Lawyer Gets Court To Assign Copyright On Negative Review To Him, Then Sues For Copyright Infringement
from the getting-around-230 dept
We’ve written numerous times about the site Ripoff Report from the company Xcentric Ventures. Ripoff Report has been involved in numerous lawsuits from people trying to sue the site for posts they claim are defamatory. Ripoff Report has strict “no removals” policy, though it does encourage people who are ridiculed via the site to respond — and offers a fee-based program to help individuals and companies improve their reputation. Thanks to Section 230 of the CDA — which we’ve written about quite a bit — Ripoff Report has mostly prevailed when sued. That’s because it’s not Ripoff Report writing the content. They’re just the service provider. People who are upset can still go after the original author of any content if there’s actual defamation there, but suing Ripoff Report tends not to get very far. Not surprisingly, this pisses off some people, leading them to try out a variety of tactics to get around Section 230, most of which fail.
The latest such attempt comes from attorney Richard Goren, who first sued the person who wrote this post on Ripoff Report in Massachusetts state court. From the look of the post, Goren probably has a legitimate defamation claim against the author of the post. It makes a number of completely unsupported statements of fact that accuse Goren of a variety of illegal activities including things like fraudulently seizing assets from the elderly and child abuse. You can absolutely see how this could lead to a legitimate defamation claim. Of course, the post is also so over the top that it seems doubtful that anyone looking at it would take it at face value. Furthermore, the comments on the post make it pretty clear that people don’t believe it at all.
Either way, Goren won his initial suit in the state court via what appears to be a default judgment, which includes an injunction against the person who wrote the original post — variably named as “John Doe dba Arabiannights-Boston Massachusetts,” “Steven DuPont,” “Steven Christian DuPont” and “Christian DuPont” — from continuing to post it. All of that seems more or less reasonable. But here’s where it gets highly questionable. As a part of the default judgment, Goren also convinced the state court to assign the copyright on the post to himself:
that all rights in and ownership of the copyright by the author…. of the January 31, 2012 Report # 831689 posted on the Ripoff Report website captioned “Complaint Review: Richard A. Goren” is hereby transferred to the plaintiff Richard A. Goren, meaning and intending to convey, transfer and assign by this Order and Judgment the full and exclusive ownership of copyright in and to that work so as to qualify as a transfer of ownership under 17 U.S.C. §201(d) and/or under 17 U.S.C. §204.
Once that was in place, Goren immediately turned around and told Ripoff Report that the post was infringing his copyrights and demanded that it be taken down. Ripoff Report refused, citing their usual policy, and Goren has now sued the company claiming copyright infringement. It is important to note, of course, that Section 230 has a specific carve out that it does not apply to intellectual property claims. The DMCA’s Section 512 safe harbors are supposed to act as an equivalent, but they are much weaker than Section 230, and (as we all know) have the notice and takedown requirements to avoid liability.
While I can sympathize with Goren considering the sheer craziness of that original and clearly malicious post on Ripoff Report, this approach seems very dangerous. First off, it seems like a form of copyright abuse — using it not for anything that has to do with the purpose of copyright, but merely as a very blatant attempt to get around the clearly stated limitations of Section 230. It’s troubling enough that the state court agreed to hand over the copyright in the first place, but then using that as a way to attack the service provider for content that someone else had written seems doubly troubling. Unfortunately, with cases like these, you always worry if a court will come to a bad result simply because they’re so put off by the extreme nature of the comments against Goren. The very large problem with that is that it leads to encouragement of continued abuse of copyright to censor all sorts of legitimate content, and to pin liability on third party service providers, who should not be liable for the actions of their users.