by Andrew Walden
It hasn’t drawn any attention in the Hawaii media, but copyright trolls contracted by Hawaii Island media monopoly Stephens Media have taken a beating in a series of recent court cases.
Stephens—a nationwide media conglomerate anchored by the Las Vegas Review-Journal--owns the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, West Hawaii Today, Big Island Weekly and several lesser publications on the Big Island.
At issue was Stephens outsourcing of copyright infringement cases to law firm Righthaven LLC. Under the contract with Stephens, Righthaven began litigation against website operators and even commenters on websites who cross posted copyright material from any Stephens Media outlet. But courts have rejected Righthaven’s lawsuits with disastrous results for the law firm. Stephens hometown competitor, the Las Vegas Sun, explains:
Righthaven, since March 2010, has filed 275 lawsuits claiming website operators, bloggers and message board posters had infringed on copyrights by posting material online — without authorization — from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post. Righthaven has suffered a series of setbacks with six judges ruling it lacked standing to sue because it didn’t control the copyrights it was suing over. In addition, three lawsuits were thrown out on fair use grounds.
US Marshalls November 1 were ordered to seize bank accounts owned by Righthaven LLC in order to collect on legal fees owed to a defendant in an unsuccessful lawsuit by Righthaven.
The firm’s troubles started when it went after leftist website Democratic Underground for copyright violations. This attracted the attention of billionaire leftist money man George Soros whose Electronic Frontier Foundation took up the case. As Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism explained back in February:
(Righthaven)sued Democratic Underground for posting just four paragraphs (12%) of a long story, even though DU included a link and clearly intended to direct readers to the story.
They’ve also gone after a number of notable sites on the right. They’ve sued Sweetness and Light, SayAnythingBlog, Pajamas Media and the Drudge Report, the latter two for use of a TSA photo (the one where a guy is on his knees with his hand in someone’s crotch). Drudge settled for an undisclosed sum.
Righthaven sued Sharron Angle for posting a positive editorial on her site just a few weeks before the election. Curiously, they did not sue Harry Reid, despite the fact that his Senate website contained at least two complete LVRJ articles. They also gave the White House a pass on material copied onto the White House blog.
But it’s not just bloggers that need to worry. If you are a blog commenter or forum poster, you can be sued as well if you post portions of an article from one of Righthaven’s clients.
To be clear, many of the suits are not political in nature. Recently, Righthaven sued an autistic hobby-blogger on disability, demanding $6,000 to avoid going to trial. Like leopards on the savanna, it appears to be part of Righthaven’s considered strategy to go after those least capable of defending themselves. A list of their recent targets makes clear that no Fortune 500 companies are involved.
Fortunately, some of the organizations they’ve sued have begun to fight back. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has offered to help a number of bloggers and businesses that have been sued. In fact they defended Democratic Underground from the suit brought against them and won. In December EFF asked a judge to force Righthaven to pay for the cost of the defense.
Righthaven is a shell company designed to shield its owners from liability. According to its website:
Righthaven LLC is owned 50/50 by two limited liability companies. The first is Net Sortie Systems, LLC, which is owned by Las Vegas attorney Steven Gibson – the Nevada attorney who is behind all of the lawsuits filed by Righthaven. The second is SI Content Monitor LLC, which is owned by family members of investment banking billionaire Warren Stephens whose investments include Stephens Media, LLC which owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
And according to the Sun, Righthaven is still paying attorneys to litigate cases in several states even though the back account seized by US Marshalls contained less than $1000.