How to Avoid Falling Prey to Copyright Trolls

Dave Snyder


November 13, 2012 (Updated: May 4, 2023)

Image mockup of "Copyright" on a computer screen, woman looking at a computer screen.

What do you have in common with a fearless romance novelist and BuzzFeed? Both have or will soon fall prey to Copyright Trolls.

 Copyright Trolls are Intellectual Property attorneys that scavenge the Internet in search of entities to sue over misuse of copyrighted material. As a struggling creator, these mercenaries may sound like knights in shining armor. They’re not. Most serve dark, corporate, IP hoarders that care more about extracting super-sized settlements than protecting artists’ rights. And 98% of their victims do not knowingly infringe on copyrighted material.

How Are You at Risk?

As romance novelist, Roni Loren, points out in her story, every blogger is guilty: Need an eye-popping image for your blog post? Google Image search it, cut it, paste it, attribute it. Careless interns are guilty of the same approach when aggregating viral content.

If your site or social portal is hosting material not owned by you or protected under an appropriate level of Creative Commons, its only a mater of time before you’re slapped with an expensive lawsuit from a Copyright Troll.

How To Protect Against Copyright Trolls

The best protection is to abstain from misusing copyrighted material. Avoiding media all together is not a practical solution. So, you have three options:

  1. Post material created by your company
  2. Post stock material with licensing owned by your company
  3. Post material shared under Creative Commons.

While options 1 and 2 are preferable, your company may lack the resources and time. So, that leaves option 3: Creative Commons. CC has 6 levels of access. Just because something falls under CC regulation does not make it fair game. In order to be protected, you must use the material in accordance with granted access. Below are the six levels of access, listed in order of increasing restrictiveness:

Where Are the Best Places To Get CC Images and Videos?


Flickr is probably one of the largest containers of CC images. When searching Flickr, use advanced settings to find CC-licensed content.


According to PhotoBucket’s terms, any image or video shared with the public is fair game, as long as you’re not using it for commercial purposes (such as using it to depict something you’re selling).


According to Instagram’s terms, all photos are owned by Instagram users. So, permission to use photos must be granted by the respective owner. Enter:

I-AM-CC is a platform that shares access to all Creative Common Instagram photos. The search function is a bit clunky. But I anticipate an enterprising developer will simplify the search feature soon (as long as Zuckerberg does not poop on my dream). In the meantime, go to I-Am-CC and share the collective love by Ccing your photos.


YouTube allows embedding of videos into outside platforms. It is that bunch of code found after clicking the “share” and “embed” button. If “embed” does not appear, that means it is not allowed. YouTube also has a Creative Commons search filter. A creative way to use Creative Commons videos is to take a screenshot of paused scenes from the video and use as an image.

Avoiding expensive, drawn-out battles over copyrighted material boils down to being smart about where you find your images and video. As long as you exercise creativity within CC guidelines, you’ll never have to endure a battle with a Copyright Troll.

What other ways have you legally found great images and videos?

Author Image - Dave Snyder
Dave Snyder

CopyPress writer

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