Righthaven Loses First Lawsuit; Judge Says Copying Was Fair Use

from the business-model-sunk dept

We've been following, with great interest, the antics of Righthaven, the company funded by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which has been suing all sorts of random websites for copyright infringement after posting articles (or even snippets of articles) on their sites, often with a link back. A variety of different defenses have been raised by those sued, with almost all of them claiming fair use -- which seemed like a credible claim to us (though, of course, others have disagreed).

Now, in a pretty big setback for Righthaven's entire strategy, the first ruling on this question has been made, and... the judge dismissed the case, claiming that it was fair use. As Eric Goldman notes in the article linked here, it's a bit surprising that the judge ruled fair use so early in the process: "Because the case so clearly lacked merit, the judge prudently is trying to end the case early rather than letting it drag on for months and years, wasting lots of time and money in the process."

That said, this particular case did involve someone who only posted 8 sentences out of a 30-sentence article, whereas many of the other lawsuits have involved entire articles being posted. The 8 sentence part certainly played into the fair use analysis, but other elements of the fair use analysis would certainly apply to others, with a key one being: "Nelson's use of the copyrighted material is likely to have little to no effect on the market for the copyrighted news article."

Oddly, the article notes that the guy, Nelson, appears to have already settled with Righthaven, though it wasn't clear the court recognized this. Hopefully, that settlement didn't involve him paying any money, because if it did, he should demand it back. Here's the ruling:
Unfortunately, the news is not all good on the Righthaven front. In a different case with a different judge on the same day, a request for dismissal was rejected. And this one is really unfortunate. It involved a site that had user-generated content, and a user posted the content. The site owner argued that it was not responsible for the content under basic liability laws. However, because the site did not register a DMCA agent, it's not protected by the official DMCA safe harbors. Now, some have argued that this shouldn't matter. Basic liability issues should make it clear that whoever posted the actual content should be liable, rather than the third party service provider -- but the judge in this case didn't find that point compelling enough for dismissal, though it's possible the issue (and others) could be revisited down the line (though Righthaven is apparently working hard to get that case settled). The article also notes that a bunch of other sites did cave in and pay up...
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Filed Under: copyright, fair use
Companies: righthaven


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2010 @ 8:30am

    Unfortunately Nelson will have to sue Righthaven to recover any monies paid them. If he agreed to a contractual settlement they are under no obligation to repay him.

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