In the six months since Righthaven launched, the company has sued more than 100 Web site operators for alleged copyright infringement based on reposting news articles (or portions of articles) that originally appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and other papers owned by Stephens Media.
Among the defendants are nonprofits like NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), political organizations including the Democratic Party of Nevada and individuals who run noncommercial blogs about matters such as the environment or health issues. Many of the Web sites linked back to the newspaper where the story originally appeared.
Righthaven's modus operandi is to file suit before complaining to the sites and asking that the operators remove the content. While there's no legal requirement to send cease-and-desist requests before filing suit, most news organizations don't just take their readers to court without first trying to resolve the matter out-of-court.
But Righthaven doesn't appear driven by a desire to take down content. Rather, the lawsuits seem to mark a mean-spirited attempt to squeeze a few thousand dollars from readers -- including ones who probably were among the paper's biggest fans. After all, the people who repost articles on other forums generally do so because they think the pieces are important enough to disseminate to a wider audience.
Righthaven CEO Steven Gibson casts himself as some kind of avenger of the news industry, seeking to redress the ills that have befallen newspapers in the last decade. But he hasn't yet publicly offered any empirical evidence showing that noncommercial bloggers have contributed to the well-publicized decline of newspapers' revenue.
So far, at least 20 defendants reportedly have agreed to settlements. Most of the settlements have been confidential, but the two that were reported ranged from around $2,000-$5,000. That's a lot of money for a nonprofit or an individual blogger to cough up, but it's obviously less than the $150,000 maximum set out by the federal copyright law -- which is what defendants risk in liability if they take the case to court and lose.
Paying $5,000 also is a lot less than it typically costs to defend a copyright infringement lawsuit. Even when bloggers have valid defenses to the suits -- such as fair use -- it might make sense for them to settle rather than mount an expensive and time-consuming defense.
That's one reason why it's good news to see a nonprofit like the EFF get involved. Of course, the EFF's entry into the case is no guarantee that small bloggers will prevail. In some cases, bloggers who have cut and pasted an entire article into their sites don't seem to have a good defense to copyright infringement. But other bloggers might have valid fair use defenses.
If nothing else, the EFF can help level the playing field in these unfortunate lawsuits.