Righthaven, the Las Vegas-based copyright troll, may have sued one website too many. The Electronic Frontier Foundation hit the company with a lawsuit Monday alleging Righthaven is abusing copyright law by suing for excerpting or posting newspaper articles without permission.
Law firm Righthaven was formed earlier this year for the sole purpose of suing for copyright infringement. So far, its main client, Stephens Media, has publicly authorized it to sue the operators of 145 internet sites on behalf of its flagship paper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
San Francisco’s EFF, which has been shopping for one of the cases to take, has agreed to defend user-generated Democratic Underground, a site that says it provides “political satire and commentary for Democrats.”
It’s also filed a countersuit claiming Monday that Righthaven is a “front and sham representative” of Stephens Media with a sole mission “to seek windfall recoveries of statutory damages and to exact nuisance settlements.”
Since Righthaven was formed this spring, it has settled about 20 percent of its lawsuits for a few thousand dollars each. Righthaven even demands forfeiture of the a site’s domain, which likely fuels settlements from site owners who don’t have a lawyer or who conclude that legal fees would be more onerous than settling, said Kurt Opsahl, an EFF senior staff attorney.
“If we get the right decision from the court, it would establish good precedent that will be available to everybody,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
EFF is seeking legal fees, no damages and a judgment that Democratic Underground did not infringe, he said.
Still, the facts of each of the cases vary, with some sites sued for running entire articles posted by the site operator or a third-party — with or without links. The same is true for snippets of stories. One case includes the wholesale hijacking of Review-Journal stories with a new byline inserted.
Steve Gibson, Righthaven’s owner, said he is expanding operations beyond Stephens Media. He did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The EFF claims the Democratic Underground isn’t even close to being liable for infringement, which carries penalties of up to $150,000 per violation under the Copyright Act.
Democratic Underground is being sued for a user of the site last month posting four paragraphs and a link to a 34-paragraph Review-Journal story on Sharron Angle, the Republican Nevada candidate for Senate entitled “Tea party fuels Angle.”
Opsahl claimed the site had a fair-use right to the four paragraphs. It was posted for discussion and commentary, not for commercial gain. The article, he said, is freely available on the Review Journal’s website, which encourages readers to share it via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and by other means.
“We don’t think they should have filed this lawsuit in the first place,” Opsahl said.
At the very least, Righthaven should have requested that the site remove the disputed content, Opsahl said.
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