Blogging, Copyright Infringement, and Fair Use

If you are a blogger or if you have a web page you probably have heard of Righthaven.

The following information about Righthaven was taken from Wikipedia:

Righthaven is a copyright holding company founded in early 2010, which acquires newspaper content from its partner newspapers after finding that the content has been copied to online sites without permission, in order to engage in litigation against the site owners for copyright infringement. The lawsuits have been heavily criticized by commentators, who describe the activity as copyright trolling and the company as a “lawsuit factory”. Righthaven LLC’s CEO, Steven Gibson, is a partner in the Las Vegas office of American law firm Dickinson Wright and regularly speaks to the media about Righthaven.

Righthaven initially purchased copyrights to a number of old news articles from Stephens Media, publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, based on a business model of suing bloggers, other Internet authors, and Internet site operators for statutory damages for having reproduced the articles on their sites without permission.

In a recent decision, a federal judge ruled that using copyright material in blogs is considered a fair use of the material.  Below is an excerpt from the news report:

A federal judge ruled Monday that publishing an entire article without the rights holder’s authorization was a fair use of the work, in yet another blow to newspaper copyright troll Righthaven.

It’s not often that republishing an entire work without permission is deemed fair use. Fair use is an infringement defense when the defendant reproduced a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, commentary, teaching and research. The defense is analyzed on a case-by-case basis.

Monday’s ruling dismissed a lawsuit brought by Righthaven, a Las Vegas-based copyright litigation factory jointly owned with newspaper publisher Stephens Media. The venture’s litigation tactics and ethics are being questioned by several judges and attorneys, a factor that also weighed in on U.S. District Judge Philip Pro’s decision Monday.

Righthaven has sued more than 200 websites, bloggers and commenters for copyright infringement. More than 100 have settled out of court.

Judge Pro, in his fair-use analysis, also found that the posting was for noncommercial purposes, and was part of an “online discussion.”

That said, Pro did not need to decide the fair-use question.

That’s because he also found that Righthaven did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit, a hot-button topic in the Righthaven litigation.

Pro’s decision came a week after a different Las Vegas federal judge threatened to sanction Righthaven, calling its litigation efforts “disingenuous, if not outright deceitful” when it came to standing. Standing is a legal concept that has enabled Righthaven to bring lawsuits on behalf of the copyrights owned by Stephens Media.

That blistering decision by U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt, the chief judge in Nevada, places into doubt Righthaven’s year-old business model, which is also under a Colorado federal judge’s microscope.

You can read more about the judge’s decision by visiting wired.com.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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