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If you or someone you love (say your teenager) shares or downloads copyrighted material online, you should be aware that there is a new breed of troll: the “Copyright Troll.” This breed has been lurking in the shadows for years but they have now begun to show their faces and they have evolved to become very adept at sniffing out copyright infringers who engaged in past illegal downloads.

The favorite prey of the Copyright Troll are Millennials who were brought up in era in which it was common to use peer-to-peer services like Napster (shut down by courts) and peer-to-peer sites like Pirate Bay to obtain “free” downloads. These millennials are now facing criminal and civil infringement suits, sometimes for crimes committed years ago. Since being found liable for, or even sued for, a copyright infringement charge could deny that person’s entry into certain professions (military, law, medicine, law enforcement), many millennials are paying monetary settlements to remain anonymous.

Here’s how the copyright trolls are hunting their prey:

  • Trolls are identifying IP addresses used to illegally download a given copyrighted material, often targeting those who have downloaded other copyrighted materials. The troll then brings a federal lawsuit against the anonymous owners (John/Jane Does) associated with infringing IP addresses and subpoenas the internet providers asking them to provide the name of the customer associated with the IP address.
  • The internet providers then send a letter to the customer stating that the customer’s name will be provided unless they resolve the matter with the troll by a given deadline.
  • If the customer lets the deadline pass, the internet provider sends the customer’s name to the troll who then substitutes the customer’s name for John/Jane Doe in the lawsuit
  • If the customer contacts the trolls lawyers, they are often told the extent of their infringing actively that the troll has discovered and offered a monetary settlement (usually around a few thousand dollars) to have the subpoena withdrawn and their IP address dismissed from the lawsuit. This allows the customer to remain anonymous and hopefully avoid attracting the attention of other trolls.

Cook Alex has experience representing defendants looking to be dismissed from copyright lawsuits brought against them for their past illegal downloads. We are adept at helping individuals who may have fallen victim to such trolls. If you find yourself in this somewhat harrowing situation, give us a call.