Websites, bloggers make moves to avoid Righthaven lawsuits

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As word spreads around the country about the copyright infringement lawsuits filed over online Las Vegas-Review Journal stories, some bloggers and attorneys are advising website operators to immediately take steps to protect themselves from such suits.

Las Vegas company Righthaven LLC, headed by Las Vegas attorney Steven Gibson, through Friday had acquired a portfolio of 119 copyrights to individual stories from Review-Journal owner Stephens Media LLC -- and since March has filed 91 lawsuits against website owners throughout North America over the unauthorized re-postings of many of those stories.

Beyond the obvious procedure of not displaying unauthorized Review-Journal stories on their websites, and instead posting a link, some website operators recently learning of Righthaven have been scurrying to remove R-J stories from their archives that in some cases may extend back for several years.

And there's a legal point that is being stressed. Under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), website owners to avoid liability in some instances must designate a contact and register their contact information with the U.S. Copyright Office.

This point apparently hasn't been well known among bloggers and website operators.

A website called beforeitsnews.com, which says it's a community of individuals reporting on what's going on around them, said in a recent post:

"People around the Internet have been perplexed at the actions of Righthaven, which has been outright filing lawsuits against hundreds of blogs and forums.

"Most webmasters wish to obey copyright laws and the 'norm' around the Internet has been for people who have a copyright problem to first file a DMCA takedown notice giving the webmaster time to remove the infringing material.

"Then if the webmaster refuses they can sue them.

"In fact we all thought that was a requirement and were shocked that these guys are actually suing people with no prior notice at all.

"We've been wondering how they can get away with that legally and it turns out an obscure section of the DMCA concerning the 'safe harbor' noticing procedures requires -- in order for a website to qualify for 'safe harbor' and thus require a copyright complainant to first give the webmaster notice and time to take down the material before suing them -- (amongst other things) that each website register their contact information with the United States Copyright office," the post said.

Ryan Gile, a Las Vegas intellectual property attorney with the firm Weide & Miller Ltd., made the same point Friday on his blog vegastrademarkattorney.com.

Gile also wrote:

"Many people who post content online may be under the impression that they can lawfully post all or part of an article originally published in the R-J so long as appropriate credit to the R-J is given (as well as possibly a link back to where the article appeared on the R-Jā€™s website). In actuality, such actions may constitute copyright infringement.

"The R-J just accepted this type of copyright infringement for the longest time as an unfortunate byproduct of the Internet. However, earlier this year, the R-J apparently had a change of heart and is now aggressively going after anybody who posts any of its copyrighted content online," Gile wrote.

The Las Vegas office of the law firm Lewis and Roca LLP, which is representing some of the Rigthhaven defendants, says on its website:

"Lewis and Roca has represented defendants in a substantial number of the cases filed by Righthaven to date in settlement negotiations and litigation. Lewis and Roca has formed a team to handle these cases in an efficient and effective manner. In addition to representation against Righthaven, Lewis and Roca can provide advice on steps individuals and companies can take to minimize the risk of liability for copyright infringement, including protection under the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act."

Some of the Righthaven defendants, in the meantime, are trying to organize so they can share in the legal costs of fighting the lawsuits against them. This effort is being led by David Burnett and Clayton Cramer, officials with the Idaho-based ArmedCitizen.com website that was sued by Righthaven.

The ArmedCitizen site, which posted stories about citizens using weapons in self defense, said it shut down after it was sued by Righthaven in order to avoid more legal trouble.

In a letter to some Righthaven defendants, Burnett writes:

"I understand you have been sued by Righthaven. Me too. So have roughly 90 other bloggers and websites. Basically, Righthaven is finding websites and bloggers who don't have enough money to afford quality legal representation and is trying to score quick settlements.

"We don't have to lie day down and take it.

"... I am in touch with attorneys who are willing to represent not just me or us, but a collective of Righthaven victims. We may even be able to motion to consolidate the cases. There are also some strong arguments we're exploring to raise against Righthaven's suits, which may mean they don't just win by default. ... We will be better off standing together than standing alone."

And at least three websites have been created to offer information on Righthaven. These are in addition to a Facebook page called "stop the LVRJ/RIGHTHAVEN witch hunt!"

The websites are righthavenlawsuits.com, www.scribd.com/righthavenlawsuits and righthavenvictims.blogspot.com.

Review-Journal Publisher Sherman Frederick explained the Righthaven initiative in a May 28 blog.

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