After snatching a notorious copyright troll's name at auction, a Swiss company is turning Righthaven.com into a web hosting service. The intended customers? Publishers worried about the kind of abusive legal threats spewed out by the domain's previous owner.
"The Swiss courts don't play games and registrars here cannot be scared," said Stefan Thalberg of Ort Cloud, an ISP based in Zürich. "Frivolous plaintiffs will find little comfort here."
With hosting in Switzerland and planned in Iceland, the new Righthaven promises "infrajuridsictional infrastructure" — in other words, uptime that would require international co-operation to bring down.
The announcement comes days after a fight over anti-piracy bills in Congress, described by opponents as a threat to free speech, culminated in websites shutting down in protest.
Through a partnership with U.S.-based first amendment lawyers Marc Randazza and Kenneth White, the new Righthaven says it will be able to vigorously defend itself in American courtrooms–and protect its clients from those who abuse laws such as the DMCA to stifle criticism.
Randazza was a frequent critic of the old Righthaven, fighting it in court and hastening its demise.
"Because most hosting providers deal with thin margins, and because legislation in the United States and elsewhere has made it cheaper to ignominiously freeze, cancel or boot clients rather than stand up for the legitimate fair-use of otherwise protected content, it is difficult if not impossible to find hosting providers willing to protect their clients from frivolous or overly aggressive take-down tactics," the new Righthaven says at its website.
On its official blog, it also sets out to name and shame competitors it sees as "jellyfish". An official account, @righthavened is live at Twitter.
OrtCloud is a Swiss internet service provider that focuses on financial and scientific companies. Its homepage advertises the "privacy-friendly, regulatory-havens of Iceland and the Swiss cantons of Zürich and Zug" beneath a photograph of the Swiss National Bank.
A recent report published by the Swiss government ruled against controls on file-sharing, and went as far as to desribe other countries' copyright enforcement regimes as repressive.
The new Righthaven insists, however, that it isn't in it to help people break the law: "There'll be no piracy, no torrent hosting." Thalberg said.
Given the established client list, it may be no surprise that Thalberg also said that it would not be in a position to act as a whistleblowing service, a la Wikileaks: "We focus on hosting expression that has traditionally been subjected to frivolous legal threats based on its content."
They will, however, accept adult content providers, which will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis "with an eye to being as inclusive as possible."
The original Righthaven, based in Las Vegas, tried to make a business out of licensing the "right to sue" from copyright holders, then demanding settlements from websites who had published even small excerpts of content. The business failed after courts took a dim view of the business model's legality and the specifics of some lawsuits.
One of Righthaven's most notorious strategies was to demand that victims hand over their own domain names in order to avoid lawsuits.
"The poetic justice, the karma … it's wonderful," Thalberg said, adding that they intended to dedicate "significant resources" to abuse management and legal support.
After Righthaven's collapse, assets such as the domain name were auctioned off to raise money to pay creditors. Thalberg snapped it up for just $3,300, expecting a much higher price tag.
At first, only the updated "whois" info and a mysterious splash page offered clues as to the new owner's intent. The site partially uncloaked for last week's internet black-out, publishing a a satirical letter to Hollywood lobbyist Chris Dodd, assailing the former U.S. Senator with remarks amusingly-obscured by censorship bars.
The new site went live Monday with a FAQ that often reads like a manifesto:
"The daunting threat of meritless civil litigation creates the sort of chilling effect that would probably be flagrantly unconstitutional if attempted directly by the United States Government," the site states. "From a distance it almost looks as if a number of big-media lobbyists have root-kitted the United States constitution."