Commentary

Lawsuits Take Aim At Sites For Excerpting -- And Linking -- Newspaper

Suing newspaper readers who post excerpts of articles and link back to them seems like a very questionable business decision.

Yet that's exactly what's going on in Nevada, where a new company, Righthaven, has recently filed five lawsuits alleging copyright infringement based on lifting portions of articles from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Righthaven alleges that it has obtained exclusive rights in the copyrights from the newspaper's parent company.

The defendants include a local real estate agent, the advocacy group NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and a gambling portal. None are competing news organizations.

In an unusual sequence of events, Righthaven filed suit before anyone had asked the defendants to remove the posts. While there's no law requiring content owners to send cease-and-desists before suing, the failure to do so here indicates that the motive wasn't to take down the articles as much as to shake down the people and organizations who had posted them.

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In an era of declining ad revenue and circulation, it's understandable if newspaper executives are somewhat panicked about their future. It's also understandable if newspaper executives are tempted to sue online aggregators or rivals for "stealing" content.

But arranging for a third party to target readers like a local real estate agent, and nonprofits like NORML? That can only hurt the paper's reputation with its readers while doing very little to solve the underlying business issues, such as the migration of classified ads to free sites like Craigslist.

What's more, the initiative isn't likely to generate much revenue for anyone.

First of all, some defendants have already told the press they intend to argue they made fair use of the articles. Any litigation over that issue will probably prove expensive for all parties -- including Righthaven.

Second, it seems unlikely that the newspaper will be able to prove that it suffered damages as a result of the excerpts and links. Yes, the federal copyright statute provides for a minimum damage award of $750 per infringement, but that could quickly be eaten up by litigation costs.

What's more, some copyright defendants in music piracy cases are challenging the constitutionality of the law's damages provisions. The argument against statutory minimums seems even stronger here, where readers shared news stories and provided links back to the paper.

6 comments about "Lawsuits Take Aim At Sites For Excerpting -- And Linking -- Newspaper ".
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  1. David Carlick from Carlick, April 23, 2010 at 6:28 p.m.

    Indeed, this sounds like a shakedown rather than a takedown. For that matter, what publisher in their right mind would sue readers who are promoting their site or publication?

  2. David Hawthorne from HCI LearningWorks, April 23, 2010 at 7:02 p.m.

    The only inexhaustible resource is the stupidity of newspaper "printers" (I've decided to stop calling them"publishers" --it's too high-fallutin for these knuckleheads. In fact, I am issuing a pre-emptive apology to any printers or knuckleheads I may have insulted).

  3. Dr a Trimpi from AMA R & D / LAUSD, April 26, 2010 at 3:07 a.m.

    re:
    Lawsuits Take Aim At Sites For Excerpting -- And Linking -- Newspaper

    From what the article says,

    As Freedom of the Press is meant to extend, enable, and amplify Freedom of Speech;
    Internet correspondance in peronal e-mails is Free Private Speech;
    Personal blog thoughts are Free Public Speech.

    So, Righthaven is likely trying a cynical bid for publicity,
    or attempting to control what others say about it.

    That would be censorship, the anti-thesis of Free Speech.

    The money issue is likely a Red Herring.

  4. Dr a Trimpi from AMA R & D / LAUSD, April 26, 2010 at 4:06 a.m.

    I do not know what Righthaven's cast of mind about all this is, and would like to invite them to declare their point of view and purpose on this blog, should they think this readership has any significance to them, and so be interested in doing so. Perhaps my hypothecation of their possibly likely motives has overlooked another fundamental issue to them. Let's see - - -

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  6. George McLam, April 28, 2010 at 6:48 p.m.

    It looks to me like these folks in the newspaper business are going to be the "new RIAA", someone who has a business model that no longer works and have decided to sue their customers.

    Back when I was able to sample complete songs before making a purchase, I purchased more music than any other time in my life. The one thing that causes me to even care a little bit about newspapers in this country is when I am led to them by excerpts and links. So let's make the links/etc illegal and let newspapers fall into the same category as CDs - extinct.

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