March 15, 2012

Legal victory over copyright shysters Righthaven


A notorious copyright trolling firm has been resoundingly smacked down in court, much to the delight of bloggers. Righthaven was established in 2010 with the sinister aim of suing bloggers and other online writers — even users of forums — for using content from their partner newspapers without permission. Their services were engaged by the Denver Post and by Stephens Media, publisher of The Las Vegas Review-Journal, which also invested $500,000 in the company at start-up. They filed hundreds of cases, most of which were settled out of court — just as Righthaven must have anticipated, given the prohibitive costs of court battles and defendants’ fear of the possible $150,000 bill per case of copyright infringement.

The tables began to turn on the shysters a while ago, though, with several defendants taking the cases to court and winning, either because the contested usage was deemed to fall under fair usage guidelines or because Righthaven was not found to own rights in the material. Most significant among Righthaven’s losses was the Hoehn case, in which, last June, Wayne Hoehn successfully defended his having posted an article from the Review-Journal to a small message forum. Hoehn was awarded attorneys’ fees and costs to the tune of $34,045.50, which Righthaven did not pay. In dire straits financially, they were forced to auction their domain name last year, raising $3000 towards the legal bill.

In a final, oh-so-sweet piece of justice, a case notice was filed on Tuesday ordering the forfeit of all of Righthaven’s “intellectual property and intangible property”; the properties will be auctioned to pay for the firm’s legal bills.

What this actually means is that, having signed rights away to Righthaven at the beginning of their relationship, the Denver Post and the Review-Journal might find themselves forced to buy back rights to pieces they commissioned in the first place — and all because of their own greed.

Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.