Yesterday, the Media Bloggers Association filed an amicus brief in Righthaven LLC v. Hyatt, urging a federal judge in Nevada to award only minimal damages and no attorney's fees to Righthaven against a blogger who failed to appear in the case and is facing a default judgment. We've covered a number of Righthaven lawsuits in our legal threats database, but this case now has a spicy twist.
On October 6, 2010, Righthaven sued Bill Hyatt, who operates a blog called "News for Everyone" (appears to be shutdown), for copyright infringement, claiming that he had copied a Las Vegas Review-Journal entertainment column titled "FX's Manly Man Shows Hold Outsider Appeal." After Hyatt didn't respond to the lawsuit, Righthaven filed a motion for default judgment, asking the court to award it control of the domain name for Hyatt's website, $150,000 in damages, and $1,850 in legal fees and costs.
In most cases where a defendant fails to respond, the court typically accedes to the plaintiff's request for damages. But we might not see that happen here. Marc Randazza and J. Malcolm DeVoy IV at Randazza Legal Group and Ron Coleman at Goetz Fitzpatrick LLP filed a scathing amicus brief on behalf of the Media Bloggers Association arguing that Righthaven's demands are outrageous given the nature of the alleged infringement and Righthaven's questionable business model. Here is a little taste of their brief:
Righthaven is a Nevada LLC (hereinafter, "Righthaven") with the most questionable of business models. It was formed by an attorney who, instead of simply representing copyright plaintiffs in justifiable cases, chose to create an entirely champertous enterprise out of unsound copyright claims. Its "business model" is to seek out unwitting and, perhaps, careless bloggers who have used portions of the Las Vegas Review Journal in online discussions. Once Righthaven finds these uses by conducting internet "sweeps," it fallaciously "acquires" the rights to the articles in question, essentially as causes of action, solely for the purpose of filing a lawsuit.
The vast majority of the victims of this scheme are under the impression that by giving proper attribution to a source, they are within their rights to use such excerpts. Almost none of them could ever afford legal representation; flummoxed by the threat of a $150,000 potential statutory damage award - an amount that it can safely be said none of them could dream of satisfying - and lacking even a clue as to whom to turn to for advice, many will simply default.
Righthaven now seeks to turn a default into a windfall by asking this Court to grant it a constitutionally impermissible and outrageous award of at least $30,000 in statutory damages, ranging up to $150,000.00 in this matter, in addition to $1,850.00 in costs and attorney's fees - all based on specious infringement claims for forgotten newspaper articles whose economic value is surely orders of magnitude below these astronomical sums.
You can read the entire brief here.
According to the Las Vegas Sun, Righthaven hasn't responded to the amicus filing and the judge has yet to indicate when he will rule on Righthaven's request for damages.