I’ve done several posts about the Righthaven lawsuits, but I haven’t really set forth my opinion, though you may have divined one. I go on the record here:
I think what the Las Vegas Review-Journal and its thugster stooge Righthaven are doing is completely obnoxious. It reeks. It also makes the Las Vegas Review-Journal look like a pack of feral alley dwellers instead of an earnest news organization that is deserving of the public trust.
That being said, the suits are not frivolous. There are some legal issues to contend with, but Righthaven has the upper hand in these lawsuits. The first thing that jumps out to most people is fair use. Fair use is the great pressure-relief valve on our system of copyright law. Fair use frequently comes to the rescue when someone tries to employ copyright law in an unfair and harsh way. But not this time. Reposting an entire story from a newspaper on the internet, as a general matter, is just not fair use. I can imagine, hypothetically, circumstances where reposting an entire newspaper story would be fair use, but such circumstances would be very rare. The fact of the matter is, reposting whole newspaper stories is conduct that infringes copyright, and it’s generally actionable. Copyright law makes it easy for copyright holders to sue over minor transgressions. That’s the reality.
That being said, there’s nothing virtuous about Righthaven suing everyone and anyone they can without warning and without any modicum of amiability. As you go through life, you are constantly collecting opportunities to sue people. If you wanted to, you could file a stream of lawsuits for trespass, battery, and breach of contract against a variety of people with whom you have relatively normal dealings. Our system of civil law – and our system of criminal law, for that matter – work relatively well because people and businesses at all levels of society exercise considerable restraint in deciding whether or not to go to court.
Filing federal lawsuits against frightened individual bloggers who are without significant legal or financial resources, and doing so without any attempt whatsoever to resolve the dispute informally, is deplorable behavior. That would apply to anyone. But for a newspaper to do it is abhorrent.
Righthaven’s business plan is based around taking advantage of the law to do something the law itself never contemplated. I’ll give them this: Righthaven’s entrepreneurial angle is unique. But there’s nothing clever about it. Righthaven and its associated newspapers are on the cutting edge because they have stooped lower than anyone else in the news business has been willing to go. That’s nothing to be proud of.