Commentary

Copyright Enforcer Righthaven Ordered To Pay Defense Attorneys $120K

The situation is looking bleaker than ever for copyright enforcer Righthaven, thanks to a new court ruling ordering the company to pay almost $120,000 to lawyers who successfully defended blogger Thomas DiBiase.

Righthaven sued DiBiase, a former prosecutor, for allegedly reposting a Las Vegas Review-Journal article to his blog, www.nobodycases.com. That site is devoted to "no-body" cases -- instances where a missing person is presumed dead but law enforcement officials haven't found a body.

Represented by lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the law firm Wilson Sonsini, DiBiase argued to U.S. District Court Judge Roger Hunt that Righthaven never had the right to sue because it hadn't obtained the right to license the original article. Hunt agreed and, like other federal judges to consider the same issue, dismissed Righthaven's lawsuit.

DiBiase also argued that he made fair use of the piece -- a June 11, 2010 article titled "Retired teacher gets death penalty for wife's murder” -- but Hunt didn't rule on that issue.

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After Hunt dismissed the lawsuit, DiBiase's attorneys then asked to be reimbursed for their fees. Unlike most laws, the federal copyright statute provides that the judge can order the loser to pay the winner's legal bills.

Hunt granted that motion on Thursday, ruling that Righthaven should pay DiBiase's attorneys $116,718 in fees and $2,770 in court costs. That decision would be bad news in any event, but considering that Righthaven already said that it's contemplating bankruptcy, the latest ruling seems potentially catastrophic for the company that once touted itself as the champion of the newspaper industry.

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