The liberal political forum Democratic Underground, LLC. (DU) has escaped a lawsuit filed by Righthaven, LLC. that claimed a user illegally appropriated several paragraphs of a news story.

In the ruling, a Las Vegas judge wrote that Righthaven's claims were invalid because it did not actually hold a copyright on the story -- and that it may have mislead judges in hundreds of other lawsuits. 

The user's excerpt was five sentences long, taken from a 50-sentence story in The Las Vegas Review Journal, and included a hyperlink for DU users to read more.

U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt wrote that Righthaven "made multiple inaccurate and likely dishonest statements to the court" and ordered them to explain why they should not be sanctioned for it. 

He also allowed DU's counterclaim against Stephens Media, owner of The Las Vegas Review Journal and true holder of the copyright Righthaven claimed ownership of, to move forward in seeking to recover attorney's fees.

The group, which makes its business on suing websites, had asserted in court documents that the copyright had been transferred to them. It was later revealed that they had simply agreed to represent the paper's claim for a cut of the potential profits.

This detail went undisclosed in hundreds of prior Righthaven lawsuits, the judge noted, suggesting that other courts may have been mislead.

"In dismissing Righthaven's claim in its entirety, Chief Judge Hunt's ruling decisively rejected the Righthaven business model of conveying rights to sue, alone, as a means to enforce copyrights," Laurence Pulgram, an attorney representing DU, said in a media advisory issued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). "The ruling speaks for itself."

Righthaven, known to critics as a "copyright troll," generally does not end up in court when it files lawsuits. The suits are typically filed without prior warning as a means of demanding settlement, which they tend to get. Some Righthaven copyright claims exceed $150,000 at their outset, and the company said it had filed 275 of these suits at time of this writing.

"This kind of copyright trolling from Righthaven and Stephens Media has undermined free and open discussion on the Internet, scaring people out of sharing information and discussing the news of the day," EFF staff attorney Kurt Opsahl said in a release. "We hope this is the beginning of the end of this shameful litigation campaign."

The judge's full ruling follows.


Righthaven v. Democratic Underground - No Standing Ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt[scribd expand=1]

Disclosure: Raw Story Media, Inc. was sued by Righthaven earlier this year over use of a photograph, but the two parties reached an amicable agreement out of court.

Image credit: Flickr commons.