The Industry, The Govt and The Copyright Trolls

We come with yet another report from the EFF about how Hollywood studios created a new kind of “monster” – copyright trolls who force settlements from internet subscribers by making use of intimidation, aided by US’s faulty copyright laws.

Last Friday, EFF Senior Staff Technologist Seth Schoen took the witness stand in AF Holdings v. Does where he tried to explain to a federal judge why BitTorrent users should not be deprived by their constitutional rights when scoped by trolls. Taking into consideration the brutality on which copyright treaties are built, EFF asks a fair question:

“How will Hollywood help protect US citizens from copyright trolls?”

Meanwhile these trolls are suing groups of people from 20 to 5.000 alleged pirates in a single lawsuit with only a list of IP addresses. After obtaining the court’s permission, they send subpoenas to ISPs with the hope to obtain their users’ names and addresses. The next step is to send threatening letters, asking for settlements “or else”. Until now, over 200.000 U.S. residents have been involved in such lawsuits, many of which preferred to settle just to end the harassment. Although groups like the RIAA ended the lawsuit campaign back in 2008 after realizing the damage done to the industry’s image, this has meant nothing for copyright trolls.

Since 2008 they’ve continued to sue six times more people than the music groups ever did, applying aggressive methods of intimidation, and eventually cashing in millions from these settlements. At the core of the problem are U.S. copyright laws and legal precedents pushed through Congress and the courts by the entertainment industries and their lobbyists. Let’s take for example the statutory penalty for sharing only one copyrighted work (one track) that can reach up to $150.000. Therefore, it’s no wonder that people prefer to settle for several thousand dollars – even if they broke no law. According to the entertainment industries, it is imperative for these penalties to be as high as possible, thinking that this will discourage illegal downloading, but ignoring the fact that they are creating an abusive system that’s controlled exactly by these trolls.

EFF’s article continues on writing about the legal doctrine of “secondary liability”. Both the movie and recording industries are continuously pressing for broader liability for intermediaries, internet sites and services, and developers of tools and software. It is yet another loophole on which copyright trolls profit. They disregard actual copyright infringers and focus on the owners of internet accounts. As such, even if someone understands secondary liability and can afford a lawyer, he or she still prefers to settle and not risk a long expensive trial, regardless of the fact that one could win.

Furthermore, plaintiffs in such suits usually mix together internet users from around the country and obtain their identities from ISPs based on a court order.

“Doing this requires trampling on jurisdiction rules that keep people from being unfairly forced to defend themselves far from home, joinder rules that guarantee every defendant is treated as an individual, and the First Amendment, which gives us a right to communicate anonymously,” explains EFF’s article.

Last but not least, the entertainment industries have spent millions of lobbying and advertising dollars during the decades to promote the buggy idea that if copyright law promotes creativity, then even more aggressive copyright legislations will promote harder.

“According to this philosophy, the importance of preventing even the most inconsequential copyright infringement justifies chilling free speech, unmasking anonymous Internet users, wholesale regulation of the Internet … and setting loose the trolls,” Mitch Stoltz explains.

This view was on full display last week at a hearing in the D.C. federal district court, when ISPs – aided by the EFF – tried to destroy subpoenas for internet users’ identities.

One thing is clear, however – there will always be people who are willing to use the legal system as part of a shakedown, but copyright trolls, if not stopped by Hollywood, will always lurk around, sniffing money out of the pockets of innocent people.