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December 19, 2014

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New Review-Journal publisher stands behind copyright lawsuits

The new publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday expressed support for the newspaper’s copyright enforcement partner, Righthaven LLC.

Interviewed on Nevada Public Radio KNPR’s State of Nevada with Dave Becker at News 88.9 KNPR, Bob Brown was asked about the newspaper’s relationship with Righthaven, a newspaper content copyright enforcement company that since March has sued 180 website operators and bloggers.

An affiliate of Stephens Media LLC, owner of the Review-Journal, is an investor in Righthaven, and Stephens Media participates in the lawsuits over Review-Journal stories by transferring copyrights to Righthaven that are the basis of 179 of the lawsuits.

The lawsuits, typically filed without warning, have been controversial because in the past the Review-Journal and the rest of the newspaper industry generally attempted to deal with copyright infringements out of court before resorting to litigation.

The suits initially were filed over Review-Journal stories, but last week Righthaven sued a South Carolina blogger over a Denver Post column that was posted on her website.

“Part of the future is about protecting our copyrights. I will vigorously protect our copyrights,” Brown said on State of Nevada.

“The purpose of Righthaven is to protect our copyrights,” Brown said during the KNPR broadcast. “You can take our content and you can link to it and there is a whole outline (on the Review-Journal website) on how to do that legally, and there is no problem with it. But if you are going to extrapolate our content and put it on your site and not ask us our permission, that’s a copyright infringement — always has been.”

“Other papers have seen that. While we were the leader, the Denver Post now does that and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (in Little Rock) has now signed up with Righthaven. I think a lot more papers will” as well, he said.

“This is a business decision and it’s based on what’s right. For somebody to tell me that it’s not right for me to file a lawsuit based on them taking my information, I think is specious,” Brown said on the broadcast.

Brown’s comments would seem to contradict theories by some Righthaven watchers that longtime Review-Journal Publisher Sherman Frederick left that post on Nov. 12 to be replaced by Brown at least in part because of negative publicity the Righthaven lawsuits had brought to the Review-Journal and Stephens Media.

Critics had seized on Righthaven lawsuits filed against Review-Journal news sources and advertisers as well as a seemingly innocent cat blogger, but Frederick had remained steadfast in his support of the lawsuit campaign.

In the meantime, more information surfaced about the Righthaven lawsuit against South Carolina blogger and grassroots activist Dana Eiser.

As in its Las Vegas lawsuits, the suit against Eiser was filed in South Carolina without warning or a takedown request, Eiser said Tuesday.

“I have never been contacted by the Denver Post nor Righthaven regarding the removal of this article. This lawsuit comes as a complete surprise to me and the officers of our small group,” said Eiser, who for now declined further comment on the allegations against her.

Eiser’s group, Lowcountry912.com, says it’s a grassroots group for “conservatives who want to get involved.”

The lack of warnings or requests that allegedly infringed material be removed and/or be replaced with links has been one of the main complaints about Righthaven. Critics also say Righthaven is a settlement shakedown operation that coerces defendants into settling for what has been reported to be in the $2,185 to $5,000 range, less than what it would cost to hire an attorney to fight Righthaven. Many defendants have settled rather than risk the threat of $150,000 in statutory damages and seizure of their website domain names.

Righthaven and Stephens Media, however, have insisted the lawsuits are necessary to deter infringements of Review-Journal material.

While critics complain about Righthaven’s no-warning lawsuit, Righthaven points out the defendants it sues didn’t bother to call or e-mail the Review-Journal or the Denver Post before posting information from those newspapers on their websites.

“Ms. Eiser did not seek permission, in any manner, to reproduce, display or otherwise exploit the work (column),” Righthaven charged in its lawsuit against Eiser.

And, it turns out, the Denver Post last month modified the copyright warning on its webpage to explicitly warn that copyright infringers may face legal consequences.

The new copyright warning was posted on Nov. 14 — nine days before publication of the Denver Post column that Eiser allegedly posted to her website.

“Our work is illegally reproduced everyday on websites across the country. The federal Copyright Act protects our right and our readers’ rights to make fair use of copyrighted content,” the Denver Post notice says. “We have no issue with people who quote a small amount of a Post story so as to comment on it, perhaps even criticize us. That’s the essence of free speech in a vigorous democracy.”

“But fair use of our content restricts those who want to reference it to reproduce no more than a headline and up to a couple of paragraphs or a summary of the story. (We also request users provide a link to the entire work on our website). The fair use rule generally does not entitle users to display the whole story or photograph on their website. To do so is a violation of our copyright and we will use all legal remedies available to address these infringements,” the notice says.

