A worrying trend recently has been the massive proliferation of what is generally referred to as “copyright trolling.” The copyright trolls have found a cunning way to turn copyright litigation into a business. The scheme is this: the trolls find copyrighted content on the Internet, acquire the rights to represent the copyright holders of that content and then mass-post threats of legal action to the people allegedly infringing the copyright of said content. The point of this action is not to actually sue these people or to stop the infringement. The point is to intimidate people into paying a settlement fee of a few thousand dollars. Whether the accused are actually guilty of copyright infringement is unimportant; the trolls are banking on the hope that they will pay up anyway just to avoid going to court. There is even some evidence that the trolls are themselves distributing copyrighted material on the Internet to lull in potential pirates.
One group of people that has especially embraced this business model is the porn industry. Some small-time porn producers are actually making more money out of these settlements than from selling their content. These cases are particularly effective since few people are prepared to stand in court accused of downloading porn.
Now this doesn’t just sound like extortion, it is extortion, plain and simple, and extortion is a criminal activity even when it’s carried out in a nominally legal way. What these companies are involved in has nothing to do with protecting the rights of the creators. In fact, in some cases it is the creators that are being threatened. I’m sure any reasonable pro-copyrightist will agree that this is not what copyright legislation was instituted for.
Conceivably, copyright trolling could be thwarted with new legislation, but that would be missing the point. The root of the problem are not the trolls, but copyright law itself. Copyright trolls are just one example of how copyright law is being used to coerce and terrorize people. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs will always find new ways of taking advantage of the prohibitive nature of the copyright legislation to make money. To protect people from coercion, it’s the copyright law that needs to be radically reformed. And this is not a case of “consumer’s rights vs. creator’s rights” like it’s often presented, but a case of an obviously criminal and harmful activity that should be restricted.