Basics: Trolling in the Deep

by Koka Tarini Siddhartha

Trolling people on the internet isn’t something new. For readers who are still unsure about what trolls are, we are talking about people who use the internet as a platform (or as some would say, a shield) to post sarcastic and patronizing comments, messages, or remarks to provoke a response from another person or community.

We are definitely not talking about the mythical creatures — you know, the enormous, ugly and bad-tempered creatures you might remember seeing in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when Ron Weasley successfully manages to say “Levi-O-sa!” instead of “Levio-SA!”

Jokes apart, the focus in this post is not on internet trolls, but on trolling in the patent and copyright industries.

Are you saying patent and copyright trolls exist?

Unfortunately, yes. Patent trolls have been prevalent for far longer than copyright trolls, which are still relatively new. They are called trolls as they exist to create chaos (just like internet trolls) and also instigate litigious claims. Patent trolling is when a company uses a patent as a weapon rather than for useful or innovative reasons.

In the past, patent offices have issued patents for everyday products which ordinarily would not be patentable. Patent troll companies tend to buy patents either from bankrupt companies or companies recovering from a loss, hoping to monetize their resources. These companies keep a close watch on people who infringe their patents, and threaten them with legal action unless they pay a specified fee to the company. Irrespective of the legitimacy of the threatened legal action, parties tend to settle out of court, fearing patent litigation (a painfully slow and expensive process).

What about copyright trolls?

Copyright trolls are derivatives of patent trolls. Some companies/firms purchase copyrights for the sole purpose of filing copyright infringement suits or to blackmail users. A popular copyright troll company is Rightscorp, which functions as a copyright enforcement body. It locates the copyright infringer and collects money as legal damages on behalf of the copyright holder.

Recently, Rightscorp welcomed on board United States’ leading record label, Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), currently its largest customer. Companies like Rightscorp tie up with capital-rich organisations such as RIAA and Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG), to send across notices to internet service providers (ISPs) with a list of copyright violators downloading content from BitTorrent networks. Ideally, they expect these ISPs to pay heed to these notices and collect a sum of money ($20–30 each) from their customers.

Suits have been filed by RIAA and BMG through Rightscorp against two ISPs, Grande Communications and Cox Communications respectively. In all likelihood, these service providers will be unsuccessful in claiming protection under the DMCA safe harbor provision (more on this here) as they continue allowing the infringing subscribers to gain access to BitTorrent networks.

However, these copyright trolls have found their pot of gold in the pornographic market. The most recent case reported on copyright trolls is beyond deplorable, and embarrassing to the legal profession.

Prenda Law, a Chicago-based law firm, bought copyrights over pornographic content through fake companies they owned and even produced and filmed their own pornography. They then got the courts to issue subpoenas (orders) to the pornographic websites to submit a list of their customers/subscribers. By threatening to sue to the customers who could not only afford to pay the legal fees but also feared being shamed in public, each customer was blackmailed into paying $3–4,000 until the two founders of Prenda Law were finally caught.

All these reported instances of trolling barely cover patent and copyright trolls. It is frightening and disgusting to discover that even lawyers (amongst others) are engaging in such fraudulent business. While it is hopeful to imagine a world without patent and copyright trolling (which goes against the fundamental nature of intellectual property rights), until the world stops being greedy, and piracy comes to an end (both highly unlikely), this will always be something to be wary of.

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