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We’ve previously covered the Associated Press’s attack on bloggers for quoting material, and a company called Attributor that was supposed to start filing copyright violation suits on behalf of various clients including the AP earlier this year.

While I haven’t heard anything more about Attributor, the Las Vegas Sun has an article on a copyright-police company called Righthaven, with an interesting business model that could be described as copyright trolling.

Whereas up to now most newspapers have simply asked violators to take their content down, and replace it with links to the papers’ own sites, Righthaven has filed copyright lawsuits against 86 website owners in federal court since March.

Righthaven’s procedure has been to “troll” to find an infringement of [a Las Vegas Review-Journal] copyright to a specific story. It then buys the copyright for that story from the R-J’s owner, Stephens Media LLC, and afterward sues the infringer.

Buying the copyright is an important step because it allows Righthaven to seek statutory damages. (Some of the defendants are arguing that Righthaven lacks standing to sue them because Righthaven didn’t own the copyrights at the time of the initial infringement.)

While the suits are against people who post the entire text of articles, not a fair-use-friendly snippet, they skip the intermediate step of requesting a takedown under the DMCA and go right to demanding $75,000 and the forfeiture of the domain name. The suits seem to be filed scattershot, without paying much attention to the nature of the attribution. Thus, the suits often hit people such as gaming industry observer Anthony Curtis, who posted a story that he was himself interviewed for.

Stephen Bates, an assistant professor at UNLV’s Hank Greenspun School of Journalism, called the Righthaven lawsuits “the McDonald’s coffee cases of copyright litigation — lawful but preposterous. They’re a waste of judicial resources.”

“Like most writers, I’ve had my articles posted online without permission. I’m usually glad to get the attention. When I’m not, I ask that they be taken down. That’s how these things are handled. People go to court as a last resort, not as a first resort — especially when the infringer is a small nonprofit or a blogger who probably doesn’t know better,” Bates said. “Filing suit is a lousy form of community relations. When the defendant is a source for the story, as in the (Anthony) Curtis case, it’s ridiculous.”

While it is a violation of copyright to repost entire newspaper stories, there’s some question of the sense of proportion involved here. When a mom and pop blogger posts a story because it’s something she finds interesting, does she deserve to get hit up for $75,000 plus her website? It’s as yet unknown whether any court will award more than the bare minimum given the lack of profit motives involved.

This seems to be yet another ill-conceived shakedown operation on the model of the RIAA’s thousands of suits against peer-to-peer downloaders, or the thousands of lawsuits filed over Uwe Boll’s movie Far Cry. Hopefully it will meet the same lack of success.

 
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