Righthaven Drops Copyright Lawsuit Over Story about Righthaven

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Righthaven filed, and then withdrew, a lawsuit against an Ars Technica writer.(Righthaven.com)

Righthaven has drawn much attention over the past year for its lawsuits on behalf of the copyright of news outlets the Denver Post and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  Since March 2010, the company has filed 261 suits, 57 of which are over a Denver Post photo of a pat-down, the Las Vegas Sun reported.

And, just this week, Righthaven filed a lawsuit against an Ars Technica writer over the writer’s story on Righthaven’s lawsuit.  Ars Technica is a technology news and reviews website.

The Ars Technica writer, Eriq Gardner, reported on Righthaven’s high-profile lawsuit of Matt Drudge’s Drudge Report, alleging that Drudge violated Denver Post copyright by publishing a photo of TSA patdowns.  (The suit against Drudge appears to have been settled. See StinkyJournalism’s story on that here.) See the article in question here.

The suit was quickly dropped, and Righthaven cited “a clerical mistake” for the lawsuit’s filing, Ars Technica reported

Ars Technica described how it was accused of violating copyright:

“In our article, we reproduced the pat-down photo in question. It wasn’t a copy of the original image. No, our reproduction came from Righthaven’s own court filing against The Drudge Report. It was a grainy black-and-white image from the court documents, which in turn had copied the image from Drudge, which in turn had (allegedly) copied it from the Post.”

Ars Technica defended its use of the photo as fair use and cited its statuses. “The reaction around the Ars newsroom—and from our legal counsel—was absolute bafflement.”

Also, Ars Technica noted that “bizarrely,” Righthaven filed the suit against the story’s writer, and not Ars Technica.

“The result is that we had a New York writer being sued by a Nevada company over a Colorado photo published by a New York-based website. Righthaven claimed ‘willful’ infringement and requested statutory damages, which can reach as high as $150,000 per infringement. In addition, they wanted their legal fees covered. And they wanted ‘pre- and post-judgment interest.'”

So, Ars Technica wrote that it called Righthaven and spoke with two of its lawyers, Steven Ganim and Shawn Mangano.  They reportedly told Ars Technica that the suit was “‘dismissed with prejudice’ this morning after it ‘came to our attention’ that Gardner was a reporter.”

Mangano reportedly told Ars Technica “We strive for accuracy.  This is the first time in 200+ lawsuits that we have voluntarily dismissed with prejudice.”

But, Ars Technica still appeared to be confused by Righthaven’s suit:

“He offered no apology, though he did chuckle at the absurdity of it all. Ha. What’s a little litigation among friends?”

“It’s easy to blame Righthaven for this farce—and, let’s be clear, we absolutely do—but no one forced venerable papers like the Denver Post to walk this road. Newspapers have been hard hit recently; it’s easy to see why these might cling to anything that might keep them from plunging over the cliff, but this work with Righthaven embarrasses their brands, their missions, and their long history. It’s beneath them. We hope they find a better path back to profitability.”

See the suit against Ars Technica’s writer here.

In other Righthaven news, a judge recently ruled that “non-profits may re-print entire articles from news outlets under certain circumstances,” Technology Review reported.  The ruling was a result of Righthaven’s suit against Oregon nonprofit organization the Center for Intercultural Organizing.

The Associated Press & Righthaven?

iMediaEthics noted in November when the Denver Post issued a “notice to readers” about its copyright restrictions.  We wondered if the Post would follow the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s suit and start using Righthaven to sue for copyright infringement.  Within weeks of that notice, Righthaven filed its first lawsuit on behalf of the Denver Post’s content.

Is the Associated Press the next news venue to use Righthaven? Law.com recently wondered that, noting that the Denver Post’s publisher, William Dean Singleton, is also the chairman of the AP’s board of directors.

An AP spokesperson and Righthaven’s Steven Gibson didn’t comment to Law.com about the possibility.

But, the Las Vegas Sun reported that the AP wouldn’t be using Righthaven for “licensing content.”

Brian Hill

Westword blog noted that Reporters without Borders is backing Brian Hill in his motion to dismiss the lawsuit against him filed by Righthaven.

Hill is a North Carolina man described as a “chronically ill, mildly autistic hobby blogger,” who was sued after he published a Denver Post picture on his website, according to Westword.

In an announcement on his website, he warned other bloggers that they can be sued not just for republishing news outlets’ material, but also their own. Hill also announced that he is shutting his website down.

“The funny thing is you can also be sued for your own content that you created yourself because RightHaven can get the copyright of any bloggers content then sue them for it. So this IS the end of Free Speech as we know it. Copyright is King! Those that want Free Speech have to afford a patent attorney and patent everything they say,” Hill wrote.

Hill also linked to a story on law professor Eric E. Johnson’s blog, BlogLawBlog.  The July 2010 post reported that Righthaven was suing Las Vegas Advisor blog publisher Anthony Curtis for reposing a Las Vegas Review-Journal story that “was written about the defendant, and used his data and contained quotes from him.”

See iMediaEthics’ coverage of Righthaven and its lawsuits here.

We are writing to the various stakeholders and will report any comments.

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Righthaven Drops Copyright Lawsuit Over Story about Righthaven

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