Joel Sage's blog

Righthaven's Copyright Trolling is a Bankrupt Idea

It’s been several months since we last checked up on Righthaven.  How is everybody’s favorite copyright troll doing?

Well, they might be going bankrupt:

The Las Vegas copyright-trolling firm Righthaven told a Nevada federal judge Friday [September 9, 2011] it might file for bankruptcy protection, or cease operations altogether.

To prevent that, Righthaven is asking U.S. District Judge Philip Pro to stay his decision requiring Righthaven pay $34,000 in legal fees to an online commenter it wrongly sued for infringement.

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The Sound of Fury in Recent Righthaven Cases

Two legal developments in Nevada and Colorado last week make Righthaven (previous post here) a textbook example of how not to win a lawsuit.  In their cases against the Democratic Underground (of which details can be found in the CMLP legal threats database) and Brian Hill (whose case filings are available on Scribd), Righthaven appears to be suing without owning the copyright and picking a fight with the judge handling dozens of still-pending cases, respectively.

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The (Statutory) Damage is Done

A few days ago, I attended oral arguments before the First Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Joel Tenenbaum, a graduate student being sued by various record labels for sharing music files via a peer-to-peer service over the Internet (Sony v. Tenenbaum, docket available here).  I’ve already written up some of my thoughts about the possible outcome of Joel’s lawsuit over at my regular blog, Legally Sociable.

Here, I’d like to expand my analysis somewhat to cover Tenenbaum’s broader implications.  Many CMLP blog readers may be asking themselves, “So what?  What could swapping MP3’s on the Internet possibly have to do with the activities of citizen journalists?”

Under an ideal intellectual property regime, the answer would doubtless be “very little.”  Non-commercial use of music for personal entertainment bears little logical resemblance to news reporting, analysis, and advocacy.  One might reasonably imagine that IP law treats P2P music downloading differently from blogging about the news.

Unfortunately, in the real world, the law ends up treating blogging almost exactly like file sharing because both activities primarily fall within the purview of copyright law.  Moreover, 17 U.S.C. § 504(c) provides extremely flexible statutory penalties “as the court considers just.”

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Is Righthaven Harming the News Industry?

Righthaven, a copyright-enforcement entity that sues first and asks questions later, comes up a lot here at the CMLP, both on the blog and in the legal threats database.  As a recent profile on CNN.com illustrates, Righthaven’s founder Steve Gibson thinks he is simply enforcing content owners’ rights within the digital landscape:

What really is happening here is a realization of the infringement community that the days of merely receiving a takedown letter are over, and that people will have a means to protect their ownership rights. Like you're taught in grammar school, it's not right to take someone else's work, whether it's cheating or plagiarizing. Whether the Internet permits you to do it, that doesn't make it right.

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