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Loyola University Chicago

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Faculty Research

Bringing visibility to predatory litigation

When Professor Matthew Sag and recent Loyola law graduate Jake Haskell (JD ’16) decided to work together on a public interest research project about predatory litigation and copyright trolling, they did not expect that their paper would go viral. Their law review article, “Defense Against the Dark Arts of Copyright Trolling,” was listed on the Social Science Research Network’s (SSRN), a website devoted to the dissemination of scholarly research in the areas of social sciences and humanities, as its top paper the week of May 22, 2017, with more than 4,000 downloads. It was also recently featured on several copyright blogs and websites.

Lawsuits targeting anonymous defendants accused of illegal file sharing have transformed the copyright litigation landscape over the past few years. Although these “copyright trolling” lawsuits account for about half of all copyright litigation, the phenomenon has garnered relatively little attention. Sag has written about how various aspects of copyright law, such as statutory damages, and civil procedure rules about joinder, have enable copyright trolling. His article with Haskell has further increased visibility of this emerging predatory litigation trend.

“Ordinary working people are coerced into settling meritless or mistargeted copyright trolling suits because few lawyers are willing or able to take on these cases,” says Sag, a member of Loyola’s full-time law faculty who focuses his research on intellectual property and the relationship between law and technology. “The goal of our paper was to level the playing field by exposing the tactics and weaknesses of the typical copyright troll.”

Haskell took Sag’s Copyright course while he was a law student at Loyola, and then worked on the paper with Sag last fall after passing the Illinois bar exam. Sag and Haskell say that those most affected by predatory litigation are vulnerable members of society—low income men and women who are unfamiliar or wary of the court system.

“Our goal was to cut through most of the technical goop that permeates file-sharing cases and get to the heart of the issue so that even attorneys unfamiliar with copyright law and intimidated by internet jargon could get involved,” says Haskell, who is an associate at the firm Arce Stark Law. “Professor Sag wanted to show a clear roadmap of the courts’ position on the issues, and I wanted to work on countering trolls’ typical arguments. We are pleased that so many people took note of our paper, and that we are making an impact on a legal trend that preys upon the defenseless.”

The paper will be published in 2018 in the Iowa Law Review.

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