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Newspaper Chain’s New Business Plan: Copyright Suits

• David Kravets via WIRED
Steve Gibson has a plan to save the media world’s financial crisis — and it’s not the iPad.

Borrowing a page from patent trolls, the CEO of fledgling Las Vegas-based Righthaven has begun buying out the copyrights to newspaper content for the sole purpose of suing blogs and websites that re-post those articles without permission. And he says he’s making money.

“We believe it’s the best solution out there,” Gibson says. “Media companies’ assets are very much their copyrights. These companies need to understand and appreciate that those assets have value more than merely the present advertising revenues.”

Gibson’s vision is to monetize news content on the backend, by scouring the internet for infringing copies of his client’s articles, then suing and relying on the harsh penalties in the Copyright Act — up to $150,000 for a single infringement — to compel quick settlements. Since Righthaven’s formation in March, the company has filed at least 80 federal lawsuits against website operators and individual bloggers who’ve re-posted articles from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, his first client.

Now he’s talking expansion. The Review-Journal’s publisher, Stephens Media in Las Vegas, runs over 70 other newspapers in nine states, and Gibson says he already has an agreement to expand his practice to cover those properties. (Stephens Media declined comment, and referred inquiries to Gibson.) Hundreds of lawsuits, he says, are already in the works by year’s end. “We perceive there to be millions, if not billions, of infringements out there,” he says.

Righthaven’s lawsuits come on the heels of similar campaigns targeting music and movie infringers. The Recording Industry Association of America sued about 20,000 thousand file sharers over five years, before recently winding down its campaign. And a coalition of independent film producers called the U.S. Copyright Group was formed this year, already unleashing as many as 20,000 federal lawsuits against BitTorrent users accused of unlawfully sharing movies.

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