What’s a Copyright Troll?


DTG’s Intellectual Property Team has seen a new and unwelcome legal trend emerge in Colorado over the last few years:

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) File Sharing Lawsuits

Since in 2010 and really ramping up in about 2012-2013, a small group of copyright owners has flooded our federal court system with lawsuits against tens of thousands of “John Doe” defendants. These lawsuits are based on alleged copyright infringement on peer-to-peer file-sharing networks (for example, using the BitTorrent protocol).  The lawsuits are sometimes initiated against a single defendant, but more often than not are filed against dozens or even hundreds of John Doe’s in a single lawsuit.

What Makes a Plaintiff a “Copyright Troll”?

 We call these “copyright troll” lawsuits because:

  • The suits are rarely brought by the actual copyright creators or bona fide owners, but by a company, as an assignee[1], whose sole purpose appears to be to file hundreds of lawsuits against online file sharers.
  • The claims of infringement often rely on poorly-substantiated pleadings with language that shows a fuzzy understanding of how the technology behind P2P file sharing actually works.
  • Due to the high volume of actions filed, the lawsuits frequently catch up non-infringers in daunting legal proceedings.
  • The strategy represents an opportunistic way to collect hundreds of “nuisance settlements” from defendants who are confused, intimidated and overwhelmed by being sued in federal court.

The Copyright Troll Business Model

 The copyright troll business model works like this:

  • Monitor online file-sharing networks and collect evidence of possible infringement. Copyright trolls often use a process that produces a list of alleged infringements with associated Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.
  • File a complaint in federal district court alleging copyright infringement by individuals who are identified only by IP addresses.
  • Seek a court order to compel Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide individual account holder information matching the IP address.
  • Contact those account holders by letter and threaten to seek very large awards of statutory damages (up to $150,000 for a single download!) but offer to settle for amounts ranging from $3,000 to $8,000.
  • Settle as many cases as possible, and abandon virtually all the rest.

In other words, copyright trolls play a numbers game, targeting hundreds or thousands of defendants to secure quick settlement payments priced just low enough that it is less expensive for the defendants to pay than to defend themselves in court. This business strategy has netted copyright troll plaintiffs millions of dollars in settlement payments!

If you’ve received a letter from your ISP about a legal order (subpoena) to reveal your identity to the Colorado district court, or a letter from a copyright troll demanding a huge settlement, please contact us at once. Our experienced team of intellectual property and litigation attorneys can help you resolve your case in the best manner possible. Our team is listed in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Subpoena Defense Resources page.


[1] Examples of these copyright troll companies include I.T. Productions, LLC; Killer Joe Nevada, LLC; CELL Film Holdings, LLC; Survivor Productions, Inc.; and Dallas Buyers Club, LLC.

Posted in Copyright, Litigation

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