“Copyright trolling” law firm Righthaven loses pivotal case

A little over a month ago, we posted about the Las Vegas law firm seeking to squeeze dollars out of bloggers and regular everyday internet users via a creative use of copyright law and re-interpretation of statues to retroactively render viral material on the internet protected intellectual property.

Such a notion should be pretty terrifying if you ever pass on a funny image or video, and more so if you write for or maintain your own blog. (If you pass on chain letters, you pretty much deserve to be sued for something.) But the “copyright trolls” (as Ars Technica so aptly dubbed them) suffered a key loss in court recently that should be mildly encouraging to internet users curious to see how it all pans out.

It’s kind of satisfying, too, that Righthaven seems to have slightly advanced the cause of its many opponents. In a recent ruling regarding fair use, a federal judge actually supported the reproduction of entire articles– a practice most bloggers try to avoid precisely to prevent this sort of legal threat. Federal Judge James Mahan exercised a pretty commendable judicial smackdown:

Judge Mahan told both sides that the purpose of copyright law was to encourage creativity and to disseminate public access to information, so long as that did not unfairly hinder the market for the original story. In this case, Mahan said that the tiny Oregon nonprofit had essentially zero overlap between the readers of its website and the readers of the Review-Journal. In addition, the effect on the “market” for the work is unclear, since Righthaven is solely using the copyright to prosecute a lawsuit, not to defend its news operations (it has none).

The chances of Righthaven taking their ball and going home at this stage of the game are slim, but the two rulings cited in the above links show promising precedent against future actions of a similar nature. What do you think about Righthaven’s lawsuits? Should judges be intolerant of law firms using the court in such a way?

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