Copyright lawsuit filer Righthaven LLC of Las Vegas and its CEO may soon face a fine of $500 per day for every day that Righthaven fails to comply with a court order.
An attorney for Righthaven creditor Thomas DiBiase asked a federal judge in Las Vegas on Tuesday to impose the daily fine to “coerce” Righthaven and its officers — mainly CEO Steven Gibson — into compliance with the court order.
The order at issue required Righthaven to turn over financial information to DiBiase so DiBiase can determine if Righthaven has assets to satisfy his judgment against Righthaven.
The judgment covers $119,488 in legal fees racked up by DiBiase in his successful effort to beat back a Righthaven copyright infringement lawsuit against him.
The suit against DiBiase, who has a website covering murder cases in which the victims’ bodies haven’t been recovered, was one of 275 filed by Righthaven during the past two years over content it claimed was misappropriated from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post.
Righthaven’s lawsuit campaign ground to a halt with adverse court rulings beginning last summer and continuing this month.
Eight judges in three states have ruled Righthaven lacked standing to sue DiBiase and others. Also, in four cases, defendants were protected by fair use in using material from the newspapers.
Lately, Righthaven appears to be dormant as it claims to have run out of cash and hasn’t appeared at hearings or filed required court briefs on time.
In the DiBiase case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen on March 2 ordered Righthaven to show cause, in writing, by March 16 why it should not be sanctioned and held in contempt of court for its failure to follow her order that it provide the financial information to DiBiase.
Righthaven filed nothing in writing by the deadline, and no one for Righthaven appeared in court Tuesday for a hearing on the contempt issue.
Leen noted that Righthaven’s intellectual property has been seized in another case so it can be auctioned by a receiver to benefit creditors, and she asked DiBiase’s attorney what more she could do.
“At this point it’s an issue of how much you want to spend to pursue recovery,” Leen told DiBiase’s attorney.
Kurt Opsahl, an attorney with the digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco representing DiBiase, told the judge he believes that when Righthaven was established in early 2010 it purchased more than $100,000 in computers, servers, routers, printers and similar electronic equipment.
“That is all unaccounted for,” Opsahl said.
Opsahl said he’d like to track that equipment down to help the receiver raise money for the benefit of creditors.
“They have not provided that material to the receiver. The receiver has asked for it, but they have not cooperated,” Opsahl said.
“I would like to have coercive sanctions against Righthaven and in particular against the officers of Righthaven as being responsible for compliance with this court’s order. It is to coerce them into providing the documents that you asked for.
“And I will supply information from those documents to the receiver to recover as much money as possible,” Opsahl said, suggesting the sanction be a fine of $500 per day.
Leen told Opsahl to file a proposed order along those lines. The $500 daily fine would take effect if and when she signs the order.
“I will review it for appropriateness,” the judge said, adding that she wanted the record to show that counsel for Righthaven “has not appeared or complied with the court’s prior orders in this matter.”
Righthaven and its CEO, Gibson, haven’t commented on the sanctions proceeding against the company or on the receiver’s plan to auction its trademark and whatever interest Righthaven has in its federal copyright registrations that it obtained from the newspapers and used for lawsuit purposes.
After the hearing, Opsahl said that besides the $500 per day in fines, he wants Righthaven and its officers to pay an additional $3,412 in legal fees to cover the EFF’s costs to draw up and pursue the sanctions motion.
“We can only hope that a finding of contempt and these coercive sanctions will be enough to get Righthaven and its CEO, Steven Gibson, to start to take court orders seriously and respect the judiciary. Mr. Gibson got himself in this mess with his poorly-thought-through plan to get rich off of nuisance lawsuits and needs to take responsibility for the consequences,” Opsahl said.