Warning: Copyright troll Righthaven extorts settlements from bloggers

Where the law has created a legal way to extort money from hapless netizens, Righthaven has stepped in for some quick cash. They’re not evil geniuses. They’re not right wing extremists. They’re not left wing zealots. The truth is much worse. They’re just jerks.

Eric Johnson, associate professor of law, University of North Dakota

Righthaven LLC is a copyright holding company founded in early 2010, which acquires newspaper content from its partner newspapers after finding that the content has been copied to online sites without permission, in order to engage in litigation against the site owners for copyright infringement. Here’s a more down-to-earth explanation of Righthaven’s business model:

Say, you are a blogger, and you happen to post an excerpt of an article or a photo from a newspaper that partners with Righthaven. Righthaven will gain the copyright to that material from the newspaper and then sue you, without warning, for, say, $150,000. Then, banking on the fact that you may not have the cash to hire a lawyer and fly to Las Vegas to defend yourself, they will offer to settle for, say, $2,500.

In one instance, Righthaven sued a chronically ill, mildly autistic young man named Brian Hill who published a photo on his non-profit blog without permission from a Denver paper, one of Righthaven’s partners. Both Brian and his mother are disabled. Righthaven demanded a settlement of $6,000, which Brian could not pay. So Righthaven threatened to garnish his Social Security income, at $50 per month, for 10 years. Brian and his mother obtained pro bono legal counsel and, thanks to a ticked off judge and public outrage about the case, Righthaven dropped the suit.

As of July 13, 2011, Righthaven has teamed with the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post to file 275 federal lawsuits alleging copyright infringement, and has collected an estimated $350,000 in settlements from about 140 victims. From its inception in March of 2010, Righthaven and its newspaper partners have been criticized for using the court system, not for justice, but for lawsuit settlement shakedowns to make a quick buck. Because of the unprecedented number, the no-warning feature of the lawsuits, and questions about Righthaven’s legal standing to sue, some judges are finding the lawsuits without merit.

Happily, a ferocious legal backlash is brewing against Righthaven and its newspaper clients that could cost them hundreds of thousands or even millions in damages paid to blogger victims who thought they were protected under Fair Use laws. Fair Use laws allow you to use copyrighted material for criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. If the legal challenges are successful, Righthaven will suffer an expensive defeat that could deter others from trying the same “business model.”

FYI:  If you end up sued by Righthaven, Lawyer Todd Kincannon of The Kincannon Firm is accepting Righthaven targets as clients in a possible class action suit.

Meanwhile, how do you protect yourself?

The following material is taken from a new website, Righthaven Victims. It suggests the following protective measures:

1.) Designate a DMCA Agent with the U.S. Copyright Office

DMCA (Designation of Agent to Receive Notification of Claims Infringement). Many website owners may be under the impression that they are protected by the DMCA when in reality, there are very specific requirements that must be met before a website owner can invoke the DMCA safe harbor provisions. See 17 U.S.C. §512(c).

In particular, the safe harbor only applies to service providers who have designated an agent to receive notifications of claimed infringement and providing information about the agent (name, address, phone number, and electronic mail address of the agent) to the Register of Copyrights, which maintains a directory of agents available for publication inspection.

Related Wired Article: The $105 Fix That Could Protect You

2.) Remove Existing Content Copyrighted by Righthaven

Click the link above and follow the U.S. Copyright Public Catalog to scrub your domains of all infringing content.

3.) Block All Righthaven Affiliated Newspapers from Your Browser

Click the link above for a comprehensive list and instruction set to BLOCK Righthaven clients.

Photo credit:  Halcyon, licensed under Flickr Creative Commons