By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
The Denver Post and its parent company have aligned with a Las Vegas-based “bottom feeding legal outfit” to “shakedown” a small blogger and the mega news aggregation Web site Drudge Report over copyright infringement, according to critics.
But the founder of copyright enforcement firm Righthaven, LLC says newspapers such as the Denver Post have no choice but to sue over infringement cases because simple cease and desist letters just aren’t doing the trick.
Righthaven — presumptively on behalf of the Denver Post and its parent company MediaNews Group — filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Nevada alleging that Matt Drudge of Drudge Report on Nov. 18 unlawfully used a photograph taken by a Post staff photographer that appeared the same day at DrudgeReport.com. The photograph complemented a story in the Denver Post and at DenverPost.com about intensified TSA security screenings at Denver International Airport and other airports around the country.
Righthaven also recently filed suit in federal court in South Carolina against a small blogger there for copyright infringement for using a Post column from local conservative talk show host Mike Rosen. Dana Eiser posted to her blog lowcountry912.wordpress.com on Sept. 23 a column by Rosen called “Rosen: A letter to the Tea Partyers.” Eiser’s blog credited the column to the Denver Post and Rosen, but lawyers argue that it remains a copyright infringement.
The reason the lawsuits are filed only presumptively on behalf of the Post is because of the nature of how Righthaven goes about its lawsuits. Righthaven obtains the copyrights to alleged infringed material and then sues on its own behalf retroactively, confirmed Steven A. Gibson, the founder of Righthaven.
But Marc John Randazza, a San Diego, Calif.-based attorney whose firm has represented six “Righthaven victims” questions why the Denver Post and MediaNews didn’t just use its own legal team to argue the infringement cases.
“Doing that suggests to me that they are concerned about the validity of their case,” said Randazza, who has opened an office in Las Vegas just to handle the influx of Righthaven cases being filed. “The one reason I can think of to do that would be to insulate themselves against attorneys fees being issued against them.”
MediaNews on Friday did not return requests by the Denver Daily News seeking comment. Westword reporter Michael Roberts has also reported MediaNews executives not being “eager to discuss” copyright infringement issues.
The Post has been on the attack over content, issuing a warning in November that it would use “all legal remedies available” to go after outlets that post a significant amount of Denver Post stories on their own Web sites. The warning was published in a Sunday edition of the Denver Post.
The Post’s warnings come as its circulation has decreased by more than 9 percent over the past year. The Denver Post’s 9.12-percent weekday circulation drop over the past year is well above the 4.99 percent newspaper circulation decline nationwide.
Targeted by the Post has been ColoradoPols.com, a political Web site dedicated to Colorado politics. In May, a law firm representing MediaNews Group sent a letter to Jason Bane of ColoradoPols.com threatening legal action if the political Web site didn’t stop its “flagrant and persistent theft of our clients’ intellectual property.” ColoradoPols.com often pulled several paragraphs from papers like the Denver Post to analyze an issue in depth.
Critics of such lawsuits being pushed by the Denver Post and Righthaven question their validity, arguing that many of the suits are frivolous or seek to “shakedown” “mom and pop” Web sites, as well as non-profits, political action and public interest groups, writers, and forum board operators. Critics argue “fair use” in their defense.
As with most of the Righthaven lawsuits, attorneys seek damages of $150,000, as well as forfeiture of domain names, thus forcing smaller entities to settle out of court, say critics.
Web sites, blogs and Facebook pages have been set up to call attention to Righthaven’s practices. At righthavenvictims.blogspot.com, the Denver Post and all of MediaNews Group’s 54 newspapers have been added to its “blacklist.” People are encouraged to block the Web sites.
Also on the list is WEHCO Media and Las Vegas-based Stephens Media, LLC, owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a regular client of Righthaven. In fact, an affiliate of Stephens Media is an investor in Righthaven, according to Las Vegas Sun reporter Steve Green. MediaNews is part of a California-based partnership called the Bay Area News Group that includes Stephens Media, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
Haters of both Righthaven and its founder, Mr. Gibson, say the firm is attacking people who should be given an education in copyright laws, not forced to defend themselves against expensive lawsuits.
“These are people who feel like they’re doing the online equivalent of cutting a newspaper out and sending a copy to their friends,” said Randazza, the California attorney representing “Righthaven victims.”
Randazza agreed that Drudge Report is a different beast, but pointed out that the Drudge Report suit is the first lawsuit brought by Righthaven against a large, truly profitable entity.
“These aren’t people putting movies on Torrent sites,” continued Randazza. “This is a whole different degree — essentially it’s the hall monitor waiting until the bell rings and saying, ‘Got you.’”
But Gibson himself told the Denver Daily News on Friday that a less aggressive approach simply does not work. As of Friday, he had filed 183 copyright infringement lawsuits through Righthaven. An independent Web site not affiliated with Righthaven, RightHavenLawsuits.com, estimates that Righthaven has earned $269,500 in settlements for its clients.
“It does not appear that an approach to addressing the infringement of copyrights that is based upon merely sending out takedown letters is a very effective way of dealing with that issue,” said Gibson. “There are literally millions, if not billions of infringements out there.”
“If a newspaper were to add the requisite staff to identify the infringements, to properly identify the infringers, and spend the time drafting appropriately worded letters, and kindly ask each one of those infringers to stop infringing, it would cost a newspaper an unmanageable amount of money to do that,” continued Gibson.
But Colleen Lynn, founder of righthavenvictims.blogspot.com, says Righthaven is approaching the issue from the wrong angle. Lynn started the anti-Righthaven blog after becoming concerned that content she posted on her Web site, DogBites.org, might result in her being sued. The Web site analyzes dog bites in America, and often used content from newspapers.
Lynn said she couldn’t believe Righthaven was suing people such as herself, adding that she is now afraid to use anything from the Denver Post, even if it’s for the greater good of her audience.
“This really is going to hurt, across the board, all kinds of people,” she said.