Faced with several legal setbacks, an expected PR disaster, and now the loss of one of their biggest clients, it looks like copyright law firm Righthaven's "mass lawsuit" days may be over soon, or at least put on hold indefinitely
Righthaven is not a pioneer of the mass copyright lawsuit "sue for settlement" scheme, but they are the pioneers of using it on behalf of the newspaper industry, namely their two large clients, Stephens Media (owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal) and the MediaNews Group (owners of the Denver Post). By suing bloggers, forum posters and anyone who dared to copy/paste articles originally published on their clients' websites, even partial copies, Righthaven earned themselves the Internet reputation of "Copyright Troll".
But legal setbacks have meant that Righthaven's monetization business has not been as successful as the same operations involving movie downloads, mainly due to the poor targets that Righthaven chose to go after. The most recent high profile set up occurred when a judge dismissed Righthaven's lawsuit against progressive discussion forum Democratic Underground (DU) - by going after a well supported, well funded left leaning political group, who had a point to prove in regards to freedom of speech, Righthaven's poor choice of target was never so apparent. By choosing to go after individuals or groups that were willing to defend themselves, even at greater cost than the actual settlement fee, this was always going to spell trouble for a business model which relied upon cases never reaching and being tested by the courts. And to add insult to injury, Righthaven was fined $5,000 by the judge for making misrepresentations to the court in the DU case.
And by going after blogs and non profits, Righthaven also made the mistake of not having sufficient financial motive to sue (other than the motive to get the settlement fee). Back in March, another of Righthaven's misjudged lawsuits was dismissed as the judge found the non-profit that Righthaven had sued had "fair use" rights mainly due to the defendant's non-profit status. The judge also chided Righthaven for not sending any warnings or take-down notices, which are usually prerequisites for this type of lawsuit.
And just last month, Righthaven was ordered to pay the legal cost of Wayne Hoehn, an amount of $34,045.50. Hoehn also won his case against Righthaven on fair use grounds.
Righthaven has confirmed, via a telephone interview with Wired.com, that they've ceased filing new cases in the last two month, mainly to await the decision of several pending appeals.
And they may never file a new case again, because one of their two main clients, MediaNews Group, has just informed Righthaven they no longer wish to renew their contract with the law firm. MediaNews Group is the United States' second largest newspaper chain, and the new chief executive of the group, John Paton, has come out attacking his predecessor's dealings with Rigthhaven. "I come from the idea that it was a dumb idea from the start," Paton told Wired.com, while also stating that had he been at the helm of MediaNews, he would never have allied the group with Righthaven to "run around and sue people at will who may or may not have infringed as a way of protecting yourself", even if copyright theft is a real and important issue.
So with only one major client left, dozens of legal setbacks, appeals that may not produce a result until months and years later, it certainly does look like Righthaven may have to find another business model to stay in business.