On July 13, 2011, U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson became the third federal judge to rule that notorious “copyright troll” Righthaven LLC lacked standing to sue over the alleged infringement of a Las Vegas-based newspaper’s copyrights in its published material. Previously, U.S. District Judges Rodger Hunt and Philip Pro ruled against Righthaven in their suits against alleged infringers, with District Judge Pro tossing in a fair use ruling as well.
Since early 2010, Righthaven has filed nearly 300 lawsuits on behalf of newspaper property owners throughout the country, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post. It operates by surfing the web for online postings of content from its partner newspapers, then purchases the copyrights from the newspapers each time it uncovers an “infringement.” Often, the copyright assignments obtained by Righthaven are quite broad. However, recent lawsuits have uncovered that Righthaven sometimes fails to obtain the exclusive rights necessary to maintain standing in a copyright infringement action. Chief among them is the right to sue for infringement. Moreover, at least some judges have determined that the partner newspapers—not Righthaven—maintain control over the copyrights.
Righthaven’s suits (as well as its business model) are unpopular because they employ aggressive, unfair litigation tactics against sympathetic and unsympathetic defendants alike. Furthermore, its suits arguably fly in the face of the very purpose of copyright protection. Instead of “promot[ing] the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” Const. of the United States, Article I, § 8, Righthaven’s lawsuits monetize infringement litigation and stifle the exchange of creative ideas. Adding insult to injury, some of Righthaven’s actions are based on dubious interpretations of the Copyright Act, and it frequently seeks remedies far in excess of those that are statutorily prescribed.
Nevertheless, whatever financial gains Righthaven has received in the past few years, they have come at the price of bad publicity. And, with these recent District Court rulings, Righthaven may soon find its “business model” obsolete. More than ever, federal judges appear willing to curtail Righthaven’s attempts to ignore norms about reasonable and acceptable use of copyrighted material, and that, most can agree, is a good thing.
Righthaven appealed (on July 20, 2011) to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the standing issue resolved against it in the USDC Nevada case involving the Las Vegas Review copyrights. Righthaven has previously appealed the lack of standing and the fair use findings to the Ninth Circuit (it has three appeals pending on those issues already), but the most recent appeal challenges only the issue of standing.