Stephens Media's Copyright Enforcer Righthaven Struggles

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Oct. 3, 2011 12:00 am  

Righthaven LLC of Las Vegas, the company that was authorized to file copyright infringement lawsuits for Arkansas-owned Stephens Media of Las Vegas and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette owner Wehco Media, has encountered rough sledding for its business plan.

Stephens Media CEO Mike Ferguson told Outtakes last week that his company is no longer involved with Righthaven, despite being an early investor and its first client.

And Wehco ended its agreement without permitting Righthaven to file any lawsuits on its behalf, Wehco Newspapers President Paul Smith said.

Beginning in 2010, Righthaven made itself the darling of media companies frustrated with casual lifting of material that has been produced at no small expense.

But Righthaven became the demon of bloggers and other website operators who have been sued for what, in some cases, appeared to be legal use or simple ignorance of copyright law.

Early targets tended to settle rather than take their chances in court. But as the number of copyright infringement suits grew into the hundreds, defendants began taking on Righthaven and its founder, attorney Steve Gibson. And the courts have not been kind.

No judge has ruled in Righthaven's favor, according to Las Vegas attorney Marc Randazza, who is defending against Righthaven in about a dozen cases.

Gibson did not return calls for comment.

Randazza said most of the people Righthaven sued were engaged in "fair use" of published articles or photographs and gave proper credit when posting them on personal blogs or public forums.

Fair use is a recognized legal doctrine that allows the publication of someone else's copyrighted material under certain circumstances - generally when only excerpts are used and properly credited.

"I think what Righthaven's doing is abusive and - at least two courts have agreed so far - is contrary to the law," Randazza said. "What's abusive is they're going after people who didn't do anything wrong."

What's more, two federal judges have ruled that Righthaven didn't have the right to sue anyone, fair use or not, because its newspaper clients only temporarily transferred ownership.



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