1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Righthaven - Another MediaCAT?


We blogged fairly extensively on the 'MediaCAT' litigation - the numerous cases brought by ACS:Law on behalf of MediaCAT against individual accused of illegally accessing copyright material - here porn films - by illegal file sharing. The case ended up before Judge Colin Birss QC - and bankruptcy for MediaCAT. I was reminded of the story when I read recent reports about the exploits of Righthaven LLC, another vehicle for content owners to pursue alleged infringers, which is having a torrid time in the USA.

Righthaven is a copyright "holding" company that has filed hundreds of copyright infringement lawsuits in the USA. Since March 2010, the company, fronted by attorney Steven A Gibson, has filed 275 lawsuits claiming website operators, bloggers and message board posters had infringed on copyrights by posting material online from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post; the lawsuits generally allege copyright infringement against sites that have posted all or portions of newspaper articles and photographs Righthaven claimed it owned through assignments from copyright owners. Nevada based Righthaven describes itself as 'The nation's pre-eminent copyright enforcer' (http://righthaven.com/). But District Courts in both Nevada and Colorado have dismissed Righthaven's complaints on the basis that it lacked standing to sue since it did not, in fact, own the copyrights it claimed it did. Now a court in Nevada has dealt Righthaven its biggest financial blow to date. Not only did the court determine that Righthaven lacked standing to sue, Judge Roger I. Hunt it awarded a Righthaven defendant Thomas DiBiase nearly $120,000 in legal fees as a result of the expenses Mr. DiBiase incurred defending himself against Righthaven's claims. This is the third such award for a Righthaven defendant and the largest award to date. Previously in August, another Nevada judge in Las Vegas awarded another successful defendant approximately $34,000 in legal fees after that defendant successfully moved to dismiss Righthaven's claims for lack of standing. US commentators say that it remains unclear how Righthaven will proceed particularly given Righthaven's alleged difficulty in posting a bond for the previous $34,000 award pending appeal.

Judge Hunt has also fined Righthaven US$5,000 for misleading the federal court about its lawsuits.

In the UK the MediaCat case ended with Judge Birss QC deliverying these words in the Patents County Court "On 26th January I received a letter from ACS:Law. It included copies of documents relating to the firm’s retainer with MediaCAT on the basis that I had asked to see them. In fact I had not asked to see them, the defendants had and I had not ordered them to be produced, ACS:Law had volunteered. In any event the letter also states that MediaCAT has ceased trading as it has become insolvent and that ACS:Law is no longer instructed save to perfect consent orders already notified to the court. The letter concludes with a statement that the claimant has asked Mr Crossley to notify the court that it has ceased all activities and will not at any time in the future be sending letters or pursuing anyone in relation to the alleged infringements of copyright. Also ACS:Law will close permanently on 31st January 2011 and there will be no successor practice".

I don't know about Righthaven's financial position or their resources. They may well be financially secure but Wikipedia seem to disagree, and suggests that on October 29th 2011 a Nevada federal court judge ordered the seizure of the company's bank accounts and property to provide for the payment of the $34,000 legal fee from the August 2011 ruling; by November 1st the Court authorised the US Marshals Service to seize cash and/or assets reflecting the due debt, now standing at $63,720. Wired seem to fear the worst, saying that Righthaven is "on the brink of shuttering". The links below might help you make your own mind up, as might Righthaven's website and Steven Gibson's own words in a 'Face to Face' interview on YouTube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOsL99mAXS8

Some critical comments at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Righthaven - and a fascinating read here http://righthavenlawsuits.com/ and more at http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/11/righthaven-teetering/

Image: Marco Bellucci

2 comments:

Andy J said...

Ben, You don't mention it your post but I'm sure you are aware that Techdirt have been on the trail of Righthaven and their various failed cases in the US for some time now. For anyone interested in the wider Righthaven picture, take a look here.

Anonymous said...

Ben, you don't need to go far across the atlantic to find another MEDIACAT. There is one pending before HHJ Birss QC Golden Eye (International) Ltd v Maricar [2011] EWPCC 27, apparently this one is slightly different from MEDIACAT which will make the final outcome fascinating.

Recent decisions against ISPs and the DEA will make MEDIACAT-type litigation a common occurence. In fact, it will be as common as issuing a simple debt claim online. So much for copyright protection.