Righthaven has lost a copyright infringement case because of a successful fair-use defense raised at the earliest procedural opportunity. The case is Righthaven LLC v. Realty One Group, Inc., 2:10-cv-1036-LRH-PAL.
In May 2010, Michael J. Nelson, a Las Vegas realtor, posted a portion of a Las Vegas Review Journal news story about a federal housing program on his blog, www.michaeljnelson.featuredblog.com. Righthaven took a copyright assignment from the Review Journal and pounced with a federal lawsuit. Happily for bloggers everywhere, instead of caving and forking over a low-dollar-value nuisance settlement, Nelson fought back and claimed that what he did was legally protected fair use.
The court agreed.
Of key importance for the court was that Nelson copied only eight sentences of a 30-sentence story, and the portion he copied was of a factual nature, as opposed to the portion which contained the reporter’s commentary.
U.S. District Judge Larry R. Hicks made short work of the case in a four-page order.
The court found that the first fair-use factor – purpose and character of the use – weighed against Nelson because he used his blog to promote his realty business. The second factor – nature of the work – weighed in Nelson’s favor because the portion of the news article copied was factual in nature. The third factor – amount and substantiality of the portion of the copyrighted work used – weighed in favor of Nelson, the court held, since he only copied eight sentences from a total of 30 in the news story. The fourth factor – effect on the potential market – weighed in Nelson’s favor as well. Regarding this factor, the court said:
The court finds that Nelson’s use of the copyrighted material is likely to have little to no effect on the market for the copyrighted news article. Nelson’s copied portion of the Work did not contain the author’s commentary. As such, his use does not satisfy a reader’s desire to view and read the article in its entirety the author’s original commentary and thereby does not dilute the market for the copyrighted work. Additionally, Nelson directed readers of his blog to the full text of the Work. Therefore, Nelson’s use supports a finding of fair use.
That line of analysis portends very well for other bloggers sued by Righthaven.
Now I’d like to see Nelson file a motion to get attorneys’ fees.
Nelson’s case seems like a great victory for free speech and fair use, but there’s a sad postscript: As of the time I am writing this post, Nelson has removed all the content from his blog.
So Righthaven has lost, but free expression has lost too.