New Copyright Trolling Operation Lowers The Settlement Demands And Calls Them Fines To Improve Conversion Rate

from the devious-trolls dept

As much more attention has been brought to copyright trolls and the unethical manner in which they operate, it was inevitable that the tactics of the trolls would begin to shift. For some of us, it was immediately obvious what a PR problem these trolling operations faced. It all comes down to the "settlements" offered in a copyright troll's letters. The amounts, while designed to look small compared with the threat of a lawsuit, still tend to be quite high. Certainly the amounts make no sense when compared with the costs of simply viewing a movie or television show, which is the natural standard that lay person is likely to set. For that reason, some trolls, such as RightsCorp, have already started down the path of lowering settlement offers to levels that are more likely to cause the accused to simply pay up. Also, the fact that these letters, with all of their threatening language, even refer to the offers as "settlements" rings much closer to extra-judicial extortion than anything resembling justice.

Well, it seems that one copyright troll is attempting to correct against both of these concerns. Rights Enforcement, contracted by the studio behind the movie The Hitman's Bodyguard, is sending out letters to those it claims pirated the film with a much-reduced amount of money requested. And these requests are being called "fines" as opposed to "settlements."

Rights Enforcement sends automated ‘fines’ via DMCA notices, which is cheaper than expensive lawsuits. At the same time, this also makes the settlement process easier to scale, as they can send out tens of thousands of ‘fines’ at once with limited resources, without any oversight from a court.

TorrentFreak has seen several notices targeted at The Hitman’s Bodyguard pirates. While the notices themselves don’t list the settlement fee, recipients are referred to a page that does. Those who admit guilt are asked to pay a $300 settlement fee.

Beyond those changes, the letters are classic copyright trolling dreck. The letters are sent out on the basis of an IP address being associated with the torrenting of the film, with threats of a lawsuit still in the text. It then sends the recipient to a site where the accused offender can pay the fine -- although on that site, it refers to the "fine" as a "settlement" -- and also includes a link to where the accused can find legal representation. Legal representation that will, of course, easily cost more than the $300 fine.

The notice also kindly mentions that the recipients can contact an attorney for legal advice. However, after an hour or two a legal bill will have exceeded the proposed settlement amount, so for many this isn’t really an option.

It’s quite a clever scheme. Although most people probably won’t be sued for ignoring a notice, there’s always the possibility that they will. Especially since Rights Enforcement is linked to some of the most prolific copyright trolls.

It's not so much a reworking of the copyright troll's business model as much as it is one troll attempting to refine its process and fee structure to maximize its conversion rate. While that sounds like any business, it's worth noting that these letters are ostensibly about a harmed party looking for justice. The threats of lawsuits are, if not entirely empty, certainly not the desired outcome for the trolling operation. Any such lawsuit would cost the rights holder far more than it wants to spend.

It's still extra-judicial extortion of a kind, in other words. It's just a cheaper form of it, with a little clever wording thrown in to boot.


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2017 @ 8:11pm

    It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

    Intellectual property is STILL property that someone worked to create and arrange, and if take it without paying that person:^^^

    Yet again, just because it's difficult to find and prosecute you sleazy little pirates, that doesn't make piracy okay, any more than if you're a sneak thief yet to be caught.

    You sneaky little pirates addicted to mindless entertainments are lower than lawyers, and I don't write that casually.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2017 @ 8:17pm

      Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

      Yawn.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Oct 2017 @ 8:31pm

      Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

      I would insult you, but that would imply you are worth it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2017 @ 8:54pm

        Re: Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

        This comment suggests that it’s author closely identifies with the persons being criticized in the original comment. It is much too personal to believe otherwise.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Oct 2017 @ 8:59pm

          Re: Re: Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

          So what?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Wendy Cockcroft, 19 Oct 2017 @ 5:52am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

            Every single person I've ever met who makes the "Copyright infringement is theft" argument is a failed performer or author of some description. Basically, they're hyper-protective of their work so few of us actually know about them, then they whine that the reason they're not rich 'n famous is because of teh eeevilll p1rates!

            Every. Single. Person. Every. Single. Time.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Minister of Emergency Situations (profile), 5 Nov 2017 @ 6:51am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

              Really? Okay.... For the sake of rounding out your universe, allow me to introduce myself. I'm your black swan. Not a failed performed or author "of some description"; not a successful one either.

              As you are no doubt aware, copyright infringement describes a nearly limitless variety of scenarios and some are unarguably more egregious and intentional than others. (For example, Stephanie Lenz could reasonably embody one end of the spectrum and at the other end... I'm not certain, but media piracy rings and their leadership would probably fit the bill.)

              I believe that a time-limited strictly enforceable protection for original creative expressions is a good thing. I want that to exist and I am glad that it generally does. I believe that private property rights are important and that intellectual property should be included in that word's definition.

              Just as stealing a candy bar from CVS is theft, so too is robbing a bank. Just as Lenz didn't intentionally have Prince music playing I think that an honest person can accidentally steal a candy bar by absent-mindedly putting it in their pocket or something and not realizing until later. Do I think the thief did something terrible? No! Did they steal? Yeah.

              I'm not sure how I feel about the provision for statutory damages in copyright infringement cases, but even in that framework the mandatory damages have a range. Lots of people know about the $150,000 maximum penalty per infringement (plus attorney's fees). It's pretty wild. But fewer people talk about the existence of a minimum: which is $250. That's a big difference, and arguably the legal system also recognizes that theft may be an accurate word in describing what's happening at both ends of the spectrum but there's a tremendous amount of nuance in there which you are obscuring by putting everyone in the same basket.

