The New York Times yesterday reported that a company from Nevada, Righthaven LLC, has entered into an arrangement with Media News Group (the owner of the Lowell Sun and many other newspapers) whereby Righthaven scours the internet for people using copyrighted articles and photographs from Media News Group papers and, when they find such an instance, they get an assignment of certain rights from Media News Group and then immediately file suit against the blogger. A suit against a 20 year old young man with a severe disability who lives with his mother in North Carolina who had used a photo that had originally appeared in the Denver Post (a Media News Group paper) brought this practice into the national spotlight.
Righthaven’s standard practice is to sue immediately. There’s no letter demanding you remove the material. It doesn’t matter whether you give the original creator (i.e., the newspaper) credit for the article or photo nor does it matter that the offending blog is not a for profit enterprise. Because Righthaven is only assigned very limited rights by the copyright holder, some commentators contend that Righthaven has no enforceable right in such lawsuits, but the company seems to target those who have little legal savvy and lack the means to defend themselves in court. Righthaven looks for a quick four or five figure settlement to dismiss the suit and then splits the settlement with Media News Group (which has refused to answer any questions about the arrangement).
Dean Singleton, the former owner of Media News Group before he led the company into bankruptcy last year, routinely called individuals who reposted copyrighted material “thieves” who were committing “larceny.” Although Singleton may be gone, his philosophy remains although the company’s method of enforcing its rights has all the characteristics of a cheap scam that would run afoul of the consumer protection statutes of most states. Still, just to be safe, bloggers, Facebook users and everyone else using social media should proceed with caution when using any content from our local newspaper. It won’t be much of a sacrifice.