The practice of excerpting news and linking to its source is what drives the blogosphere, engages millions in political discussion and aides the dissemination of information the world over.
However, if the so-called “copyright troll” company Righthaven LLC is successful, a vibrant political forum for American progressives could be shut down, all thanks to a five sentence excerpt from the Las Vegas Review-Journal that caught the paper’s attention.
The forum Democratic Underground (DU) which frequently reposts news excerpts for users to discuss, was sued in August for quoting and linking to the Nevada paper. Backed by Internet freedom advocacy group Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), DU filed a counter-suit on Monday, accusing the paper and Righthaven of engaging in copyright fraud.
“Righthaven has brought over 130 lawsuits in Nevada federal court claiming copyright infringement, even though they do not create, produce or distribute any content,” EFF explained. “Instead, they create lawsuits by scouring the Internet for content from Review-Journal stories posted on blogs and online forums, acquiring the copyright to that particular story from Stephens Media LLC (the Review-Journal’s publisher), and then suing the poster for infringement.
“As part of its lawsuit business model, Righthaven claims damages of up to $150,000 under the Copyright Act’s statutory damages provisions and uses that threat to attempt to push defendants into a quick settlement. In the answer and counterclaim filed Monday, Democratic Underground asked the court to affirm that the excerpt of the article does not infringe copyright and is a fair use of the material, with no damages due to Righthaven.”
By wielding copyright law as a blunt instrument, Righthaven has the effect of “chilling free and open discussion on the Internet,” DU founder David Allen claimed in a media advisory.
“Despite what Righthaven claims, it’s hard to interpret these lawsuits as anything else besides a way to bully Internet users into paying unnecessary settlements,” EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl added. “At the same time, Righthaven is trying to discourage the practice of quoting and linking that is both essential to the interconnected Internet and helps drive significant traffic to newspapers online.”
In a profile by Wired, Righthaven CEO Steve Gibson claimed his company has secured an agreement to expand their copyright lawsuit business to all Stephens Media properties, which includes 70 newspapers in nine states.
“Frankly, I think we’re having tremendous success at a number of levels,” he told the magazine. “We file new complaints every day.”
The company has filed more than 80 such complaints, including one against Nevada Republican and US Senate candidate Sharron Angle.
“I hope we’re not the only ones filing a counterclaim,” DU user Occulus opined.