Two years ago, Stephens Media, parent company of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, tapped the startup Righthaven to sue bloggers, nonprofits and small publishers who allegedly posted news articles on their sites without licenses.
Righthaven -- which filed around 275 lawsuits total -- claimed in court papers that it could sue because it owned certain rights to the news articles. Judges disagreed and ultimately ordered Righthaven to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawyers for some of the people it sued. Righthaven hasn't paid, which has resulted in defense attorneys seizing its domain name and other assets.
Now Stephens Media might also be ordered to take out its checkbook. U.S. District Court Judge Roger Hunt in Nevada just issued summary judgment against Stephens Media in a case stemming from a Righthaven lawsuit against Democratic Underground. In that case, a Web user who went by “Pampango” posted a five-sentence excerpt of a 50-sentence news article on the site. Democratic Underground removed the post after learning of the lawsuit.
The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation took up the Democratic Underground's case. The EFF earlier showed that Righthaven had no standing to sue because it never obtained licensing rights to the articles.
The group also brought a counterclaim against Stephens Media, arguing that the company could be sued for unleashing Righthaven on Democratic Underground. The EFF sought a declaratory judgment stating that Democratic Underground wasn't liable for the post. Among other arguments, the EFF said that posting an excerpt of a news article constitutes fair use. Democratic Underground wanted the ruling in order to repost the story without worrying about a new lawsuit, according to court papers.
Stephens conceded and, late last week, Hunt ruled against the company. "the act of posting this five-sentence excerpt of a fifty sentence news article on a political discussion forum is a fair use," Hunt wrote.
The ruling means that the Democratic Underground is eligible to recover attorneys fees that would cover the cost of the counterclaim against Stephens Media. The EFF hasn't done so yet, but attorney Kurt Opsahl indicates that the group plans to. "We believe that attorneys fees are appropriate under the circumstances," he tells MediaPost.