We recently published the account of Internet “entrepreneur” Dan DaSilva who was successfully sued for $27,000 (plus $10,000 in court fees) by a photographer over copyright infringement (click here for the original article: Internet “Entrepreneur” Shocked that Copyright Owner Sued Him for Stealing their Work).
While most were quick to jump on Dan in a pretty negative group pile-on, one of the more interesting allegations that Dan makes is that he is really the victim of copyright trolling.
In this article, we will look at what exactly a copyright troll might be and why the internet might have been a little overzealous in it’s condemnation of Dan DaSilva.
If It’s Online It’s Free
First of all, I think that we can all agree that Dan doesn’t come across very well in his video “I WAS SUED CAUSE OF SHOPIFY STORE”.
However, if you can resist hitting the comment button for just a second and listen to what he’s really saying – he’s saying that a photographer copyrighted their images, then made them available for use online, then sues people for using them – as a business.
Dan also suggests that his lawsuit is public record, so if you want to find out who sued him you can Google it – so that is what I did – and that’s where you start to get the real story.
What Is A Copyright Troll?
Essentially, a copyright troll would be similar to a patent troll – someone whose business model is creating copyrighted creative content, making that content available online, and then filing lawsuits when it is used without permission.
What Dan doesn’t explain is that the photographer who sued him (according to the sources I could find online which may not be reliable) allegedly puts his work online in places where it is likely to be found and used commercially.
In other words, this photographer isn’t just uploading his work to his own website and posting to social media – he is intentionally uploading his work in ways that encourage infringement.
For example, one of the allegations is that the photographer who’s images Dan was sued over makes his work available under a Creative Commons ShareAlike license.
Under CC BY-SA 3.0 image users are free to:
However, what many users miss the terms of the Creative Commons license:
Knowing that many users will not give appropriate credit, link to the license and indicate changes made, copyright trolls are counting on users who are technically in violation of the terms of the license and open to a lawsuit.
I personally have difficulty believing that someone could be successfully sued over this level of technicality – but the goal of a copyright troll is not winning a lawsuit – it’s reaching a settlement (knowing that it is less expensive to settle than to defend yourself in court).
I think that it is important to note that the images we’re talking about are not exactly portfolio material either – they’re mostly super generic photos of food, credit cards, financial charts etc., exactly the kind of image a designer might need to fill a hole and decide to grab from Creative Commons because they’re so bad nobody could justify spending money on them.
Another allegation is that this photographer intentionally uploads images to overseas websites that distribute copyright material.
There are millions of overseas calendar, background and news sites that scrape content and then re-distribute it. Once an image is caught up in this whirlpool, the original ownership, and copyright terms are lost.
An unsuspecting user comes across an unattributed image of a bunch of scrabble tiles spelling out the word “commerce” and (unwisely it turns out) uses it.
Then the photographer uses a reverse image search to find the image and sues the user for copyright infringement.
Protecting Copyright vs Copyright Trolling
I personally have mixed feelings about this.
I think that it is important for creative industry professionals to aggressively pursue copyright infringement – and for cash not credit or apologies.
I use a service called Pixsy to pursue monetary payment for copyright infringement (for more information see the article: I Just Make $2500 from A Single Copyright Infringement).
For whatever reason, people just cannot resist using this image without permission, and it is surprisingly profitable to pursue infringement cases.
In fact, I just filed five new copyright infringement cases with Pixsy this morning – even if I still have some reservations about the ethics involved (see Is It Ethical To Sue Over Copyright Infringement) I still believe that I am entitled to monetary compensation for the use of my work, so I am going to pursue compensation as aggressively as I can.
There is no DMCA takedown notice or cease and desist warning sent to the infringing party – once you’re caught using my work for commercial use the case goes straight to a demand for payment, and if necessary, legal action.
However, the difference between pursuing copyright claims and copyright trolling is the intent.
I totally agree that it can be very profitable to sue over copyright infringement. I’ll go even further and say that it’s good for the industry.
But I am not publishing crappy images of bananas on white and hands with flow charts and intentionally uploading them to Creative Commons and sketchy overseas content scrapers with the intention of sitting back and suing unsuspecting users – like a troll jumping out from under a bridge if you will.
How To Avoid Copyright Infringement
If you really want to avoid copyright infringement, there are three ways:
- Open your website somewhere that copyright law doesn’t apply – Russia seems to be a popular choice.
- Only publish your own work.
- Only publish work that you’ve paid to use.
If you don’t want to run a Russian website and don’t have much of your own work to use – stock photography is not exactly expensive.
Most images on Adobe Stock are just a few dollars and even if you really want unique premium content, a boutique agency like Stocksy only charges $15 for a small which will be more than adequate for most web use.
Was Dan DaSilva The Victim of A Copyright Troll?
Do you believe in copyright trolls?
Was Dan DaSilva the victim of a malicious photographer, or did he just get caught taking something that wasn’t his?
Do you think that it is a viable business model to publish work with the intent of suing people for using it without permission?
Do you think I’m a copyright troll? Are you?