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July 31, 2014

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Three Righthaven copyright suits closed, one opened

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For Las Vegas copyright enforcer Righthaven LLC, today's news so far is pretty much the same story as Tuesday: A new lawsuit has been filed, while two more lawsuits were dismissed after Righthaven failed to show the defendants were served.

The latest defendants to be hit with a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement are Dogster Inc. and two individuals allegedly associated with the website dogster.com, Ted Rheingold and Maria Goodavage.

This is another lawsuit over the Denver Post TSA pat-down photo and Righthaven again demands in Wednesday's complaint in U.S. District Court for Colorado that the defendants pay $150,000 in damages and that their website domain name be forfeited to Righthaven.

A court exhibit indicates the photo was posted on the website with some commentary suggesting trained dogs could work as an alternative to intrusive TSA pat-down searches. The website post did not credit the Denver Post as the source of the photo, the exhibit shows.

A request for comment was left with Dogster.

This suit lifts the Righthaven lawsuit tally to 252 overall since March 2010; and to 48 over the pat-down photo.

Separately, a Righthaven lawsuit over the pat-down photo against Tamer Mahrous was closed after the parties reached a confidential settlement.

***

Two more Righthaven lawsuits were dismissed without prejudice this week by U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro.

They involved material from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and defendants Michael Easton and Puget Sound Radio in one case; and defendants Ezekiel Kennard, Marc Lee and Serkadis.com in another case.

They were dismissed after Righthaven didn't show the defendants were served with the complaints against them.

Unless Righthaven can find a way to revive these lawsuits, it appears its investment in these lawsuits in terms of legal fees and court costs will have to be written off.

Righthaven apparently had trouble tracking these defendants down to serve them because -- unlike a business with a street address -- some of these defendants were probably guys running websites from their apartments or while drinking coffee at Starbucks.

The lawsuit against Puget Sound Radio, for instance, called it "an entity of unknown origin and nature."

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A writer for the Technology Review published by MIT is commenting on last week's decision by a federal judge to dismiss the Righthaven lawsuit against the Oregon nonprofit the Center for Intercultural Organizing on fair use grounds.

Christopher Mims asks about Righthaven in the piece: "In its over-reaching, has the law firm set a precedent that could damage the ability of content creators and news gatherers to control how their works are used, and to achieve fair compensation for their distribution?"

***

Righthaven hasn't yet publicly responded to the motion for dismissal filed by Denver Post TSA pat-down photo defendant Brian D. Hill.

In response to reader comments, here's why the Las Vegas Sun has not posted a link to the court exhibit showing Hill's alleged infringement of Righthaven's copyright.

The problem with the post by Hill -- which was archived by Righthaven and filed with the court -- is that it has the same headline as the deadseriousnews.com post of the photo.

This headline and the accompanying parody story are objectionable as they suggest a passenger was arrested for becoming sexually aroused during a TSA pat-down. The actual language in the headline, however, is too graphic for us to post.

With the mysterious deadseriousnews.com site apparently the origin of many of the Righthaven lawsuits, don't be surprised if Righthaven tracks down and sues whoever is behind deadseriousnews.com -- a website identified on Jan. 28 or perhaps earlier as appearing to be the source of many of the alleged infringements.

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The TSA photo also appears on several news sites that attribute it not to Righthaven or the Denver Post, but to The Associated Press or "Associated Press/Denver Post."

That's because The Associated Press distributed the photo to news outlets.

We found the photo Wednesday on news sites including foxcharlotte.com, inforum.com, annarbor.com, deseretnews.com, heraldnet.com, washingtontimes.com and msnbc.msn.com, among others.

Once serious discovery gets under way in the Denver Post TSA pat-down photo lawsuits, defense attorneys and their investigators will likely take a hard look at whether the distribution of the photo by the AP contributed to it going viral online and how deadseriousnews.com emerged as the apparent source of many infringements.

It's probably no coincidence that the deadseriousnews post is dated Nov. 21, the same day the photo appeared with an AP story on several news sites. Some sites indicate the AP distributed the photo even earlier, on Nov. 18, the same day it was published in the Post.

As Hill points out in his motion for dismissal, William Dean Singleton, chairman of the board of directors of The Associated Press, is also chairman and CEO of Denver Post owner MediaNews Group.

No one is suggesting Singleton knows anything about the AP distributing the photo that apparently was provided to the AP by the Denver Post.

But it's only a matter of time before an attorney tries to see if dots connect between the Denver Post, the AP, deadseriousnews.com and many of the Righthaven lawsuits over the pat-down photo.

This could bolster the "implied license" theory -- that is the Denver Post didn't just encourage readers to share the photo.

It shared the image with the world by providing the photo to the AP and soon thereafter the image became an iconic symbol of resentment against new intrusive TSA pat-down procedures.

In the meantime, Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd., Metroland Media Group Ltd. and Torstar Corp. have yet to respond to a Righthaven lawsuit over the photo. That suit says the photo was posted without authorization on the thespec.com website for the The Hamilton Spectator newspaper in Hamilton, Ontario. In that case, again, the photo was credited to the AP.

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