Content Farms & Internet Trolls

Content farms are websites that try to attract viewers and improve its ranking in Google searches by publishing large amounts of low quality content or content that has been copied from other websites. The eventual aim of content farming is to translate internet viewers into advertisement revenue.

Copyright trolling is the process of enforcing copyrights primarily for purpose of making money through litigation. The pejorative term, copyright troll is used to distinguish traditional copyright enforcement, initiated by the intellectual property owner and/or creator, from third-parties that have acquired a license to enforce another’s copyright, for their own financial gain.

Copyright trolls have been around almost as long as copyrights have. Per Wikipedia, in the 1800s, Harry Wall pursued copyright damages on behalf of performance artist, some which were sometimes deceased. Modern examples include the case of the magazine, Perfect 10 versus Google. Perfect 10 attempted to exploit a loophole in Google’s image search algorithm.

On the Media is an NPR news show that first linked these two internet terms, at least for me. They had an article that discussed the linkage between a copyright owner and a law firm that was licensed to litigate that copyright.  According to Bob Garfield, of On the Media, this is how it works:

Newspaper publishers like Stephens Media, owner of The Las Vegas Review Journal or Media News, owner of The Denver Post, agree to work with Righthaven. They sell some copyrights on their articles to Righthaven, which then trawls the Web looking for people who have posted all or part of copyrighted content online. Righthaven then sues those people, usually for 150,000 dollars, plus it often demands the infringing party give the entire site over to Righthaven. No warning letter, no takedown request, just a lawsuit.

Righthaven has primarily targeted mom and pop websites. It hits them with their lawsuits and most often settles for a tenth of the amount. Righthaven continues to add new newspaper publishing companies to its portfolio. The relationship between Righthaven and the media companies has not been fully disclosed, but it seems likely that Righthaven is creating a revenue stream for the newspapers.

When I first heard about Righthaven and what it was doing, I did have some feelings of trepidation. I publish my words and photos, plus those of my contributors. I do quote other sources, for example On the Media, but I reference them and only make limited quotes. I understand this to be fair use. This blog is certainly no content farm. I felt additional trepidation while writing this post. What if Righthaven finds this post and takes punitive action? Should I publish this post? My feelings of trepidation soon turned to anger though. This is supposed to be a free country. I should be able to express my opinions, in a public manner. That is what freedom of speech is about. So, I wrote this post.

1 thought on “Content Farms & Internet Trolls

  1. Good post. I am very much in favor of authors or artists being paid royalties for use of their work, but I feel it needs to be limited in some respects. If the entity in question isn’t using an artist’s work to make money and the artist is properly cited (in today’s Internet, a hyperlink back to the artist’s web site should be sufficient) then I don’t see a problem. In that case it’s really free advertising for the author or artist.

    An example that is particularly interesting to me, since I play in local bands, is the stance on bands playing “cover songs”. For example, the Jive and Wail piano bar recently had a lawsuit filed against it for not paying artist royalties to ASCAP/BMI. However, in that case, the performers and the bar are both compensated for playing those specific songs, so I feel the artists are justified in receiving royalties. However, if my band plays a free show at a bar and we don’t get paid, where is the harm in playing a cover song? We are not making money from playing the song, and the bar is not charging anyone to listen to the song. Yet some venues have enacted a “no covers” policy because they are afraid of a Jive-and-Wail-type lawsuit. Better determination of the limits of this type of copyright infringement/enforcement would be very welcome.

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