News Editor Copyright Trolls Pirating Political Party – and Gets Paid

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To draw attention to "broken" copyright law, the editor of a popular news site turned the tables on a leading German political party. Finding the government's Social Democratic Party using a Creative Commons work without permission, he sent them a troll-style settlement demand - and got paid.

cc-logoOver the past few years the copyright troll industry has grown from a few scattered companies trying to earn a few extra bucks into a huge machine with some very big players.

The business is now widespread in the United States, is spreading into Canada and has been present in Europe for many years, Germany feeling the most pain. It seems fitting, then, that the government there should feel what it’s like to become a victim of an aggressive copyright holder.

Sebastian Heiser is an editor at popular news resource Taz.de. Back in 2005 he attended a panel where he took a photograph of Manfred Stolpe, a politician with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), part of the current coalition government.

So that anyone could enjoy his work, Heiser uploaded his photo to Wikipedia with just two Creative Commons CC-BY-SA conditions – the creator must be mentioned along with the fact the image is available under a free license.

The SPD, however, didn’t feel bound by these minor restrictions, republishing Heiser’s work on netzwerkberlin.de and manfred-stolpe.de without the correct attribution.

“Usually it does not bother me when other people distribute my text or images. If it still bothers me sometimes, I write a friendly e-mail or pick up the phone,” Heiser explains.

But this case was different. Heiser saw an opportunity to turn the tables on the SPD, a party he believes is at least partly responsible for the “broken” copyright situation in Germany today. Why shouldn’t they suffer like everyone else?

Mirroring the behavior of the trolls that have flourished under German copyright law, Heiser hired himself a lawyer who formulated a suitable threatening letter with the aim of getting compensation from SPD. Heiser asked them to declare for how long they had been infringing his rights, requested payment equivalent to that of an appropriate license to use the content, and doubled them up for failing to attribute him correctly. Of course, there would be legal fees on top.

Perhaps surprisingly, without any fight Heiser received a letter back stating that copyright is important to SPD and as such they were willing to obey the law – and pay the ‘fine’.

“After some back and forth, because there were two images on the two websites, 1,800 euros was remitted to me,” Heiser says. However, according to Heiser, things have not reached a happy conclusion.

Underlining the state of today’s “great copyright”, of the 1,800 euros paid ($2,497) Heiser only pocketed 696 euros ($965) since the remaining 1,104 euros ($1,531) went into his lawyer’s bank acccount. Of course, SPD would’ve had to pay legal fees too, estimated at another 1,100 euros.

Total outlay 2,900 euros ($4,023). Amount paid to copyright holder – less than a quarter of that.

Heiser signs off with a call for SPD to fix the copyright situation, with a minimum requirement that the party understands it in future, and with artists getting paid more than lawyers.

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