"Though we believe news organizations deserve to make money off their creative work, Reporters Without Borders urges The Denver Post to reconsider its approach to these lawsuits," the group said in a letter addressed to MediaNews CEO Dean Singleton. "We suggest that you first ask bloggers and other secondary users of materials to first remove content before taking such drastic actions."
Reporters Without Borders was responding to a recent Righthaven case against Brian Hill, a 20-year-old autistic blogger who was sued for allegedly posting to his blog a photo that first appeared in The Denver Post. Hill, who receives Social Security, shuttered his blog after being sued by Righthaven for $150,000.
Denver Westword, which first reported on the Reporters Without Borders letter, says that at least two other Colorado-area blogs have temporarily shuttered because they were afraid that Righthaven might sue them.
Overall, Righthaven has sued 35 bloggers and publishers, including Citadel Broadcasting over the same photo that Hill allegedly reposted. The picture itself depicts a patdown at an airport.
Some observers have said that the photo has been distributed so widely that many people don't realize the copyright is owned by a newspaper. "What's new -- and troubling -- with these latest lawsuits is that the people being sued may have had no idea that the photo they were using originated with the Denver Post," writes University of North Dakota law professor Eric Johnson. "Since the photo went viral, it's showed up in Google image search results disconnected from the Denver Post." As in Righthaven's other 200-plus lawsuits, the company obtained rights to the photo after it appeared in print in order to file copyright infringement lawsuits. Righthaven typically sues bloggers and other small publishers for $150,000 per work infringed -- the maximum allowed by law -- without first asking them to remove the material. (Citadel is the only large media company sued to date by Righthaven.)
While Reporters Without Borders writes that it doesn't support copyright infringement, it also said that Hill's decision to close his site "constitutes a very bad precedent for freedom of the press in the U.S." The group added it was "surprised to witness such behavior" in the U.S. "This is generally a phenomenon Reporters Without Borders witnesses in authoritarian regimes to silence netizens and intimidate journalists, bloggers and others," the letter says.