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  1. Okay, enough is enough.

    I decided to go the Journal's website to see the link instructions. In small type at the very end of the first page of their website at the lower right corner is the link: "How to link to the RJ." (Do not blink, you will miss it.)

    When you click the link you are brought to a separate page entitled: "Copyright, Stephens Media LLC." This page informs you that you can only copy and post the first paragraph of an article with a link back to the Journal.

    NOW THE GOOD PART and I quote:

    "Stephens Media also respects the intellectual property rights of others and will immediately takedown, upon written notice, any copyrighted material of a third-party. Click here for Stephens Media's copyright and intellectual property notices."

    How about that Campers? The Journal will not send you a written notice to take down their copyrighted info - you get a lawsuit instead. But for the Journal, au contraire, please send them a letter if they have infringed upon your copyrighted info and they will take it down.

    Hey Journal, follow your own policy. Dismiss the lawsuits and send out warning letters.

    Hey Sun, have any Defendants raised this as an issue? Righthaven is looking for equitable relief and to do equity, one must have clean hands. Seems that the Journal needs a trip to the washroom.

  2. David: While your comment is well-done and clearly makes sense, why would we expect any real change at the RJ or in its policies? It has an absentee owner, and nothing's really changed there except the players.

  3. Chunky says:

    The problem most people have with the RJ / Righthaven business model is not protection of their intellectual property rights, it's their heavy handed approach and abuse of our legal system. If they would simply send a take down notice first, this wouldn't even be a story.

    Frankly, there's nothing in the RJ worth copying or linking to that you can't find somewhere else. Chunky removed their bookmark from his browser when they started this abusive campaign and hasn't missed them a bit.

    That's what Chunky thinks!

  4. David,

    If a person registers their web site with the copyright office and produces the correct and legal contact information on their web site then Righthaven would have to make a request to remove the content.

    The RJ is following the law. Most of us don't like how they are going about it but they are correct in the take down notices.

    Long term this is not good for the RJ though. I have clients that have pulled their advertising from the RJ over this. I also know many that will not link or refer to the RJ any longer. This move might get them a few bucks up front but when you lose long term clients it will cost you over time.

    To many people get on the Internet and don't follow rules and laws. They are learning the hard way when you have sharks like Righthaven running around looking to shakedown people for money.

  5. SgtRock,

    You are correct, I did not give the complete purpose of the safe haven law and the details.

    Yes, it would cost the RJ to send out email but it is costing them more in income at the moment. They have lost advertisers and Righthaven is costing them money also.

    No way the $2000 to $5000 they are collecting from some is funding the Righthaven operation. The court costs are going to add up.

  6. Frankly, one can't assume Righthaven's intentions are simply protecting copyright.

    Take their case against DemocraticUnderground, which was dismissed. Righthaven is now claiming that they have no responsibility to pay the legal fees that the frivolous lawsuit caused.

    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/12...

    Righthaven has a PROVEN history of taking cases to court which are clearly protected under fair use.

    Righthaven does not have the right to victimize websites who use material in a manner consistent with the legal definition of fair use. If Righthaven fails to make their case, then Righthaven should compensate the victims of their frivolous and baseless lawsuits.

    If there is no punishment for flooding the legal system with a deluge of frivolous lawsuits, Righthaven will profit at the expense of taxpayers.

  7. At least the new guy is smart enough not to repeat the "new technology business" nonsense which led many to believe that this was just using litigation as a sort of legal way of exacting money from ordinary people whose "infringements" were trivial -- if they were infringements at all.

    But there is another point here. There is a principle of law that says: "When the reason for a rule ceases, the rule ceases." Copyrights were supposed to encourage authors by protecting their unique works. In the several of the cases, Righthaven is suing the sole source for the copyrighted material. Someone at the R-J went out and interviewed the source, who provided the information. The R-J writer and editor quoted that source extensively, summarized the interview in other places and printed the article in the newspaper. The source then put the R-J article on the source's website. Afterwards, Righthaven applied for a copyright and sued the source. Righthaven isn't the author. The source did all the creative work. Maybe, the R-J writer and the editor did something in summarizing the source, but is authorship encouraged by recognizing a copyright in such cases? Any connection to the encouragement of authors is attenuated. It seems especially attenuated for news, where the value of a particular embodiment of a story lasts a few hours at most (Mayflies would seem to have longer lives.)