Righthaven copyright trolls never had the right to sue, have their asses handed to them by the EFF

Righthaven is the extortion racket spun out by the Las Vegas Review-Journal: they received a license from the Review-Journal for its copyrights, then attempted to make the license pay by threatening any blogger who quoted the newspaper with expensive lawsuits and domain confiscation. They firehosed these legal threats around without regard for their legal merits (and attracted more desperate, unethical newspapers to their client roster in the process) and so it was inevitable that eventually they'd misfire at someone who got pissed off enough to do something about it.

That someone is Democratic Underground, a political site that contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation for legal help. EFF's lawyers got a court to force Righthaven to reveal the terms of its license with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and discovered that Righthaven's license only gives it the power to sue on the Review-Journal's behalf (that is, Righthaven doesn't actually control the Review-Journal's copyrights in any meaningful way). And that is illegal -- a license to sue is not sufficient to have standing to use the courts for redress. Democratic Underground is now seeking recovery of legal fees, which the Review-Journal and other newspaper clients may be liable for. Joe Mullin writes:

So what began as a business deal in which there was no downside for Stephens Media now looks like a situation where the company could be on the hook for a serious chunk of change. It's worth noting that the contract actually has a specific clause (see Section 11) in which Righthaven indemnifies Stephens Media in the event that attorneys' fees need to be paid to an opponent. But could Righthaven really fulfill that obligation? What assets does Righthaven really haven? Likely not much; it's a company set up just to file lawsuits. One generous estimate is that the company has made a couple hundred thousand dollars of gross revenue in the single year it's been in business. That's surely been distributed to attorneys and staff. That means that a situation where newspaper companies ultimately end up on the hook for payments is a real possibility.

Righthaven wanted to keep these documents sealed, but they utterly failed to convince the U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt to take their side. Other defendants, and the public at large, should have a right to view the contracts, as well as DU's arguments that they are a sham, which were sealed until Friday. "Because these cases have generated a great deal of public interest, particularly in the media and on the internet, that there is a right of the public to this information which overrides any claimed confidential commercial rights," Hunt wrote in his order.

Hunt also shows how peeved he is at Righthaven's litigation behavior. (The company truly seems to have a knack for angering judges.) Judge Hunt criticizes how Righthaven has attacked opposing counsel, writing: "There is an old adage in the law that, if the facts are on your side, you pound on the facts. If the law is on your side, you pound on the law. If neither the facts nor the law is on your side, you pound on the table. It appears there is a lot of table pounding going on here."

Righthaven's Secret Contract Revealed: Will Its Strategy Collapse? (via /.)



  1. Ha ha. I personally hope that the legal fees murder off both Righthaven and asshole who signed on with them. How much have they extorted already? Can all of those people now turn around and seek damages?

  2. If the law was fair Righthaven’s attorneys would all be hit with automatic sanctions for claiming damages when there were none. If all you have is a right to sue then you have no damages because copying and publishing a work licensed by Righthaven doesn’t interfere with its putative “right to sue” in any way, shape or form. Additionally, I’d say that all of Righthaven’s Federal copyright registrations in its own name are fraudulent since they never actually bought the copyrights, only the right to sue. Righthaven should be sanctioned for contempt of court and prosecuted by the DOJ for fraud and perjury.

  3. Oh, and I’d say Righthaven needs to be prosecuted for illegally operating as a law firm. The agreement between Stephens Media and Right Haven seems to be a legal fiction where Righthaven acts as a contingency law firm, taking 50% of any recoveries, but where Righthaven pretends to be the copyright owner. The purpose of this seems to be to insulate Stephens media from both bad publicity and from legal liability for attorney’s costs should any lawsuits be lost and have to pay attorney’s fees to the defendants.

  4. This is more important than 99% of the crap that appeared in my morning paper, but it will be largely ignored by the mainstream press. EFF’s victories are our victories… Thanks for raising the visibility, Cory!

  5. It would be fairly trivial for the paper and righthaven to redraw their contract to clear up the problem,and resume business as usual.
    This was an important win for EFF, but it’s probably very temporary.

  6. “It would be fairly trivial for the paper and righthaven to redraw their contract to clear up the problem,and resume business as usual.”

    That might be true if either party were sincere, but Stephens Media apparently does not wish to *actually* give up the rights to its stories to a third party, nor does it seem to want to sue in its own name. So, a solution might not be so simple with their requirements in mind. I’d also hope that EFF succeeds on striking down post hoc transfer of copyrights for purposes of suing even where fully copyrights are transferred since the “damage” was done before the rights were purchased and thus the “damage” should have been factored into the purchase price and there is no loss on the part of the purchaser of the rights.

  7. Let’s see. You’re filling these frivolous lawsuits when you have no right to do so in the first place. What is one of the last websites you want to file suit against? Probably a large, well-known, well-funded website whose readers happen to belong to a political party favored by trial lawyers. Absolutely brilliant, Righthaven.

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