Hunt ruled that Righthaven never had the right to sue for infringement of Las Vegas Review-Journal articles because the newspaper's parent company, Stephens Media, hadn't assigned to Righthaven the ability to license those articles. Instead, Stephens Media only granted Righthaven the ability to sue. But without the right to profit from the work by licensing it, Righthaven couldn't claim injury and therefore had no standing to get into court.
The ruling has many bloggers cheering, but the 100-some people who already paid to settle their cases are now wondering whether they have a next move. One, Clayton Cramer, who used to operate Armedcitizen.net, told Wired he's considering his options.
Righthaven CEO Steve Gibson is responding as aggressively as ever. He told Wired that Righthaven and Stephens Media have a new agreement that will allow the company to bring copyright actions in the future. He added that even if a blogger is able to vacate a settlement, Righthaven would then be able to sue that person again, given its new agreement with Stephens Media.
It's not that clear, however, that Righthaven's new agreement allows it to sue any more than the old contract did. To sue, Righthaen apparently has to obtain the rights to license articles. But if Stephens Media was inclined to allow Righthaven to do so, the newspaper owner could have arranged for that at the outset.
Besides, Righthaven hardly seems poised to get into the licensing business, considering its stumbles with the litigation campaign. The most famous probably came in March, when it sued a freelancer for Ars Technica and then withdrew the case days later later, claiming "clerical mistake."
Meanwhile, University of North Dakota law professor Eric Johnson is calling for an investigation into Gibson and some other attorneys affiliated with Righthaven. Such a probe could result in disbarment.
"I very much regret suggesting a misconduct investigation against any attorney, but this situation appears to be one with many real-life victims," Johnson writes. "Consider what has happened: Righthaven lawyers constructed a sham transaction, and then made multiple misrepresentations to courts and third parties in order to hide the sham nature of the transaction. This was done in a bid to get a number of unsophisticated, unrepresented defendants to fork over substantial settlement payments, largely out of fear or because of their financial inability to mount a defense."