Like a gunfighter with no bullets, Las Vegas copyright company Righthaven LLC no longer has any copyrights to sue over.
A federal judge in Las Vegas on Monday stripped Righthaven of whatever interests it has in its 278 federal copyright registrations as well as its trademark.
Judge Philip Pro ordered that the copyrights and trademarks be transferred to a court-appointed receiver so they can be auctioned to cover some of Righthaven’s debts.
Righthaven, in its 275 lawsuits, targeted individuals, nonprofit groups and companies it said posted material from those papers online without authorization.
Righthaven said the suits were needed to crack down on rampant copyright infringement, but defense attorneys said Righthaven was running a lawsuit shakedown operation aimed at coercing defendants into settling so Righthaven could earn a profit.
As the lawsuits progressed, judges sided with defendants. In four cases they ruled defendants were protected by the fair use doctrine of copyright law.
Also, eight judges in three states ruled Righthaven lacked standing to sue.
Righthaven claimed to own the material it was suing over, but judges found that under flawed copyright assignments, the newspapers actually maintained control of that content. That meant Righthaven had no standing to sue.
Righthaven, even while accumulating legal expenses to appeal several of the adverse court rulings, has lately said it has no cash or assets to pay its debts, including $186,680 in legal fees of defendants who defeated it in court.
Pro’s ruling came Monday in the case of defendant Wayne Hoehn, whose attorneys are owed $34,045 by Righthaven.
Hoehn was sued for posting an entire R-J column on a sports betting website message board. His attorneys defeated Righthaven on both standing and fair use grounds.
When Righthaven couldn’t or wouldn’t sign over its assets to a receiver so they could be auctioned to cover Hoehn’s legal fees, the receiver went ahead and seized Righthaven’s website and auctioned it for $3,300.
Hoehn’s attorneys at Randazza Legal Group in Las Vegas then asked Pro on Monday to issue a “writ of body attachment” requiring U.S. Marshals to haul Righthaven CEO and Las Vegas attorney Steven Gibson into court to sign over the copyrights.
Righthaven complained in January this request was part of “scorched-earth” legal tactics by Hoehn’s attorneys.
However, no one from Righthaven showed up at a hearing Monday on the bodily attachment motion.
“The plaintiff having failed to attend today’s hearing, the court deems that an admission or acquiescence to the order to transfer,” Pro said.
Righthaven has argued it’s been in an odd position of having to transfer rights to copyrights it potentially doesn’t own because of prior rulings throwing out its lawsuits.
Pro acknowledged that argument, saying, “I can’t order them to transfer what they don’t have.”
So his order was that “the copyright interests, to the extent any such interests remain, be transferred” to the receiver for auction.
Marc Randazza, a Las Vegas attorney representing Hoehn, said after the hearing that Pro’s order wipes out Righthaven’s interest in all of its pending lawsuits and appeals. Since Righthaven now owns no copyrights, it has nothing to sue over or litigate over in appeals courts, he said.
“It moots them,” Randazza said of the appeals.
Randazza said the copyrights to be auctioned likely will be sold for memorabilia value, though some defendants may want to buy them just to make sure Righthaven doesn’t try to revive its lawsuits with amended copyright assignments.
It’s unknown whether Righthaven will appeal Pro’s order stripping it of its copyright interests and its trademarks, and Righthaven’s Las Vegas attorney couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Monday’s developments are likely to be followed in coming months by efforts by some Righthaven defendants to recover damages for being targeted in what they call fraudulent lawsuits.
The defendants may go after the Review-Journal, the Denver Post and Righthaven’s investors — Gibson and the owner of the Review-Journal — since Righthaven itself doesn’t seem to have any assets they can go after.
Most of the copyrights to be transferred under Pro’s order cover material assigned to Righthaven for lawsuit purposes by the Review-Journal and the Denver Post.
Some exceptions include some sports betting material that Righthaven used in its single lawsuit that didn’t involve newspaper material.
Other exceptions include two porn movies — Ebony Amateurs Vegas Edition #10 and Ebony Princess #3 — and a document called “The Righthaven Philosophy” that apparently spells out the company’s failed plan to make money by suing over copyright infringements.