Righthaven: New Troll Under the Copyright Bridge
Bloggers and Webmasters beware: The litigation company Righthaven LLC has been causing a stir since its inception in March with 117 copyright infringement suits, and counting. The latest is against politician Sharron Angle, who's running for the US Senate in Nevada.
Righthaven was founded by Las Vegas attorney Steven Gibson, in partnership with investment banking millionaire Warren Stephens of Stephens Media, with the sole intention of suing bloggers, Internet authors, and commentators who reproduce articles online without permission. Righthaven is known in some circles as a copyright troll, where the business model is a simple, three-stage approach: Troll the Internet for newspaper articles, buy the copyright to the article, then sue for copyright infringement.
This approach tracks closely with similar legal action undertaken in the music, movie, and patent industries. Righthaven's clientele from newspaper partnerships and the copyrights it's buying are growing daily, although lawsuits so far have been limited to content from the Las Vegas Review-Journal part of the Stephens Media group and the largest of Nevada's newspapers.
Righthaven has won the attention of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which vows to defend bloggers in court. The EFF is up in arms on several fronts. The EFF is up in arms on several fronts. It takes a dim view of this sort of litigation, claiming it hurts free speech and fair use. EFF also believes it's an abuse of the legal system, with the plaintiff's overreaching petitions that ask the court to transfer control of the offending domains to Righthaven.
A rival newspaper, the Las Vegas Sun, has been tracking the controversy, giving voice to Righthaven's defendants, such as the case against Angle. The Sun is critical of the way Righthaven has picked its prey -- typically political bloggers, sports betting Websites, and others -- in its bids to recover $75,000 or $150,000in damages.
Everybody's fair game, including self-proclaimed copyright infringer Colleen Lynn. "I doubt our documenting the deaths of 30 people a year by dog attacks is hurting newspapers' revenue," she told the Sun. Lynn is one of many who are starting Websites in support of victims or simply giving advice.
No one from Righthaven responded to requests for comment and perspective for this blog.
Righthaven's strategy derives from a loophole in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, giving it the license to instigate lawsuits against non-compliant offenders. No cease-and-desist notice is required if a Webmaster or blogger has not filed a safe harbor form at the US Copyright Office. Even then, the Webmaster must declare this information on the Website along with a contact phone number.
"If you run a blog or a website YOU NEED TO REGISTER YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION with the United States Copyright Office ASAP!" advises this message board posting on Godlike Productions.
And it's good advice, given that other copyright trolls are expected to follow in Righthaven's footsteps, suing bloggers and Webmasters for even partial use of articles, not just whole article reproduction, or whether there is full attribution or links to the original article. If allowed to continue, this sort of litigiousness will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the richness of Web content. None of that bodes well for the future of blogging or the diversity of content on the Web.
by jart armin