Federal Court Throws Out Righthaven Copyright Infringement Suit

A Federal Judge in Nevada has issued a devastating ruling against Righthaven, the company that has sued hundreds of bloggers for alleged infringement of material from newspapers such as the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

A federal judge in Las Vegas today issued a potentially devastating ruling against copyright enforcer Righthaven LLC, finding it doesn’t have standing to sue over Las Vegas Review-Journal stories, that it has misled the court and threatening to impose sanctions against Righthaven.

Because he found Righthaven doesn’t have standing to sue, Chief U.S. District Judge for Nevada Roger Hunt dismissed Righthaven’s copyright infringement lawsuit against the Democratic Underground.

But he’s allowing the Democratic Underground to continue its counterclaim against Stephens Media LLC, owner of the Review-Journal. That could be expensive for Stephens Media as the Democratic Underground attorneys from the Electronic Frontier Foundation are asking to be awarded attorney’s fees.

“The court believes that Righthaven has made multiple inaccurate and likely dishonest statements to the court,” Hunt wrote in his ruling, citing specifically Righthaven’s failure to disclose Stephens Media as an interested party in the litigation as Stephens Media clearly had an interest in the outcome of the copyright lawsuits.

“Accordingly, the court orders Righthaven to show cause, in writing, no later than two weeks from the date of this order, why it should not be sanctioned for this flagrant misrepresentation to the court,” Hunt wrote in his ruling.

As for the merits of the case, the Court looked to the terms of the contract between Righthaven and the actual copyright owners, which only transfer to Righthaven the right to sue for copyright infringement:

Hunt wrote the recently unsealed lawsuit contract between Righthaven and Stephens Media — called the Strategic Alliance Agreement (SAA) — clearly leaves Stephens Media in control of the copyrights and gives Righthaven only the right to sue.

In order to file lawsuits, copyright plaintiffs have to have actual control of the copyrights, not just the right to sue, Hunt found.

“Because the SAA (lawsuit contract) prevents Righthaven from obtaining any of the exclusive rights necessary to maintain standing in a copyright infringement action, the court finds that Righthaven lacks standing in this case,” Hunt’s ruling said.

If adopted by the other federal judges hearing Righthaven lawsuits in Nevada, Colorado and South Carolina, Hunt’s ruling could shut down Righthaven’s lawsuit campaign — though it can always appeal or amend its lawsuit contracts with the newspapers. Righthaven has filed 274 lawsuits over Review-Journal and Denver Post material since March 2010, though many of those suits have been settled.

I’ve got to agree with Megan McArdle that this is sweet justice. Righthaven has built its business model not on providing content, but on filing lawsuits for alleged infringement of content created by others with the clear strategy for forcing quick settlements from bloggers who don’t have the resources to litigate a copyright claim in a Federal Court in Nevada. A judicial slap back, assuming it survives on appeal, would send a could message to similar litigation mills. Righthaven says it will continue to fight on, which presumably means an appeal, but nonetheless, this is a pretty strong rebuke.

Here’s the opinion:

Righthaven LLC v. Democratic Underground LLC

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Economics and Business, Law and the Courts, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Brett says:

    I really, really hope that Righthaven is forced to pay the winners’ attorney fees. I read in an article elsewhere that it would open them up to being sued for legal costs by all the other defendants they pressured into negotiating private settlements, and that would be both sweet justice and a devastating blow to the Patent and Copyright Troll Industry.

    Of course, the real root of this problem is a patent and copyright system that allows people to collect patents and copyrights they never created themselves, and exploit the legal rents. Until that is reformed (and before anyone objects, I’m not saying that we should eliminate patents and copyrights), we’ll continue to see groups try and do this tactic to their commercial advantage.

  2. John Burgess says:

    Couldn’t happen to a worse bunch of trolls.

    I’m certainly for amending current copyright law. I think it should go back to the earlier, and much, much shorter periods of protection, with a 28-year maximum coverage.

  3. Trumwill says:

    and before anyone objects, I’m not saying that we should eliminate patents and copyrights

    Fair enough, though how do you differentiate between a company like Righthaven and a company like Warner Bros, which has properties that it either purchased or that people created work-for-hire? Should creative product be non-transferrable? (These are genuine questions, not gotcha questions or anything like that.)

  4. Trumwill says:

    I’m certainly for amending current copyright law. I think it should go back to the earlier, and much, much shorter periods of protection, with a 28-year maximum coverage.

    Now that I agree with, wholeheartedly. As the families of the creators duke it out with DC Comics over their dualling rights to Superman, I don’t see why either of them should have the rights at all.

  5. Brett says:

    I was thinking of some kind of “utilization within a time period” requirement. That would keep companies from simply sitting on patents for years until someone makes something that uses it, then suing them for royalties.

  6. Bill Jempty says:

    One of the most annoying practices newspapers have is putting all past articles into a paid archive. Even for the newspaper’s subscribers. I’ve been subscribing to the same newspaper for 22 years but once an article gets 90 days old, I can’t access it anymore.