Suing bloggers for fun and profit

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.

10 Responses to Suing bloggers for fun and profit

  1. Paul@01852 says:

    I wonder how this applies to Facebookers? I have on several occasions used a link to a Sun article usually with a short quote from the article in my header. I admit I have done this much less frequently since the Sun reporters have started linking to their own stories. Now I can just “Share” their post on my own wall.

  2. Lynne says:

    Yet another reason for me to ignore the Sun and forgo even quoting or linking to them. Not like I do any of that anyway! Another pathetic corporate attempt by Media News Group to kill their own papers. It’s just a matter of time til complete nonrelevancy IMHO. Too bad, since I do like quite a number of the reporters there.

    There are some local bloggers though who indiscriminately use whole articles or photos, however, who had better clean up their practices.

  3. kad barma says:

    I stopped linking long ago, and always attribute the quotes I lift back to the author and the paper. “Fair use” is fair use. To wit:

    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

    1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
    2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
    3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
    4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

  4. Michael Luciano says:

    This is ironic because it was the Sun that plagiarized a New York Times editorial last March regarding the health care legislation….in many cases word for word.

  5. C R Krieger says:

    This has been an interesting subject.  This is another version of the Mickey Mouse Copyright Laws our US Congress passes from time to time, to keep Mickey and Minnie within the fold and profitable for the heirs of Walt Disney.  The US Congress should be ashamed of themselves and especially the Republican members, who should know better.  Copyrights and patents are meant to expire.

    The Instapundit (Law Professor Glenn Reynolds), back in March, linked to this article in the Las Vegas Sun.  Not to be confused with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which teams up with Righthaven.  The article title is “Righthaven lawsuits backfire, reduce protections for newspapers”.

    But, in my mind fair use is fair use and we should not be abusing The Lowell Sun.  They are not free goods.

    As for The Sun plagiarizing an article out of The New York Times, that is punishment enough of and in itself. :-)

    Regards  —  Cliff

  6. C R Krieger says:

    My question of the week is why the “Leave a Reply” pro forma asks for “WEBSITE”, when it doesn’t show up when the comment is posted.  Is it logged somewhere?  Are we being watched?  Who is watching the watcher?  (If I was a lawyer I would have said that in Latin.)

    Regards  —  Cliff

  7. DickH says:

    While I understand the fair use exception to copyright, the problem here is that this outfit just files suit when it finds copyrighted material being used by someone else. They throw the burden of defending the lawsuit onto you. Your defense might very well be successful, but in the meantime it will cost you $10K in legal fees to mount that defense. They’ll dismiss the case pretrial for a payment of $5K. It’s a type of legally sanctioned extortion.