Sunday, July 17, 2011

Of Trolls and Underground Comix

A series of recent articles in legal news and the popular press have focused on a very unfortunate new way for generating income from copyright ownership - the concept of copyright "trolls". The most recent source of this concept appears to be based on the well known tactic in the patent field, whose perpetrators became known as "patent trolls" - a term referring to companies or individuals who acquire rights to patents for the sole purpose of waiting for some unsuspecting person (and in some instances perhaps not so unsuspecting) to make use of the patent, which leads the troll to threaten a lawsuit, followed quickly by a relatively low-cost, nuisance value settlement proposal. I suppose the "troll" reference comes from fantasy literature - the troll as a creature who waits under or on a bridge, exacting tribute in exchange for the right to pass.

In the copyright context, the troll owns, either as a result of their own creation, or by acquisition, rights to a copyright protected work, usually a song, movie, book or piece of software. If their work is the subject of widespread unauthorized downloads, the trolls send out hundreds of demand letters, threatening suit for intentional copyright infringement and citing the maximum statutory recovery sum of $150,000, followed by a low-dollar settlement demand. This activity seems to be imitative of the infamous effort of the Recording Industry Association of American's to put a halt to illegal downloads by threatening costly copyright infringement suits, and offering to settle for $3500. In one article I saw, an elderly woman received such a threatening letter, apparently based on her having an unsecured wireless access point in her home, that someone else was using to download unauthorized content. Paying the settlement demand is often the path of least resistance, since hiring counsel to defend a case is usually more expensive than the amount demanded.

In addition to the obvious unfairness of this practice in those cases where the accused is ignorant of the use of their wireless portal, or even worse, is simply innocent, this practice has an even more pernicious impact. It is likely to have a negative impact in the hearts and minds battle to get people to stop violating copyright via unauthorized downloads and/or uploads. The content industries: music, movies and books face constant criticism that they are greedy and that their products are too high priced and deliver poor quality work - negative publicity about copyright troll abuses doesn't help.

And now for a shameless plug. My wife Kim Munson is a partner in a new company, Comic Art Productions and Exhibits, found at The company, working with app developer Toura, LLC., has launched a great app for IPad (and soon to be released on Android and IPhone as well) that explores the world of underground comix. The app is called Comix Classics for iPad, you can find it at; and it is described as:

"Experience —or re-live— the turbulent '60s and ‘70s with this brilliant collection of art from the era’s wild underground comix and graphic novel scene! Featuring: R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman and scores of others."

Now for the fun part - the ITunes store requires that you must be over 17 to buy the app, because it features the following: Infrequent/Mild Simulated Gambling; Frequent/Intense Sexual Content or Nudity; Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes; Frequent/Intense Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References; Frequent/Intense Cartoon or Fantasy Violence; Frequent/Intense Profanity or Crude Humor.

I can't imagine a better marketing campaign. Check it out - and if you're the first person to identify the speaker of the audio track narration, you'll win a prize!