Righthaven reaches settlements in 2 cases over R-J copyrights

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Righthaven LLC, the company suing website owners over copyrights to Las Vegas Review-Journal stories, has reached confidential settlements with two more defendants.

Court records show 20 of the 98 Righthaven lawsuits in federal court in Las Vegas have now been closed. Defendants in some of the other cases say they're in settlement talks as well.

Righthaven finds online infringements of Review-Journal stories in the form of website owners and managers posting all or portions of those stories, or in some cases third-party message board users posting the material. It then obtains copyrights to those stories and sues the alleged infringers.

While Righthaven typically demands $75,000 in damages and forfeiture of the defendants' website domain names, publicly-disclosed settlement amounts have ranged from $2,185 to $5,000 and the defendants have been allowed to keep their domain names.

Among the latest defendants to settle are John (Jack) D. Wooden and Pennwell Corp.

Before settling, Wooden had argued the lawsuit was worth only $85.55. Wooden, of Columbus, Ind., runs the madjacksports.com website. He was sued by Righthaven on May 13 because R-J stories involving UNLV sports and hunting and fishing were posted on the madjacksports site.

Wooden came up with the $85.55 figure by saying Righthaven had obtained a copyright to one story posted by a third party on his site and that it was viewed there just 29 times. Since the R-J sells the story from its website archive for $2.95, the potential damages totaled $2.95 times 29 or $85.55, he had argued.

Pennwell Corp., an Oklahoma company that runs an energy industry news site called www.pennenergy.com, also settled Righthaven's suit against it over a May 18 R-J story posted on its website involving plans by NV Energy to install electronic meters.

Pennwell never publicly responded to the copyright allegation, but legal insiders say the company likely paid thousands of dollars to settle the case.

Attorneys for two of the Righthaven defendants, in the meantime, have filed responses asking the court to dismiss those lawsuits.

Sergio Salzano, attorney for Las Vegas real estate agent Michael J. Nelson, said in court papers that Nelson's posting of an R-J story about real estate on his blog amounted to fair use of the material under the copyright law.

Among other things, that's because Nelson posted less than 28 percent of the story in question, argued Salzano, of the law firm Lynch, Hopper & Salzano LLP.

Salzano also complained about Righthaven's legal tactics.

"Plaintiff brings these claims with unclean hands, which mandates dismissal of this action," Salzano wrote in court papers.

"The actions of plaintiff Righthaven in pursuing the instant action for copyright infringement smack of barratry," he wrote.

"Barratry" is defined by one dictionary as "the persistent incitement of litigation."

"Righthaven was created by its counsel, Steven Gibson, apparently to pursue violations of the copyrights it purchased from the Review-Journal. Righthaven is not the author of the work that was alleged to have been copied. In fact, neither the Review-Journal, nor Righthaven, sent a cease and desist letter, nor any other request to discontinue the alleged infringement, prior to initiating this action. Instead, Righthaven has brought this lawsuit (and others) against alleged infringers, further adding to this court's overloaded docket. Righthaven’s motivation for avoiding the simple act of sending a letter requesting that Mr. Nelson cease and desist is simple, it is using these lawsuits as a source of revenue. Such abuse of legal process should be rejected," Salzano wrote.

Other attorneys have described the Righthaven litigation campaign as a "shakedown" effort aimed at coercing settlements from defendants. Righthaven has denied these charges, saying it has a legitimate business model of detecting copyright infringements and then suing the infringers -- and that such efforts are needed to help the newspaper industry survive the rampant online piracy of news.

Another case being contested is against Las Vegas public relations executive Steve Stern, who for years has been a source for Review-Journal business reporters.

His attorney, Thomas Grace of the law firm Black & Lobello, argued in court papers that Stern too was protected by the fair use doctrine.

Grace also wrote in his response: "The plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of unclean hands."