Judge Takes Dim View of Righthaven

Court rules against copyright litigation firm, with the admonishment that its business model is more about filing suits than protecting publishers

A newspaper publisher’s copyright attack dog got a swat on the nose last week. Righthaven LLC has filed over 250 infringement lawsuits in Nevada, Colorado, and California on behalf of Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Denver Post, and other newspapers.

But a federal judge has declined to indulge its latest episode of copyright trolling, ruling that 100 percent reproduction of an article for a website falls under fair use.

Righthaven charged the Center for Intercultural Organization, a not-for-profit group, with stealing its intellectual property when it blogged a story about cops targeting minorities, reposting it in full. Nevada Judge James C. Mahan was unsympathetic. Mahan ruled that because the website posted the article for informational purposes, and it was too complicated to synthesize into a shorter format, there was no infringement.

Taking things a step further, the judge also took issue with Righthaven’s business model, which he characterized as having more to do with lawsuits than publishing. “Although the former owner, the LVRJ, used the article for news reporting, the court focuses on the current copyright owner’s use, which, at this juncture, has been shown to be nothing more than litigation driven,” he wrote.

Righthaven, established just last year, buys up the copyright to articles and then sues for unauthorized use. The company, which was spun out of Stephens Media, the publisher of more than 30 newspapers beside the Review-Journal, so far has successfully sued autistic blogger Brian Hill, Republican senate candidate Sharron Angle, and cat blogger Allegra Wong, among others, all for infringement.

But this latest decision could embolden the other defendants to put up a fight rather than buckle under expensive litigation. Steve Gibson, the CEO of Righthaven, says that though his company respects the judge’s decision–several of its cases sit before him–he vowed to appeal. “Shouldn’t content creators have the right to say how their content is reproduced?” he asked.

Maybe someone should sue him for posing such an unoriginal question.

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