              Do you engage in piracy of music / software / film / books / porn / etc.?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2017 @ 9:01pm

      Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

      When you are trying to make a point, it helps if you understand what the words you use mean.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2017 @ 9:12pm

      Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

      John Steele getting arrested really pisses you off, doesn't it?

      If your team was serious about finding and prosecuting pirates you wouldn't rely on scumbag lawyers to lead your protection racket. Instead you harass whichever kid or grandma puts up the least resistance for a cash grab.

      But hey, you're the jackass that will cozy up to sexual harassers just to take a shot at Techdirt. That says a lot about who's the low one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 17 Oct 2017 @ 9:26pm

      Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

      Paid troll is paid to miss the point.

      The "rights enforcement" companies have a well-earned reputation for scamming seniors. Including one I know in an old folks home. No Wi-Fi, no-one but him using his internet connection. Doesn't know what Bittorrent is, and no trace of it on his PC. Never heard of the show he was accused of downloading. But he still received settlement demands.

      IP addresses can easily be faked. A decade ago people were demonstrating how even the IP addresses of laser printers can receive a stream of copyright troll accusations. Only the most dishonest scammer would send out legal threats equating an IP address with a specific person.

      P.S. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt in assuming that you're a paid troll. To insinuate that you're unpaid - or that you believe what you write - would be a grave insult to your intelligence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2017 @ 5:13am

      Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

      Explain why it is films that do less than spectacularly well that become the ones that are the basis for demanding money with menaces. One would think that campaigns like this are an attempt to make up the difference between projected an actual income.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Richard (profile), 18 Oct 2017 @ 5:13am

      Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

      It's still theft of a kind, in other words. Intellectual property is STILL property that someone worked to create and arrange,

      It isn't property. Intellectual property is a term invented by people like you to obscure the fact that it has no legal standing.

      Legally there are copyrights, there are patents and there are trademarks. Each of these is a quite separate concept and none of them resembles ordinary property at more than a very superficial level.

      In order to actually steal a copyright you would need to divert the entire revenue stream to yourself.

      Simply violating the copyright is way short of that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 18 Oct 2017 @ 5:24am

      Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

      ...and these fraud and extortion rackets are still worse than anyone who copied a movie, leaving the original intact, especially as they often target people who have done no such thing.

      But, you’ll defend any criminal activity to defend corporate profits, won’t you? Forget you lying about the meaning of words, you support things far more immoral than the lies you’ll pretend represent the views of others.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2017 @ 5:51am

      Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

      All your intellectual property are belong to us.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2017 @ 8:39am

      Re: It's still theft of a kind, in other words.

      /s

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SJD, 17 Oct 2017 @ 8:24pm

    It is not really new: this outfit operates since last December, and it is a brainchild of no one else but infamous Carl Crowell (together with Guardaley). Judges' routinely sever Does from multi-defendant cases, and single-defendant non-porn cases are not profitable. Hence the troll had to adapt.

    While this outfit is similar to Rightscorp and CEG TEK, there is a major difference: those two are toothless as their threats are empty. Crowell, on the other hand does not hesitate to file lawsuits against a couple of victims who refused to pay ransom. While the probability of being pursued legally is rather low, it is not zero like with the Rightscorp/CEGTEK racket.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 17 Oct 2017 @ 8:30pm

    "Putting a dress on a tank doesn't hide the fact that it's still a tank."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 17 Oct 2017 @ 9:25pm

    If you or I were to shotgun out unsolicited letters to strangers designed to intentionally deceive the recipient into thinking they owe us money, that's a scam, but when done in the holy name of IP, suddenly it's a-ok.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    takitus (profile), 17 Oct 2017 @ 9:30pm

    Fines vs. settlements

    I’d imagine most people think of a “fine” as something they’re required (by a government or other authority) to pay as a form of punishment, whereas a settlement suggests a negotiated, voluntary agreement between parties. By replacing the latter term with the former, these letters suggest that the recipient has already been tried and found guilty.

    I’m sure this choice of language was completely accidental…

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2017 @ 1:49am

    It's not so much a reworking of the copyright troll's business model as much as it is one troll attempting to refine its process and fee structure to maximize its conversion rate.

    Just like the Nigerian princes then.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 18 Oct 2017 @ 3:06am

    While this is an improvement over 'pay us or we tell the neighbors you steal porn' its still scummy.

    Its a pity that a large group of seniors are to scared to mention the "fines" to their elected leaders. Imagine a bunch of pissed off old people with plenty of time to write letters & call their Congress persons...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2017 @ 6:12am

    A fine? .. like resulting from a criminal case brought by the state?

    I don't think so - They lack authority and jurisdiction.

    I expect a quick smack down of these fools by the AG ... oh wait a sec, that spineless ass wont do anything!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2017 @ 8:22am

      Re:

      Yeah, calling it a "fine" is borderline fraud. It's one step short of the people who send "invoices" for things people haven't bought yet.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2017 @ 3:58pm

        Re: Re:

        If you make the paper light blue and the text stating that it's just an invoice a light yellow most people will never even notice the text saying it's not an invoice...

        not that I would ever do something like that, but I do recall seeing several (phone book advertising was a big market for this type of scam).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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