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‘Copyright troll’ Righthaven looks to dismiss suit against Democratic Underground

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 22:50 EDT
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Citing “the spirit of judicial economy,” Righthaven, LLC., a company that makes its money by forcing settlements through copyright lawsuits, said it wanted to drop its claim against a liberal forum community which it sued over a four-paragraph excerpt from The Las Vegas Review Journal.

The company’s recent motion to dismiss noted that they wanted to drop the suit due to a decision by Nevada federal judge Larry Hicks, who recently dismissed a similar claim brought by Righthaven.

After being sued, Democratic Underground (DU) sought the help of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), which filed a counter-claim on their behalf. Righthaven asked that EFF’s suit be dropped as well.

“This motion represents Righthaven’s sensible reaction to the intervening, immediately relevant fair use ruling recently issued by this court, all in the spirit of judicial economy,” Righthaven said in its motion, according to Steve Green, reporting for The Las Vegas Sun. “Though Righthaven firmly believes that the defendants are liable for copyright infringement, the non-holistic nature of the defendant’s unauthorized textual reproduction is such that reasonable minds may disagree as to the legitimacy of a fair use defense.”

“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.

Critics have come to know the company as a “copyright troll”: a slang that seems to have stuck.

“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.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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