Copyright

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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Debugging Legislation: PROTECT IP

There's more than a hint of theatrics in the draft PROTECT IP bill (pdf, via dontcensortheinternet ) that has emerged as son-of-COICA, starting with the ungainly acronym of a name. Given its roots in the entertainment industry, that low drama comes as no surprise. Each section name is worse than the last: "Eliminating the Financial Incentive to Steal Intellectual Property Online" (Sec. 4) gives way to "Voluntary action for Taking Action Against Websites Stealing American Intellectual Property" (Sec. 5).

Techdirt gives a good overview of the bill, so I'll just pick some details:

  • Infringing activities. In defining "infringing activities," the draft explicitly includes circumvention devices ("offering goods or services in violation of section 1201 of title 17"), as well as copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting. Yet that definition also brackets the possibility of "no [substantial/significant] use other than ...." Substantial could incorporate the "merely capable of substantial non-infringing use" test of Betamax.
  • Blocking non-domestic sites. Sec. 3 gives the Attorney General a right of action over "nondomestic domain names", including the right to demand remedies from (A) domain name system server operators, (B) financial transaction providers, (C), Internet advertising services, and (D) "an interactive computer service (def. from 230(f)) shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures ... to remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name set forth in the order, or a hypertext link to such Internet site."

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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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Software Best Practices and Open Source Derivative Works

We received a request not long ago from one of the lawyers in our Online Media Legal Network who is looking for legal resources on a couple different issues tied to software development, particularly open source software development.  And frankly, they're the sorts of resources that we expect more and more lawyers will have need for.  Thus, we're reposting the requests here - along with my first stab at researching them - in the hopes of drumming up a bit of crowdsourcing to find the answers.

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Media Bloggers Assn Files Amicus Brief in Righthaven Case, Blasts Business Model Behind Lawsuits

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.

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New Conference for Internet Law Scholars

Call For Papers:

The High Tech Law Institute at Santa Clara University School of Law and the Institute for Information Law and Policy at New York Law School are pleased to announce a new annual works-in-progress series for Internet Law scholarship. The inaugural event will be held at Santa Clara University on March 5, 2011. Thereafter, the event will rotate between NYLS and SCU each Spring semester.

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Hey, When Did This Slope Get so Slippery? The Danger of Self-Surveillance in Three-Strikes Internet Laws

I recall a Twilight Zone episode with a great twist: a man, in order to win a bet that he could stay quiet for an entire year, has had his vocal cords severed. The idea being, it is particularly gruesome to imagine a human being rendered mute for money.

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