Righthaven plans to stop suing for excerpts from news articles

Righthaven, the company of lawyers that sues blogs and websites for posting articles from client newspapers, has announced it would no longer sue when the posting constitutes an excerpt. -db

November 18, 2010
By David Kravets

Copyright troll Righthaven this week promised to narrow its lawsuit campaign in the face of a courtroom defeat, when a judge ruled that a real estate website made “fair use” of a newspaper article from the Las Vegas-Review Journal.

Righthaven is the lawyer-heavy company based in Las Vegas that sprang to life last spring for the sole purpose of suing blogs and websites that repost, or even excerpt, Las Vegas-Review Journal articles without permission. It has filed about 150 lawsuits, and settled dozens of them in its favor.

But the company reached a snag when the Realty One Group fought back, winning a summary dismissal weeks ago. A Nevada judge agreed with the real estate firm’s argument that eight of 30 sentences from a Review Journal story about the real estate market qualified as fair use of the material.

With that precedent set, Righthaven no longer plans to sue websites for posting brief excerpts of newspaper articles, the company told a different federal judge in a separate case this week. “Righthaven does not anticipate filing any future lawsuits founded upon infringements of less than 75 percent of a copyrighted work, (.pdf) regardless of the outcome of the instant litigation,” Righthaven wrote the court.

There is no bright-line rule on how much one can excerpt from copyrighted content without breaching the Copyright Act, which carries fines of up to $150,000 per violation. But Righthaven told the Nevada court it “anticipates that the number of Righthaven copyright suits premised upon partial (rather than full, or nearly full) textual reproductions will continue to decline in the immediate future.”

The mea culpa, of sorts, came in a case that pits Righthaven against the political community site Democratic Underground. Righthaven filed the lawsuit after a user posted four paragraphs from a 34-paragraph Review-Journal story on Sharron Angle, the unsuccessful Republican Nevada candidate for Senate.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation jumped in to defend Democratic Underground and counter-sued Righthaven for abusing copyright law.

Righthaven on Monday asked U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt to dismiss its original claim against Democratic Underground, and the EFF’s counterclaim, essentially crying “no harm, no foul.” It asks that Democratic Underground and the EFF not be awarded legal fees and costs, because Righthaven claims it still could win if it really wanted to.

Neither the EFF nor Righthaven immediately responded for comment.

Righthaven’s lawsuits frequently take advantage of a loophole in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Many of its more than 150 lawsuits arise not from articles posted by a website’s proprietors but from comments and forum posts by the site’s readers. Under the DMCA, a website normally enjoys effective immunity from civil copyright liability for user content, provided it promptly removes infringing material at the request of a rightsholder.

But to dock that legal safe harbor, a site has to register an official contact point for DMCA takedown notices, a process that involves filling out a form and mailing a $105 check to the government. An examination of Righthaven’s lawsuits targeting user content suggests it’s specifically going after sites that failed to fill out that paperwork.

Copyright 2010 Condé Nast Digital     FAC Content Use Policy