U.S. District Court Judge Larry Hicks ruled that realtor Michael Nelson, who also blogs about home ownership, is protected by the fair use doctrine. "Nelson's use of the copyrighted material is likely to have little to no effect on the market for the copyrighted news article," Hicks wrote.
The judge ruled that because Nelson only copied a portion of the original article, the blog "does not satisfy a reader's desire to view and read the article in its entirety." Additionally, Hicks wrote, Nelson included a link in his blog to the original article -- a piece about a new federal housing program.
The ruling is a major blow to the controversial Righthaven, which has filed copyright infringement lawsuits against around 150 Web publishers, including bloggers, nonprofits and political candidates. In many cases, the Web site operators allegedly copied entire articles that originally appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal -- which transferred the rights to Righthaven for purposes of the lawsuits. But Righthaven also has sued sites that have only copied fractions of articles, including Democratic Underground -- which is represented by the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Hicks' decision, which dismissed the case at a preliminary stage, is procedurally unusual, says Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. But, he says, the judge was right to find fair use on these facts. Nelson's blog post "is likely to have little to no effect on the market for the copyrighted news article," Goldman says. "It was really courageous of this court to just call a spade a spade and say, 'This is a bogus lawsuit over nothing.'"