As the battle over a free and open internet rages on with telecom companies like AT&T and Comcast pushing and paying folks to allow an unequal playing field and get rid of Net neutrality, another more sinister tactic and player has reared its ugly head. There are now group of lawyers called Righthaven out of Las Vegas who are connected to the Las Vegas Review-Journal running around suing small non profits and individual bloggers for ‘copyright’ infringement. On their side is the Draconian, hastly done DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act ) rules and the fear people have of expensive litigation and subsequent judgement.
Eva Galperin of San Francisco based Electronic Frontier Foundation penned this recent article warning bloggers what’s at stake…
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is seeking to assist defendants in the Righthaven copyright troll lawsuits. Righthaven, founded in March of 2010, files hundreds of copyright infringement lawsuits on behalf of newspaper publishers against bloggers who make use of news content without permission. To that end, Righthaven searches the internet for stories and parts of stories from the newspapers that they represent. Once they find content that has been re-published, Righthaven purchases the copyright to the article and sues the owner of the blog.
Galperin goes on to note that this company is doing what amounts to a copyright shakedown ala the RIAA who ran around suing thousands of people for downloading songs and then settling for a 2-3000 dollars. The two people that tried to fight the lawsuits found themselves being hit with huge judgements totaling over 600 thousand dollars. Eventually the RIAA had to abandon its strategy as 1-downloading did not diminish and 2-Record labels spent a whooping 17.6 million dollars in legal fees to collect 391 thousand in settlements. That of course is just for one year 2008…Looking at the RIAA books the numbers get worse. For example in 2007 they spent over 24 million to collect around 500 in settlement fees.
So while the labels themselves lost money, the law firms who aggressively came after people made tons of it. In addition most of the people who got hit wound up settling with the 2-3 thousand dollars being quite a hit in the pocketbook for many.
With this group of lawyers coming after bloggers, there appears to be a few things to keep in mind. First they were specifically formed to make money doing this ‘lawsuit/settlement strategy. In a Wired article that that profiled Righthaven and their CEO Steve Gibson, he was pretty upfront and brazen with his key intentions. They say in the article:
Gibson’s vision is to monetize news content on the backend, by scouring the internet for infringing copies of his client’s articles, then suing and relying on the harsh penalties in the Copyright Act — up to $150,000 for a single infringement — to compel quick settlements.
It was pointed out that the company was aggressively expanding its business trying to get other newspapers to sign on so they can sue on their behalf. They have over 70 newspapers on board.
The second thing about this group which is even more disturbing is that they are not issuing warnings or DMCA take down notices. They are just going out and suing folks which is seen as unprecedented in this industry. Many see it as abuse. Sometimes people quote from articles they gotten via email. Others pull from sources where no credit is given. Some think they are being compliant because they gave a link back and only used a quote or two. Apparently thats not good enough for this group.
According to Galperin’s EFF article, she points out that they are also going out and purchasing the copyrights to articles so they can go after folks. So maybe you copied something a couple of years ago and it was no big deal, in fact maybe it was from a local newspaper where they actually appreciated the extra attention you brought to their publication. Now with this group of lawyers they are going around and offering to purchase the copyright and then coming after folks. This is beyond chilling.
Galperin continues in her article on Righthaven where she points out that one of their main targets are the non-commercial, political leaning websites and people and organizations written about by the newspapers. In other words, the newspapers that this group represents may do an article or profile on you. You like what’s written and thus want to share it with folks and post it up on your site and along comes these lawyers with no warning issued. They sue and push you to settle.
Just like the US Copyright Group shakedowns, and the RIAA shakedowns of the recent past, Righthaven relies on the threat of enormous statutory damages associated with the Copyright Act to scare defendants, often individual bloggers operating non-commercial websites, into a quick settlement, reportedly ranging from two to five thousand dollars. The Righthaven lawsuits are of particular concern because they sometimes target the operators of political websites who re-publish newspaper stories, chilling political speech. Righthaven has also targeted the newspaper’s source for the very articles allegedly infringed.
So basically what I did with this article from EFF where I reprinted parts of what they wrote might get me in a whirl of trouble with this group of lawyers. might get me caught up I guess on one hand folks should not be surprised at what’s going on especially during these hard economic times. The tactics folks are using are increasing ugly and causing or the threat of economic distress is one way to really shut things down.
One has to wonder who’s next? Will they now go after restaurants for posting favorable reviews on their websites or movie houses for highlighting good reviews? Will they come after parents who highlighted the sporting or academic exploits of their kids which may have been covered in a newspaper?
We know that in recent weeks they launched a lawsuit against Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle for posting up material about herself on her campaign website. They want 150 thousand dollars and her domain name. Although I’d be the first to say I disagree with everything this woman stands for on a political tip, she shouldn’t be sued. After all aren’t these outlets making money off her via their coverage? If they have an issue ask her to take down the articles-end of story.
Righthaven has also sued Ron Paul‘s Daily Paul newsletter and Alex Jones of Infowars.
Jones asserted that the lawsuit is without merit and that he intends to fight back and not be squeezed for money.
Some are saying this is a coverup to the groups main tactic of going after small bloggers. Whatever the case these lawsuits can and are already having a chilling effect. If the stories about President Obama being connected to Gibson and Righthaven because they worked at the same law firm Sidley Austin LLP in Chicago that is also disturbing if he agrees with their tactics
Eva Galperin points out in her article that EFF is seeking out people who have been targeted by Righthaven. You casn drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website http://www.eff.org/
written by Davey D
Interesting article. I have a question though, if the blogger or anyone for that matter cites the source of the material used or acknowledges the source’s material, is there still a legal basis for the suit. Ask any teacher, student, editor or anyone who has written a report, news article, etc, and the rule has been (AND always) to cite your source to avoid accusations of plagarism or intellectual theft. Otherwise, a lot of individuals would be sued for using someone else’s work regardless of the citations. However, there are individuals who “borrow” material without referencing the source or giving credit to the source as needed, resulting in the ugly public embarrassment. Those individuals are the ones that should be dealt with accordingly. Unfortunately, this is a by-product of the internet with its wild west mentality, little oversight and knee jerk reaction lawsuits… As someone who has written numerous report that are published for public, I would advise individuals to cover your butt and cite the sources accordingly to avoid any legal actions. Or get a very good lawyer that can write a disclaimer for use on your blog in a similar manner that CNN.com or the SFGate.com use for blogs.
I don’t really care for the Tea Party, but to me it seems that the case against Sharon Angle is very odd. I think that if anything, this points to a tactic that can be used against blogs, but I wouldn’t count this case in the same context as being part of this. I think that this case is more indicative of somebody who is hostile to the tea party trying to attack the tea party.
In that same vein, Ron Paul and Alex Jones are also part of that whole anti-Obama tea party thing as well. And then you say Obama is connected with these people, and the connections make even more sense. Connect the dots, and you find these people are getting attacked by the left for their views. Much as I don’t like the tea party or the GOP, this is still pretty disturbing.
yes its disturbing cause it can easily happen the other way around..
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