Righthaven Complaint Dismissed in Key CaseBy: Chris Crum - June 15, 2011
Righthaven, the company often referred to as a “copyright troll,” which has essentially made a business out of suing bloggers and media outlets over alleged copyright infringement, was dealt a big blow by a Las Vegas judge, who dismissed a key suit filed by the company.
That case would be Righthaven LLC vs. Democratic Underground, LLC, along with the counter-case Democratic Underground, LLC vs. Righthaven, LLC and Stephens Media LLC.
Righthaven had sued Democratic Underground in the fall, over an excerpt of a Las Vegas Review Journal (owned by Stephens Media) article that a user posted on Democratic Underground’s forum. Here’s the background as it appears in the court document:
This dispute arises out of Democratic Underground’s allegedly copyright infringing conduct. About May 13, 2010, a Democratic Underground user posted a comment on Democratic Underground’s website which included a portion of a Las Vegas Review-Journal (“LVRJ”) article about Nevada politics, particularly about the Tea Party effect on Sharon Angle’s senatorial campaign (the “Work”). The posting included a link to the full article and the LVRJ’s website.
As such, Democratic Underground displayed this selection from the article on its website and Righthaven claims that this infringed on the copyright.
Righthaven claims that after the Work was posted on Democratic Underground’s website, it purchased the copyright to the Work from Stephens Media, the owner of the LVRJ, along with the right to sue for past infringement. (Dkt. #102, Decl. of Steve Gibson, Ex. 1, Copyright Assignment (hereinafter referred to as the “Assignment”).) Righthaven then registered the copyright with the United States Copyright office. Thereafter, Righthaven sued Democratic Underground alleging copyright infringement. Democratic Underground, in turn, filed a counterclaim for a declaratory judgment of non-infringement against both Righthaven and Stephens Media, which was not originally a party to this case. Righthaven has since filed a motion for voluntary dismissal with prejudice due to an adverse fair use ruling by the Honorable Larry R. Hicks, United States District Judge for this district (Righthaven is appealing that decision), Stephens Media has filed a motion to dismiss or strike the counterclaim and a partial joinder to Righthaven’s motion, and Democratic Underground has filed a motion for summary judgment on Righthaven’s claim.
After these motions were fully briefed, Stephens Media disclosed to Democratic Underground the Strategic Alliance Agreement (“SAA”) between Stephens Media and Righthaven. The SAA defines their relationship and governs all future copyright assignments between them (including the assignment at issue here). (Dkt. #79, Supplemental Mem. Ex. 1, SAA, dated Jan. 18, 2010.) After learning the details of this agreement, Democratic Underground sought leave to file a supplemental memorandum addressing this newly discovered evidence and its effect on the outstanding motions. The Court allowed the supplemental briefing as it too considered the SAA highly relevant to Righthaven’s standing in this and a multitude of other pending Righthaven cases. After considering the supplemental brief and for the reasons discussed below, the Court dismisses Righthaven for lack of standing and, therefore, denies both Righthaven’s motion and Democratic Underground’s motion as moot. The Court also denies Stephens Media’s motion.
You can read the whole thing in its entirety here (pdf), but I’ll jump to the conclusion of the document, which says:
Accordingly, and for good cause appearing,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Righthaven is dismissed from this case for lack of standing. As such, Righthaven’s complaint is dismissed in its entirety.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Righthaven’s Motion for Voluntary Dismissal with Prejudice (#36) is DENIED as moot.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Stephens Media’s Motion to Dismiss or Strike (#38) is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Democratic Underground’s Motion for Summary Judgment (#45) is DENIED as moot.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Righthaven show cause, in writing, no later than two (2) weeks from the date of this order, why it should not be sanctioned.
The common thinking is that the outcome of this particular case will have widespread impact on Righthaven’s success with other cases.
“We are pleased that the Court saw through Righthaven’s sham assignment of the copyright and dismissed its improper claim,” said Kurt Opsahl, EFF Senior Staff Attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who is on Democratic Underground’s defense team. “Today’s decision shows that Righthaven’s copyright litigation business model is fatally flawed, and we expect the decision to have wide effect on the over 270 other cases Righthaven has brought.”
The outcome of the case is important, as many people feel that Righthaven’s many suits are a threat to fair use. It appears that Righthaven is losing the war, though the company will no doubt continue to fight.