copyright questionDear Doc,

What ever happened to that “Copyright Troll” that was trying to sue anyone who quoted the Las Vegas newspaper?

Jus’ Wondrin’

Dear Jus:

Funny you should ask.  You will recall that Righthaven LLC (the “troll” you talked about) is a company that brought hundreds of law suits for copyright infringement against web sites, bloggers, and mainstream media companies that used content from the Las Vegas Review Journal.  More recently,  Righthaven  sued a website called the Democratic Underground. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit group, got into the case on the side of the defendant.  Its attorneys, wondering how Righthaven got the rights from the Las Vegas Review Journal, requested copies of agreements from Righthaven.

Righthaven said that its contracts were confidential, but the Federal judge ordered them to produce the documents, and guess what? It turned out the Righthaven did not own the copyrights, and was not even the exclusive licensee of the rights. Under the law, Righthaven did not have “standing” to sue for infringement. (Standing is the legal concept that a party to a law suit must have a genuine interest in the suit, so that only real “parties in interest” are allowed to participate in the action.)

The judge ordered the suit against Democratic Underground dismissed. Now many other victims of Righthaven have asked that their cases be dismissed on the same basis, and many have asked courts to order RIghthaven to pay their costs and attorney fees, too.

Does this mean the end of such suits? Obviously not, since others will now understand that a genuine transfer of rights is necessary before starting copyright law suits. Of course, the newspaper itself (or the company that owns it) could have brought suit in the first place, but since suing people is not the usual business of newspapers, the Doc does not expect a wave of such filings any time soon.

That said, the advice still stands repeating: short quotes from sources are fine, but for anything longer, a link to the original is still legally safer.

— Lawrence A. Husick, Esq.