Righthaven Files More Lawsuits Amid Questions About Group's Agenda
In the latest lawsuits, against the nonprofit Ecological Internet and the operator of the sports betting site madjacksports.com, as with the prior 11 filed since March, Righthaven says it obtained the copyrights to the newspapers' articles. In all cases, Righthaven apparently went to court without first asking that the articles be removed. While sending takedown notices isn't legally required, it's extremely unusual for content owners to sue over newspaper articles when no one has previously complained to the operators.
Glen Barry, who runs Ecological Internet, says he has kept a database of articles about environmental issues for 15 years without previously facing litigation. "We have already amicably resolved similar situations with other outlets, including The New York Times," he says. He adds that he preserved copies of the articles on his site for research purposes. "We are building a scholarly archive to solve ecological crises," he says.
Barry adds that he checked the site's logs after speaking with Online Media Daily and discovered that the site had just four articles from the Las Vegas Review-Journal in its archives. None had ever been clicked on, he said.
In the meantime, at least one Righthaven defendant is questioning whether it was targeted for political reasons. The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, sued last month, was previously named by the Las Vegas Review-Journal as one of the five "worst taxpayer nightmares of the year."
"This nonprofit band of lefties never tires of coming up with ways to spend other people's money in the pursuit of 'social, economic and environmental justice,'" the paper railed in a December editorial.
PLAN now sees a connection between the paper's stance and the lawsuit. "They've got a right to say what they want to say," says communications director Launce Rake. "But at this point, I believe they just want to shut us down."
But it's not yet clear whether Righthaven intends to bring actions against conservative organizations. Righthaven CEO Steven Gibson says that his concern is limited to fighting the "rampant" copyright infringement occurring online. He specifically denies any link between the newspaper's editorial stance and the lawsuits brought to date. "We're non-discriminatory in terms of addressing copyright infringement," he says.
Other defendants include the progressive group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a real estate blogger, sites related to sports gambling, a group that opposes wind energy, an environmental site and the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. In 2002, the Las Vegas Review-Journal ran an editorial urging the decriminalization of marijuana.
Still, some observers have noted that Righthaven so far has not filed suits against any right-wing organizations or Republican groups that the paper currently appears to support. The Las Vegas Journal Review (which covers the media and has no connection to the Review-Journal) and Media Matters for America have both pointed out that Righthaven appears to allow U.S. Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian to reproduce the paper's stories on his campaign site.
Media Matters also said that some legal experts believe that allowing one political group to post copyrighted material but preventing others potentially violates campaign finance law.
Whether the lawsuits are aimed at forcing liberal groups to shut down or not, that could well be the effect, says Santa Clara University professor Eric Goldman. Simply defending a lawsuit could easily cost at least $100,00, he estimates. In addition, statutory damages in copyright infringement lawsuits -- available regardless of any actual economic harm -- range from $750 to $150,000 per infringement.