Fighting Image Piracy or Copyright Trolling? An Empirical Study of Photography Copyright Infringement Lawsuits

Albany Law Review, Vol. 86 (Forthcoming)

98 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2022

See all articles by Melissa Eckhause

Melissa Eckhause

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law

Date Written: June 2, 2022

Abstract

In the last five years, there has been an explosion of lawsuits alleging the copyright infringement of a digital image. Image piracy is on the rise because digital photography and the internet have enabled users to copy a photo with a simple right-click of the mouse. One study found that in 2018, approximately 2.5 billion images were used without authorization per day on the internet. Nonetheless, many photographers do not bother to file a lawsuit when their images are taken because they do not have the resources or time to pursue litigation, and even if they win, the damages they receive may not be worth the effort. When photographers do file lawsuits, they often are met with accusations that they are copyright trolls out to extract settlements worth far more than their images.

This Article examines over 1,100 image infringement lawsuits that were filed between March 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, and analyzes the nature of the complaints. By studying the who, what, where, why, and how of image infringement, the Article seeks to shed light on the question of whether these lawsuits are being brought by copyright trolls and amateurs out to make a quick buck or legitimately aggrieved photographers trying to protect their copyrighted works and livelihood. It also tries to devise solutions to prevent copyright infringement. This is the first article to use empirical research to analyze the nature of image copyright infringement claims, and it provides insight into the types of claims that may be filed before the Copyright Claims Board.

Keywords: photography, copyright, infringement, empirical, images

Suggested Citation

Eckhause, Melissa, Fighting Image Piracy or Copyright Trolling? An Empirical Study of Photography Copyright Infringement Lawsuits (June 2, 2022). Albany Law Review, Vol. 86 (Forthcoming), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4126676 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4126676

Melissa Eckhause (Contact Author)

University of Detroit Mercy School of Law ( email )

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