Sanders Law Group and Its Infamous Legal Trolling Scam

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on February 10, 2023

If you have heard from Sanders Law Group, you probably do not have anything good to say about them. Why? Because they are infamous for their threatening complaints and opportunistic litigation aimed only at receiving a quick payday.

According to its website, the law firm, which is focused on copyright law, is “dedicated to protecting those whose copyrights have been violated and often lack the resources to protect themselves.” However, in many cases, those are the very type of people it targets with its legal trolling scam.

The firm also states, “We work on a contingency fee basis, meaning we don’t get paid unless and until you get paid.” That seems to be the motivation behind the firm’s strategy, which is sending a high volume of threatening emails to people who do not know any better, claiming infringement and demanding compensation.

Illegitimate Threats

The intent of the demand letters from New York-based Sanders Law Group seems to be to scare people into making a quick payment. It is something the firm does often, if you believe all of the people online that have been subject to the aggressive letters for around a decade.

However, if you take a close look at the letters, there are some things that do not quite add up. It starts with the firm’s template complaint letter alluding that any infringement was knowingly perpetrated.

“Your website [website name] has, knowingly without valid license or permission made commercial use of our client’s copyrighted material. Attached hereto for your reference are copies of the copyrighted material in question, along with your unauthorized usage on your website.”

However, within the same letter, the firm gives two options to avoid litigation, which are to provide a valid license or remove the copyrighted material and call their office to arrange a settlement. So, which is it? Did all of the people they sent their formulaic letter to knowingly use the material, or is the firm unsure? The odd contradiction makes it seem a lot like a fishing expedition using fear to force a response.

Drafted Legal Documents for Intimidation

To drive home the threat of legal action in the letter, Sanders Law Group includes a draft of the complaint they plan to file should there not be a “timely” response. They also inform recipients that should they not settle, they will seek maximum damages and that you might be responsible for paying legal costs and attorney’s fees.

However, there is little care taken in the drafting of the complaint, demonstrating that it is more a fill-in-the-blanks template to add pressure than anything ready to be sent to court.

An example is a letter sent to Cary Wiedemann in 2013 demanding compensation for copyright infringement. While the website contained no paid advertising and consisted almost entirely of user-generated content, it was full of statements such as these in the draft:

  • “This Court has personal jurisdiction over CARY WIEDEMANN because CARY WIEDEMANN purposely directs substantial activities at the residents of Virginia by means of the website described herein, and derives substantial revenue therefore.”
  • “The Website is monetized in that it contains paid advertisements. On information and belief, CARY WIEDEMANN profits from these activities.”
  • “On information and belief, CARY WIEDEMANN has received a financial benefit directly attributable to the Infringement. Specifically, by way of the Infringement, CARY WIEDEMANN increased traffic to the Website and, in turn, its advertising revenues and/or merchandise sales.”

Considering the truth about the site in question, it appears that Sanders Law Group sends out letters and drafts without doing much research. It is truly a case of quantity over quality, where scary numbers are used to distract those it goes after from everything else.

Sanders Law Group Wants Money

Out of everything included in the letter and drafted complaint, the damages are what put the most pressure on the average person. According to the firm, the statutory damages owed could be between $750 and $30,000 for each copyrighted work where there was infringement.

The letter additionally states that the damages could rise up to $150,000 per incidence of infringement if it was committed willingly. Considering the use of “knowingly,” the firm seems to allude to the higher damages.

Because of those massive and frightening numbers, many simply pay. However, those lofty demands are unlikely, if not outright ridiculous. While the price of photos varies, a license to publish individual photos ranges up to $1,000, and typical litigation damages are between $200 and $2,000.

Without proper knowledge, someone might end up giving in to the threats under fear of a much larger number and end up paying more than they would have had to otherwise. But that is precisely why so-called “copyright trolls” are known for targeting a large number of people and focusing on those without knowledge of the law or legal representation.

They “Inform” You of Your Rights

Another thing Sanders Law Group does is “inform” you of your rights. Though, it might be more apt to say those threatened are informed of their lack of rights. It is done in the form of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that spell out doom and gloom to make it seem like an open-and-shut issue.

The FAQs tells the recipient of the letter about all the ways they are liable, even going so far as to inform people that “royalty free” images are not, in fact, free. While it is true that not every royalty free image can be used without paying a one-time fee, there are free images available online for anyone to use, which are commonly given the label of “royalty free.”

However, while they give a thorough rundown of all the instances you are liable, they fail to mention applicable defenses where you might not be liable, such as fair use and de minimis use. It makes a strong case for contacting them or settling, especially to someone feeling trapped and afraid of facing legal action.

Inheriting the Legacy of a Famous “Copyright Troll”

Legal trolling scams are not uncommon, nor are copyright trolls. And while there are plenty of critics who argue that the tactics used by copyright trolls are abusive and often target individuals who may not have engaged in infringing activity or have the resources to defend themselves in court, it still happens.

One of the most famous examples is Richard Liebowitz, someone courts specifically called a “copyright troll” because of his actions of filing thousands of low-value copyright infringement complaints.

Liebowitz was sanctioned for misconduct multiple times and later indefinitely suspended by the New York Appellate Division. Criticisms of Liebowitz included a Manhattan federal judge saying he “made a mockery of orderly litigation processes.”

However, while Richard Liebowitz was suspended, there is an heir to his legacy in Sanders Law Group, who acquired Liebowitz Law Firm and took over operations as of January 2022. Richard’s sister, Rebecca Liebowitz, even holds a position as an associate at Sanders Law Group.

What Should You Do?

If you receive a letter demanding money from Sanders Law Group, you should not ignore it. According to Darren Heitner of Heitner Legal, ignoring the letter is likely to result in Sanders Law Group initiating a lawsuit, which could end up costing you a significant amount of money.

Instead, you proactively hire representation to advise you on next steps or correspond on your behalf. In many cases, it will save you a lot of money and potentially help end the situation. Ultimately, while there is no reason to be scared of this legal trolling scam, you do not want to take it lightly, either.

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Spencer Hulse is the Editorial Director at Grit Daily. He is responsible for overseeing other editors and writers, day-to-day operations, and covering breaking news.

Read more

More GD News