A Setback for Righthaven

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In an interesting turn of events for the company, Righthaven, Nate Anderson writes on Ars Technica:

Whoops—in its bid to sue hundreds of bloggers, commentors, and website operators from posting even a few sentences from newspaper stories, the copyright zealots at Righthaven have just scored an own goal. Last Friday, a federal judge ruled in one of the company’s many lawsuits, saying that even the complete republication of copyrighted newspaper content can be “fair use.”

In the case before the court, where Righthaven sued the Oregon-based Center for Intercultural Organizing for posting an entire article from the Las Vegas Review Journal about the deportation of illegal immigrants, the federal judge James Mahan took the initiative and ordered the plaintiff to show cause why the case should not be dismissed under the U.S. Copyright Law’s fair use exception. He did this despite defendant’s lawyers not contesting the plaintiff’s claims.

The court’s decision that the CIO’s use of the full article text was protected under the fair use exception has a far-reaching effect for any publisher seeking to sue any individual or entity for copyright infringement. It should also empower defendants to vigorously contest any suit filed against them.

Steve Green writing for the Las Vegas Sun, quotes the judge:

…the copyright lawsuit would be dismissed because the nonprofit used it in an educational way, the CIO didn’t try to use the story to raise money and because the story in question was primarily factual as opposed to being creative.

And:

Righthaven is not using the copyright the same way the Review Journal used it. Righthaven is using it to support a lawsuit.

And:

This type of copyright use has a chilling effect on free speech and doesn’t advance a purpose of the federal Copyright Act, which is to encourage and protect creativity.

Righthaven has already stated they will appeal, in the hopes that the judge’s decision will be overturned on technical grounds. Something the federal appeals court would be hard pressed to do, since Righthaven licenses the copyright of the original material for the sole purpose of engaging in litigation. The appellate court would have to declare this as a form of rightful copyright ownership.