Stephens Media: Copyright Suits Fight Web Sites With 'Parasitic Business Models'
He compared a blogger who reposts newspaper articles to a stranger who takes a car from someone's front yard: "When it comes to copyrighted material -- news that my company spends money to gather and constitutes the essence of what we are as a business -- some people think they can not only look at it, but also steal it," he wrote.
At the time, Frederick's analogy seemed odd given the obvious differences between newspaper articles -- which Stephens Media's flagship, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, encouraged people to share for free -- and a tangible piece of property that can only be used by one person at a time.
Since then, Stephens Media has been relatively quiet regarding Righthaven, the shop that has filed nearly 300 lawsuits against bloggers, small publishers, nonprofits and other Web site operators that allegedly infringed copyright by reposting material that originated with either the Las Vegas Review-Journal or The Denver Post. (Stephens Media assigned the right to litigate copyright infringement claims to Righthaven; it's not clear what arrangement the company has with The Denver Post.)
On Monday, Stephens Media broke its silence and offered yet another attempt to justify Righthaven's existence. "Many of the websites that traffic in the news of the day create no original content of their own. More often than not, they simply aggregate work that originated in a newspaper," the company wrote in court papers. "In light of the parasitic business model employed by many website operators, Stephens Media contracted with Righthaven in an effort to curb the unauthorized use of its original content on the World Wide Web."
The newspaper chain makes the argument in an attempt to convince a court to dismiss a counterclaim brought by the political Web site Democratic Underground, sued last year by Righthaven. Democratic Underground allegedly posted an excerpt of a Las Vegas Review-Journal article about the Tea Party boosting Sharron Angle in her bid last year to be elected to the U.S. Senate.
Righthaven later attempted to withdraw the case, but the Democratic Underground (represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation) argued that it was entitled to recoup attorneys' fees from Righthaven and/or Stephens Media. The EFF argues that Stephens Media's assignment of rights to Righthaven is a sham; additionally, the EFF is seeking a ruling stating that the Democratic Underground didn't infringe copyright of either the newspaper or Righthaven.
Stephens Media's rationalization for the lawsuits might make sense if Righthaven had focused on online news aggregators who populated their sites with nothing other than ads and scraped articles; it's at least debatable whether these types of aggregators are hurting newspapers' bottom line by diverting traffic from news sites.
Instead, the company has brought dozens of cases against hobbyists, nonprofits, politicians and others who were trying to share information and spark debate, as opposed to siphoning newspapers' revenue. If Stephens Media or Righthaven has any evidence to show that these individuals have harmed the newspaper industry, it has yet to surface.