Righthaven on the Copyright Warpath

Is Copyright A Little Fuzzy?Las Vegas-based Righthaven LLC is making money by buying out copyrights to newspaper content and suing blogs and websites that violate those copyrights. Under the Copyright Act, penalties for a single infringement can be as much as $150,000.

Steve Gibson, Righthaven’s CEO, started the company in March. The Las Vegas Review-Journal is the company’s first client, and Gibson has already filed at least 80 federal lawsuits against sites that have reposted the Journal‘s articles without permission. “We perceive there to be millions, if not billions, of infringements out there,” says Gibson. Righthaven’s clientele list has also expanded to include 70 other news properties owned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal‘s publisher, Stephens Media LLC, across nine states.

Righthaven has already settled several lawsuits. Mike Masnick, who covers copyright issues for TechDirt, writes:

There were some oddities in the way RightHaven was acting, starting with the fact that it gives no warning to sites and doesn’t send a DMCA takedown. It goes straight to suing… and then quickly demands a settlement fee. […] In many cases, it would seem that [the defendants] have pretty strong fair use claims, but fighting a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court is expensive, which is exactly what RightHaven is counting on. […] This is, clearly, a blatant abuse of copyright law, and not at all what the law intended to do.

There seems to be quite a bit of backlash online against Gibson and Righthaven, but I’m not yet convinced that the opposition is right. In an era of declining print media sales and overall news industry struggle, newspapers should be protecting their copyright. Scraper blogs and other automated aggregators are a huge pet peeve of mine, anyway.

One of the components we include with each newsblog post is a quotation from at least one respected news source. The laws governing Fair Use are not clear-cut, and neither are our own rules at SixEstate, really.

This is an issue that all bloggers should be aware of if they frequently post snippets from news articles or other online content. A general guideline that I use in my own newsblogging and when copyediting others’ work is to include no more than three to five sentences written by another source. That way, the original writing on our newsblogs and the cited material remain in balance.

My thoughts on the Righthaven issue may change as the number of lawsuits grows, or as more details emerge. My opinion does not necessarily reflect SixEstate’s opinion as a whole or any of the other bloggers on our team. In fact, I’m sure at least one of them would disagree with me!

On a related note, check out the Fair Use Evaluator from the Copyright Advisory Network, a self-described “community of librarians, copyright scholars, policy wonks.”

Source: “Newspaper Chain’s New Business Plan: Copyright Suits,” Wired, 07/22/10
Source: “RightHaven Ramping Up Its Copyright Trolling Business,” TechDirt, 07/23/10
Source: University of Michigan’s Copyright website
Image by Nancy Sims, used under its Creative Commons license.

About Rachelle Matherne

  

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  1. Rachelle,

    I am one of the staff at SixEstate that doesn’t agree with you, but not about blog scraping. There is a gray area between keeping your blog content completely private vs. copyright free.

    A more important point for me is that we do have a clear understanding of what is “Fair Use.” Fair Use is not determined by the size of the quotation — it’s determined by the use.

    I would need permission to use the phrase, “Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You,” if I were writing a greeting card. I don’t need permission to use it in this paragraph, because I’m using it to make a critical point.

    Quotations may be as long as necessary. If you are analyzing the work of another, you may quote to the depth of your analysis.

    On July 26, the U.S. Copyright Office declared that it is “fair use” to use bits of movies or music pulled off of DVDs or CDs in a work of critical evaluation. It is now legal to circumvent piracy protection on DVDs, iPhones, and other devices if the purpose is Fair Use of the data.

    While technology has opened many gray areas in Copyright Law, one law has stayed pretty clear: Fair Use is not about size, it’s about purpose.

    STEVE O’KEEFE
    Co-Founder, SixEstate Communications

  2. I’m not a lawyer, obviously, but my understanding of Fair Use is that the length of the quoted material can and does factor in. Something about the ratio of quoted material in relation to the entirety of the original source, I believe.

    No matter. The personal guideline of 3 – 5 sentences that I mentioned in my post above has less to do with Fair Use and more to do with what I think constitutes better blogging.