In early 2010, a brand-new company named Righthaven began cutting deals with newspapers by promising to safeguard their content online. Said protection consists of suing anyone and everything for so-called copyright infringement, even in situations where no sane judge would rule infringement had taken place. Now the tables have turned; Righthaven is facing a class-action lawsuit brought by the 57 Colorado-based companies it's sued for infringement. (As of this writing, Righthaven has sued a total of 275 bloggers, news sites, and reporters).
The list of abuses Righthaven has perpetrated would make the RIAA
proud. The firm has sued non-profit organizations, bloggers—some with tiny audiences—and websites that dare to report on its activities. The company was launched by the Las Vegas Review Journal, which makes no apologies for the firm's RIAA-style of diplomacy. In a response to a reader criticism, columnist Vin Suprymowicz wrote:
I don't think I will miss you. I have a far lower opinion of thieves than you appear to have. In fact, watching them copy my columns while interpolating their own content and pretending it's mine, watching them throw small merchants on the verge of bankruptcy by switching price tags and otherwise stealing merchandise below cost, I hate them with a passion. Lawsuits? They should have their goddamned hands cut off and nailed to the wall of City Hall.
Given a choice between getting nailed in City Hall and in front of Alan Greenspan, we'd pick City Hall every single time.
Righthaven's strategy has met with limited success thus far, but that hasn't stopped the company from demanding even more ridiculous forms of compensation. Last December, the firm asked a judge to hand it DrudgeReport.com as fair punishment after DR uploaded a photo that originally ran in the Denver Post. The firm even sued
Ars Technica, claiming that an image the site ran as part of a story infringed on the Denver Post's copyright. Righthaven's legal beagles eventually withdrew the suit, claiming it was mistakenly filed due to a clerical error.
Here's a screen cap of a screen cap of a legal filing regarding a photo published by a website that originally ran in the Denver Post.
Happily, the tables are turning. The new class-action suit notes that the defendants "are victims of extortion litigation by Righthaven, which has made such extortion litigation a part of its, if not its entire, business model." Righthaven is further charged with a failure to perform due diligence (the Ars suit mentioned above was withdrawn when Righthaven realized it was suing a reporter), falsely claiming to own copyrights it did not possess, and threatening to seize domain names. The Copyright Act does not allow for such seizure in the event of infringement, making this nothing but a scare tactic designed to scare people into settlements.
Righthaven has settled a few cases here and there, but there are strong signs that the judicial noose is tightening. A federal judge in Las Vegas recently ruled that the copyright troll has no right to sue on behalf of the Review Journal; the question of whether or not Righthaven can sue on behalf of the Denver Post is still under discussion.
The CEO of the LVRJ, Sherm Franklin, claims Righthaven's actions are vital to keeping the publication afloat. In a response to reader criticism, he writes:
Perhaps you believe that a news organization that spends millions of dollars per year generating its unique news content has no ownership right to that content, despite the copyright laws, and is legally required to just continue as a money-losing philanthropic venture for another year or two before closing its doors in bankruptcy.
If so, your opinions about property rights differ from mine. It's not clear to me whether you are then volunteering to make good said closing newspapers' losses out of your own pocket, or whether you simply believe the country would be better off if we had no more credible professional news gathering companies, allowing the "bloggers" to simply parrot each other's rumors and inventions
We sympathize with Franklin's frustration and agree that only a small handful of bloggers are good journalists (not counting journalists who have blogs). There is, however, no putting the genie back in the bottle.
Image copyright of Despair.com
The Internet continues to reshape the face of content generation and consumption; chasing everyone away from the NVRJ's content isn't going to preserve the paper's revenue. It may, in fact, make things worse. Without the redirects and attributed links that are the lifeblood of online news, the NVRJ may eventually wither in the Mojave desert. For better or worse, the Internet has destroyed the walled content gardens print publishing made possible. We agree that sources should always be properly attributed, but Righthaven's misguided attempts to collect revenue at gunpoint are doomed to failure.