Greed and Copyright Clash and Righthaven Lost

Righthaven, a company more known for generating controversy than for any actual work, is gone.

The company sued 250 different blogs and websites as they claimed “newspaper copyrights. In the second lawsuit Righthaven lost”, the outcome could change the way copyrighted newspaper articles are used on the Internet — even if Righthaven is no longer around to see it.

The lawsuits Righthaven  filed revolve around “fair use.” Fair use is the doctrine that allows partial use of a copyrighted work and allows for quotations in book reviews or news reports. It happens every minute on the web.

In some circumstances, jurists have found 100% of work to be fair use and U.S. District Judge James Mahan, who oversaw Righthaven’s second civil trial, agreed.

Mahan based his decision on a major factor:

The Oregon-based Center for Intercultural Organizing served a different market than the Las Vegas Review-Journal which had published the original article.

The judge wasn’t too impressed with Righthaven’s business model either. The company bought up newspaper copyrights and sued, mainly small websites, with no warning.

It Finally Backfired

Righthaven’s pursuit of these copyright cases exploded.

Presently, media industry attorneys make sure they are within their rights to ask a publication or website to takedown any full copy of a newspaper article posted online without their permission.

Papers such as The New York Times file takedown requests frequently. Because of  Mahan’s decision, the ability to demand a take down is diminished. Newspaper managers and corporate types now have to think about what kind of person, or group made the full copy and for what was the purpose.

Righthaven is gone, but the controversies it immersed itself in are still around.

Righthaven was a Las Vegas business built for the sole purpose of suing users over matter reproduced without permission from media sites. Righthaven’s business partners were the Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post.

Since Righthaven was a business and not a legal firm, it finally fell to pieces when defense lawyers had found it didn’t have the authorization to generate the lawsuits. Righthaven never acquired possession and command of the copyrights and lost numerous claims on the benefits as well.

Righthaven filed suits without notice and intimidated defendants into resolving the issue  for thousands of dollars.

Righthaven didn’t favor anyone. Big, complex website proprietors became the victims of spurious lawsuits as were small bloggers and forum posters. The respondents were cited for taking content from newspapers and displaying it on their websites.

Although Righthaven had some fans who were authors and cameramen, a backlash emerged. Begun by activists and lawyers who felt its tactics were a threat to free-speech, Righthaven crashed in one infamous suit.

Righthaven sued a site named the “Democratic Underground” when a user posted four paragraphs out of a 34 paragraph narrative. The user gave credit to the Review-Journal and even added a connection back to the website.

Righthaven sued, and the judge found it was fair use and free speech. It was this case when copyright lawyers affiliated with the Electronic Frontier Foundation found in each of its lawsuits, Righthaven didn’t own the copyrights required.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation was grated award lawyer expenses for its troubles, and the judge said he “thinks Righthaven  made numerous inaccurate and misleading comments to the court.”

Colleen Lynn, the owner of, a site listing the victims of Righthaven, said “the bulk of respondents had their world turned upside-down by fear from the negotiating process with Righthaven.

“Some sufferers missed their aspirations too. They closed their website to bypass facing a related menace in the future,” Lynn said.

57 lawsuits. 

This image, made in November 2010, was at the center of 57 copyright infringement lawsuits filed by Righthaven after the photograph went viral.

Righthaven’s biggest misstep was its suit on Brian Hill, a 20-year old writer from North Carolina with a type of autism, diabetes, and hyperactive disease.

Hill — along with 56 more — were accused by Righthaven of posting on sites an image of a TSA official patting down a traveler at an airstrip.

Righthaven pretended to have acquired rights to the photograph which spread after showing up on Denver Post’s website.

Righthaven was busted when Hill accused Righthaven lawyers of insisting he send $6,000, and that Righthaven would trim a piece of his Social Security Disability Insurance benefits at $50 a month till $6,000 was handed over.  That would take about ten years.

Lessons Learned

But something that should have been apparent at the beginning was that suing the persons who are excited sufficiently about your content to share it is just not going to be productive in the long run, or probably too in the short term.

That Righthaven was even able to endure and have its day in court is sufficient indication that it wasn’t clear, at least not to the individuals who had the funds to support the series of claims.

But it sure ought to be now!