperly lumped hundreds of defendants together regardless of where the IP addresses indicate the defendants live. To date over 50,000 Does have been targeted in cases filed in West Virginia, Texas, Illinois, and the Northern District of California. The motivation behind these cases appears to be to leverage the risk of embarrassment associated with pornography to coerce settlement payments despite serious problems with the underlying claims. The judge in several of the cases filed in West Virginia has blocked plaintiffs from proceeding against almost all of the defendants in those cases —approximately 5,400 people. Unfortunately, thousands of defendants in other cases are still under threat.

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