Report: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Owner Taps Righthaven For Copyright Enforcement

WEHCO Media, which owns 15 newspapers including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Chattanooga Times Free Press, reportedly has become the second client of copyright enforcement outfit Righthaven.

Since launching in March, Righthaven has sued more than 100 bloggers, small publishers and nonprofits for allegedly reposting articles from newspapers in the Stephens Media chain, including its flagship paper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The company, called a "copyright thugster" by University of North Dakota law professor Eric Johnson, has drawn criticism for running into court against individual bloggers rather than asking them to take down the content. While the law doesn't require newspapers to send cease-and-desist letters before suing, most publishers seem to think that suing readers as a first resort isn't the best course of action.

Around 20 cases have been settled, according to the Las Vegas Sun, which has been tracking the cases. Most settlements were confidential, but the two that were public ranged from around $2,000-$5,000.

Righthaven doesn't appear to have yet filed any cases alleging infringement of articles from the WEHCO chain -- though it's probably only a matter of time before that happens.

Meanwhile, the company appears to be facing some judicial pushback. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Johnston inquired about whether he could find that 57-year-old unemployed blogger Allegra Wong -- who allegedly reposted an article in her non-commercial blog devoted to cats -- was an innocent infringer. The copyright law generally says that copyright infringers are liable for a minimum of $750, but allows innocent infringers to pay damages of only $200.

The law surrounding innocent infringers is the subject of debate, but two federal circuit courts recently ruled that peer-to-peer users who share files can't be considered innocent when a copyright notice was affixed to a CD, even if they never saw the hard copy. One of those defendants is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review that decision.

Still, even if a judge doesn't deem Wong an innocent infringer, the court has the power to order only $750 in damages. If Righthaven prevails, it's entitled to ask for its attorneys' fees and court costs, but judges have discretion about such awards. All in all, the end result could be that these lawsuits aren't as profitable as Righthaven clearly hopes.

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