Cory Doctorow on "Copyleft" Trolls

This makes for some dark reading…

It seems that for using Creative Commons 2.0 licenses the hole these trolls crawl through is that any non compliance of the terms of the license (meaning not attributing as specified) negates the license. Am I is reading this?

Here’s a supreme irony: the Creative Commons licenses were invented to enable a culture of legally safe sharing, spurred by the legal terror campaign waged by the entertainment industry, led by a literal criminal predator who is now in prison for sex crimes.

But because of a small oversight in old versions of the licenses created 12 years ago, a new generation of legal predator has emerged to wage a new campaign of legal terror.

To make matters worse, this new kind of predator specifically targets people who operate in good faith, only using materials that they explicitly have been given permission to use.

What a mess.

Please read and weigh in. Does this put an emphasis on the importance of attribution? Has anyone dealt with such trolls?

As Doctorow notes, most authors of CC licensed content might ask of someone who reused their content to fix the attribution. That’s human. But this seems like exploitation.

If you send threats instead of requests for correction, you are terrible person and you should feel really bad about yourself.

One might wonder if trolls will feel bad.

If you are not familiar with pixsy at first look it seems to be a tool for “going after” misuse of licensed content. I use it in conjunction with my Flickr Pro account and it does a spectacular job of reverse image searching for your own images.

Except all I do is to track where my photos are re-used and sometimes send messages of appreciation… not to “recover money”

This article is rather chilling…

Add a hat tip to @clintlalonde who shared this link with me.


Paul Pival aka “Distant Librarian” caught this story too and blogged about it:

He asks if it’s just version 2.0 of Creative Commons licenses provide the loophole exploited by “copyleft trolls” or if he has to worry about other versions (I can’t really answer myself).

Paul also asks for ways to search his own content to find reuse cases that would fall under the license problem.

Does anyone know of a tool that allows me to search a specific site for content that has any creative commons license? So I’m looking for something like that includes something like Google’s “site:” option. Bonus points if it could allow a search to be limited to content that applies a specific CC license!

I have heard from colleagues at another institution whose Pressbooks content were hit with the same threat Cory Doctorow described in the original article. They did some Google searches with constraints on the photographer’s name who was trolling and a limit on their domain, something like:

"Copyleft Troll"

Finding the possible reuse that would include a problematic license will hinge on the means by which you embedded and attributed the media. I’m consistent (not perfect) on my own blog, and tried a search on results within my domain that linked to the CC-BY 2.0 license (searches would be then needed for other licenses)


which mostly works. If it were me, I would try searches first within the software or content that runs my site (e.g. a search of posts within WordPress or a multi-file text search across the source of a static HTML site).

I would think someone else has more or better ideas. But what a mess this makes,


Just noticed that Creative Commons has posted a response Do not feed the trolls - Creative Commons

1 Like

Yes, but does it say much? “This is bad!” Much of this seems on flickr to take some action. I will go off to their forums and ask again.

Yes, there isn’t much about the specific troll in question. But there is more general information about the steps that CC and the wider community have taken to clarify that unintentional misuse of CC materials (like not attributing correctly) should not be the grounds for legal action Statement of Enforcement Principles - Creative Commons

FYI The saga goes on: An Open Letter to Pixsy CEO Kain Jones, Who Keeps Sending Me Legal Threats | by Cory Doctorow | Feb, 2022 | Medium

Discussed at HackerNews here.