Have you ever received an email that goes something like this:

My name is Jennifer Doe of Doe Law Office. Your website or a website that your company hosts is infringing on copyright-protected images owned by my client.

Please view this document with the links to my client’s images that were used at www.yourwebsitehere.com and the client’s earlier publications where you can see the evidence of their establishment of copyrights…

The email will go on to list websites of reference and possibly quote statues of federal law that have been violated. Sometimes these emails refer to a website, but they can also reference product packaging, marketing materials or even logo designs. Whatever the item, the accusatory tone can be alarming. And sometimes it should be.

Is it SPAM or a real threat?

While many of these emails come from illegitimate sources without any true claim to your marks, patent and copyright “trolls” are out there, watching the market for products that appear to infringe the rights of third parties. These people, sometimes attorneys and sometimes consulting firms, send a letter asserting these rights, and demanding payment and threatening to shut down your website. But do they have the right to do this?

The Rights of Intellectual Property Owners

Whenever I hear the word “troll,” I think of the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. The goats are simply trying to cross the bridge when they encounter the troll who lives under the bridge. He demands compensation before he allows the goats to cross, but because of his greed, the clever goats are able to outwit him. 

As unpopular as these business “trolls” are, they are performing a service on behalf of the owners of the intellectual property. The owners have the right to stop unauthorized use of their intellectual property. However, the manner in which these companies operate doesn’t always appear above board. They demand enormous amounts of money, and threaten litigation if their demands are not met. 

If you receive a communication from one of these businesses, DO NOT ignore it! Failing to respond will prompt them to file suit, and you might find yourself in costly litigation.  The first thing to do is remove the allegedly infringing item from your site. If the infringement claim is valid, you can mitigate any potential damages by your quick action. 

Then, advise the company that the alleged infringement has stopped. In some instances, this is sufficient to satisfy the owner, and the matter will go away.  But if the company continues to make threats, don’t simply pay the demanded price. Contact a qualified copyright or trademark attorney to help with negotiations. You need someone on your side with experience and knowledge about how to overcome their unreasonable fees.

Don’t give in to the trolls! We’ve crossed this bridge many times for clients, so feel free to reach out to us with questions and protect your business.