Perpetual lawsuits against copyright infringers claiming that “thieves and pirates” are destroying the industry while still witnessing thriving creation from user-generated media to blockbuster movies, speaks clearly that copyright law in its current form operates more to allow litigation than to incentivize creation (the intention outlined in the Constitution).
But despite clear logistical reasons that newspapers are dying (shotgun advertising, analog distribution, Internet news) there is still the claim that piracy is the culprit.
Enter Righthaven, LLC, a firm of lawyers and investigators whose job is to sue copyright criminals for the unauthorized use of news media. This is media that bears no visual copyright notice (which isn’t required) and is not registered with the copyright office (also not required). But if a copyright owner detects unlawful use of his material within six months of the violation, he may register with the copyright office, and then file suit against the infringer. Having an officially registered copyright bears a number of differences, namely the ability to sue for statutory damages and – wait for it – lawyer fees.
You may see where this is going. A team of lawyers trolls the Internet for violators – hardened criminals such as small-time bloggers, volunteer trauma workers, and small businesses- who are using media for which their clients own the copyright. They then buy the rights from the copyright holder. Do they then send a takedown notice? Offer a warning? Demand a fee? No, no, no.
Instead, they file for official copyright, and then sue the infringers for thousands of dollars.
So, let’s be clear: the copyright holder – in this case a collection of newspapers and media organizations – don’t want to stop people from using their media, neither does Righthaven. They want people to be sued for violating what is widely regarded as an ambiguous and arcane set of laws. Righthaven wouldn’t exist in its current form if they simply asked people to either remove the media or pay a fee, because the vast majority of the infringers would gladly acquiesce. No, they want to use this little-known facet of our copyright laws to extort money from individuals and small businesses.
This has nothing at all to do with incentivizing the writers of their client newspapers. It has nothing to do with ensuring that such violation will not happen again. There is no regard for fair use, mistakes, or leeway for fellow man (an easy disregard given that a lawyer’s stake to mankind is suspect anyway).
Thankfully, Righthaven lost a case against blogger Bob Nelson, and recently backed down in a case against Web site, The Democratic Underground. The issue in dealing with legal thugs like Righthaven, however, is that one must incur legal fees – sometimes substantial – to prove one’s case. Alas, he who represents himself has a fool for a client. But hark, DU might have grounds to file a countersuit for legal fees. The true irony comes with Righthaven’s legalese, which was written to dissuade the judge from considering DU a candidate for legal fees.
“Simply stated, the imposition of attorneys’ fees under these circumstances would represent a substantial deviation from the underlying purpose of the Copyright Act.”
If that’s not the pot calling the kettle black. Here’s a firm whats sole purpose is to troll for potential lawsuits that will end with substantial legal fees that defendants will have to pay, and they claim ethical high-ground in regards to the “purpose of the Copyright Act”? The purpose of the Copyright Act was not to take money from people making fair use of media and put it into the pockets of slimeball lawyers, that’s for sure.
In response to this tom-trollery, one blogger created a list of sites for all Righthaven’s clients, which users can easily ad to their Firefox browser blacklist plug-in, so that they never visit the site of a company who would stoop so low as to employ Righthaven and their ilk. You can bet I will not log a single page view on any site hiring Righthaven, LLC, though I doubt seriously they will feel the sting. Alas, despite thousands of lawsuits siphoning money from the grass roots of user-generated media, it still has yet to reach a tipping point where the average person cares enough or gets angry enough to affect this sad state of affairs.
But I have faith that such schemes cannot endure for long. Then the lawyers of Righthaven will have to move on to another set of hosts to feed from, such as homeowners, mom and pop shops, or independent physicians.
Every once in a while, it’s a great day in the copyfight. And now that pay-up-or-else law firm Righthaven, LLC is going belly up, this is one such day.
You might remember Righthaven as the scheming ne’er-do-wells I wrote about before. They’re the ones who scour the Web for reposts of news stories, and then they would contact the news organization, buy the content, and then sue for infringement. What’s a daily pub care if someone pirates their week-old content? Not much, so they naturally were keen on selling content to Righthaven.
Righthaven had no intention of fighting the supposed good fight: that is, STOPPING copyright infringement. They wanted sites to infringe so they could sue them. Nowadays that means sending a pay-up-or-else notice rife with legalese and crossing their fingers that the suit never made it to court.
Well, some did, and it seems that there are still some judges out there with sense enough to not only laugh at such antics, but also to hold Righthaven to their threats. As it turned out, Righthaven often DIDN’T EVEN OWN THE COPYRIGHT, but simply claimed they did to extort a settlement. This happened enough times to result in a few losses, and build up quite a bill for Righthaven. Here’s where it gets fun.
A Las Vegas judge ordered that Righthaven surrender its interest in the more than 200 copyrights they owed. The irony is that Righthaven insisted they had no assets to cover the almost $200,000 in court costs they racked up over four losses in court, and yet this assertion flies in the face of the supposed value of intellectual property. How indeed can vampires like Righthaven file million-dollar lawsuits for infringement when the practical value of their own copyright holdings can’t even cover their court fees?
In a lovely twist, Righthaven doesn’t even have its trademark anymore, so I suppose I should more accurately refer to them as “the lichen formerly known as Righthaven” though that’s not terribly catchy.
The important take-away here is that it is worthwhile and vital that more people stand up to these predatory legal practices, because it’s obvious that few indeed have a legal leg to stand on. They buckle under the slightest scrutiny, and while it may seem easier and cheaper to acquiesce and simply pay the few thousand dollars to make such filth go away (regardless of guilt or innocence, harm or complete lack of harm), the more people and businesses stand up to these schemes, the less effective they become.