Put nicely, Righthaven is a copyright holding company that helps copyright owners, such as newspapers, maintain control over their intellectual property. Put not-so-nicely, Righthaven is a “copyright troll.” Copyright trolls are people or companies that police copyright use solely to make money through litigation. They are often considered aggressive and nasty; some trolls have purposely positioned themselves and their content so that others will use it and infringe. It’s like setting a trap.
Righthaven purchased copyrights to content that had previously been published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It then sued a group of bloggers and online authors after they reproduced the content without permission. The company later entered into deals with other publishers to continue doing more of the same. Righthaven eventually filed hundreds of nearly identical copyright infringment lawsuits.
The courts didn’t look upon this very favorably. Last summer, one judge determined that Righthaven didn’t have standing to sue because the copyrights were retained by the original owners. Further, Righthaven did not disclose that Stevens Media, the owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was financially interested in the outcome of some of the lawsuits. Colorado courts have made similar findings. Righthaven started facing sanctions from courts for various offenses, including misrepresentation. Righthaven was also ordered to pay the attorneys’ fees for some of the defendants whom it had sued. The company began defaulting on payments and by December 2011, its domain name was auctioned in order to reduce its debt. Currently, the company is estimated to owe nearly $200,000.00 in sanctions and legal fees.
Just this month a judge stripped Righthaven of its intellectual property rights that it was asserting in 275 lawsuits. Those rights will also be auctioned off to reduce debt. The judge also found that, in at least one of the larger suits, the defendant was protected by fair use doctrine, which allows for limited use of copyrighted material for commentary, news reporting, and educational purposes.
The legal and media worlds are eagerly waiting to see what happens next, but it seems that Righthaven’s downward spiral will only continue. The story of Righthaven should serve as a warning to other copyright trolls.