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A judge ruled that Righthaven doesn't have the right to sue on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal's copyright. (Credit: Flickr, "MikeBlogs")

U.S. judge Roger Hunt issued a ruling last week that copyright enforcement company Righthaven “never had the right to sue for infringement of Las Vegas Review-Journal articles because the newspaper’s parent company, Stephens Media, hadn’t assigned to Righthaven the ability to license those articles,” Media Post reported.

Righthaven did have the “ability to sue” but not “the right to profit from the work by licensing it,” according to the judge. Righthaven has been filing lawsuits alleging copyright infringement on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal since May 2010 and on behalf of the Denver Post since December 2010.

This most recent ruling can be read on Wired website here. The Wired story, titled, “Righthaven Loss: Judge Rules Reposting Entire Article Is Fair Use,” states: “A federal judge ruled Monday that publishing an entire article without the rights holder’s authorization was a fair use of the work, in yet another blow to newspaper copyright troll Righthaven.”

As a result, bloggers who settled with Righthaven over lawsuits alleging copyright infringement are questioning if they have any further recourse, according to Media Post.

For example, Wired reported that Clayton Cramer, who settled with Righthaven after being sued for violating a Las Vegas Review-Journal story’s copyright, is “thinking seriously” about his next action given the ruling.  Cramer reportedly explained that his site, Armedcitizen.net, settled because Righthaven’s “threat” was “credible.”

According to Wired, more than 100 bloggers and website owners have agreed to settle with Righthaven.

ABA Journal noted that Hunt’s ruling found that Righthaven only has the “right to sue” and if Righthaven says otherwise it’s “disingenous, if not outright deceitful.”

Forbes‘ Jeff Bercovici reported June 15 that Righthaven attorney (and CEO) Steven Gibson stated that RIghthaven is “obviously disappointed in the decision” against Righthaven’s legal right to sue and that the ruling ” raises an interesting question as to who does have standing.”

Nevada State Bar & Righthaven

Vegas Inc reported that the Nevada State Bar “has been looking into multiple grievances involving Righthaven and its CEO,” Gibson, since at least Sept. 2010. According to Vegas Inc, an unnamed spokesperson from the Bar confirmed that there are “two or possible three” pending grievances of an undisclosed matter.

According to Vegas Inc, “two broad areas” the State Bar may be looking at include determining if Righthaven has used “champerty and battry” or if Righthaven has “made misrepresentations to the court.”

SC Blogger Sues Righthaven, Denver Post, MediaNews Group

Vegas Inc. also reported that a Righthaven defendant, Dana Eiser, has filed a lawsuit against the Denver Post, Righthaven and Post owner MediaNews Group Inc.,after Righthaven sued Eiser for infringement.

As iMediaEthics reported last December, Eiser didn’t even know she was being sued until iMediaEthics contacted her for comment about the lawsuit. Eiser, who is president of conservative grassroots group Lowcountry 912, was sued after a Denver Post column was re-published on Lowcountry 912’s blog.  Lowcountry 912, which is based in South Carolina, did credit the Denver Post.

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Her lawsuit claims the three companies engaged in barratry and “unfair trade practices.”  According to Vegas Inc, Eiser’s lawsuit alleges the Denver Post “actively encouraged users of its website to share its stories and other material.”

“Unknown to the [Lowcountry 9/12 member], the Post had inserted a ‘Trojan horse’ piece of computer code in the downloaded column, the lawsuit charges.”

According to Vegas Inc, that “Trojan horse” code is “a unique per-customer code generated to allow the Denver Post to associate a particular pasted copy with a specific customer’s IP address for the purpose of identifying defendants for prosecution—and persecution—by Righthaven.”

Eiser’s lawsuit notes that the Denver Post automatically adds “Read more” with the story’s headline when copy and pasting Denver Post content, according to Vegas Inc.   If the Denver Post wanted to warn users regarding copyright, Eiser’s suit notes the Post could change that text to notify readers of copyright violation.

Because it doesn’t, her lawsuit claims “the software tricks unknowing users into believing they have done nothing wrong while simultaneously helping Righthaven sue them later.”

The lawsuit alleges that Righthaven’s “business model constitutes barratry,” which is “a criminal act” in South Carolina – where the lawsuit is filed — because Righthaven has “no actual interest” in media, just in obtaining money from copyright suits.

Eiser’s lawsuit also claims that Righthaven and its CEO Steven Gibson defamed Eiser when Gibson called Righthaven defendants in a January interview “the infringement community” and “a community of thieves.”

iMediaEthics is writing to Eiser for comment and will update with any response.

Insufficient Disclosure in Denver Post Article on Righthaven?

Westword blog criticized The Denver Post for its “belated in-print acknowledgment” of the Post-Righthaven arrangement in its story on criticism of Righthaven.

Westword claims the Post’s article “offers a weak, startlingly incomplete look at the company and its approach, as well as its association with the Post.”  Westword also called the Post’s reporting on Righthaven “journalistic embarrassing.”

While the Post’s headline discloses the “copyright litigator” works “for Denver Post,” the Denver Post’s use of Righthaven is mentioned only once in the seventh paragraph. The Post reported that its parent company’s vice president, Sara Glines, “declined to comment for this story,” but did cite Glines’ earlier comments to The New York Times.

See iMediaEthics’ reporting on Righthaven and these copyright infringement lawsuits here.

iMediaEthics is writing to Righthaven for comment and will update with any response.

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