Righthaven extends copyright lawsuit campaign to individual Web posters

Las Vegas copyright enforcement company Righthaven LLC is now suing individual message-board posters, not just website operators.

Righthaven, which files copyright infringement lawsuits over unapproved online postings of material from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post, filed seven infringement lawsuits Tuesday and Wednesday in U.S. District Court for Nevada, lifting its lawsuit total since March to at least 203.

Among the defendants sued Monday were message board posters identified as James Higgins and Wayne Hoehn.

Higgins, according to Righthaven, posts as Jim_Higgins on a Google Groups message board. Records indicate that on Nov. 21 he posted a Review-Journal column about Transportation Security Administration pat downs of the elderly and disabled at Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The post credited columnist John L. Smith but didn't credit the Review-Journal, records show.

Righthaven said Hoehn posts as "Dogs that Bark" on the website madjacksports.com, where Righthaven says that since 1999 Hoehn has posted about 18,000 items. Among those, the lawsuit says, was an unauthorized copy of a Review-Journal column called "Public employee pensions -- we can't afford them."

That post, records show, credited the Review-Journal and columnist Sherman Frederick.

In the past, some message-board users were sued by Righthaven, but they were named as codefendants along with the websites where the material was posted.

The lawsuits against Higgins and Hoehn differ in that the websites where the material was posted aren't being sued. Because of that, Righthaven is not trying to seize the Google Groups and madjacksports domain names.

In fact, Righthaven previously sued and settled with the owner of the madjacksports site.

Both the madjacksports and Google sites are somewhat protected from copyright lawsuits because they have posted "DMCA" notices as required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. These notices, which must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, inform copyright holders who to contact if they would like infringing material removed.

An attorney for Righthaven on Wednesday said those notices don't apply to individual website users who violate copyrights by posting material online without authorization.

"Whenever there is a direct infringement claim against an individual who is a user or a poster on a 'service provider,' as described in the DMCA, a 'takedown' notice is not required to file suit," said Shawn Mangano, a Las Vegas attorney representing Righthaven in the litigation.

As usual in its lawsuits, Righthaven demands $150,000 in damages from both Higgins and Hoehn.

Separately, new Righthaven suits were filed against five website operators, along with two website users, claiming material from the Review-Journal was posted on those sites without authorization. These suits seek damages of $150,000 apiece and forfeiture of the defendants' domain names.

Those defendants are:

-- Business Insider Inc., owner of the website businessinsider.com; and Gus Lubin, identified as the features editor of Business Insider.

-- Inform Technologies Inc., owner of the website yuku.com; and yuku.com user Todd Taliaferro, identified on the site as "Todd8080"

-- Inform Technologies and yuku.com user Lisa Vinci, identified there as "bogglethemind."

-- Bob G. Bell; registrant of the domain name americanarchaeologist.com

-- Peter Ashton, owner of the domain name peteashton.com

Messages for comment on the lawsuits were left with Higgins, Lubin, Inform Technologies, Bell and Ashton. Hoehn couldn't immediately be located for comment.

Righthaven, which is half owned by an affiliate of Review-Journal owner Stephens Media LLC, says its lawsuits, typically filed without warning, are necessary to crack down on rampant online infringement of newspaper stories, columns, editorials, photos and graphics.

Prior to the Righthaven lawsuits, the Review-Journal and Denver Post generally tried to resolve copyright disputes out of court and that's still the practice of most of the newspaper industry.

Critics and defense attorneys call the lawsuits frivolous and in some cases are fighting back, hitting Stephens Media and Righthaven with counterclaims charging abuse of the court system and the copyright law.

Most of the lawsuits are settled, apparently for under five figures, and Righthaven observers are waiting for Nevada federal judges handling the contested cases to issue rulings on several motions for dismissal.

So far, the only definitive ruling is one that went against Righthaven when a judge found a Las Vegas real estate agent was protected by the fair use doctrine in posting part of a Review-Journal story on his website.