Vegas law firm pioneers frightening strategy to sue everyone on the internet

Via Fark comes a story about this terrifying new practice, spearheaded by a law firm in Vegas and aimed at wringing money out of bloggers and even sometimes message board commenters in a legal strategy that- if it catches on- threatens the very foundation of the web, sharing wrong, shocking or funny pictures.

The blogging masses love to find content that goes viral- sure, traffic and resultant dollar signs is a motivation, but far more of the thrill of sharing pics and other things that blow up internet-wide is the web’s biggest driving motivation- being first. But if Righthaven has its way, the internet could become a whole lot less friendly and about open sharing and dispersal of information. That’s because- in a nutshell- their whole business model is based on copyrighting content which has gone or is about to go past that tipping point of web infamy, and then suing the snot out of you, the user, who posts one of their newly copyrighted images or pieces of content on a blog, a forum, or a social aggregation site.

Wired first covered Righthaven in a piece last year aptly titled “Copyright Trolling for Dollars,” describing CEO Steve Gibson’s strategy as favoring shakedown over takedown:

Gibson’s vision is to monetize news content on the backend, by scouring the internet for infringing copies of his client’s articles, then suing and relying on the harsh penalties in the Copyright Act — up to $150,000 for a single infringement — to compel quick settlements. Since Righthaven’s formation in March, the company has filed at least 80 federal lawsuits against website operators and individual bloggers who’ve re-posted articles from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, his first client.

Interesting too are the relatively paltry sums wrested from your average web user for posting newly copyrighted content- one to three large, which as far as lawyer money goes, is chump change. The name of the game for Righthaven is settlements, terrifying Joe Poster into scaring up the funds to avoid getting cleaned out at trial. The law should take a dim view of this- DMCA takedown notices have worked well in the past at protecting copyrighted content without tying up judicial resources.

All things considered, even if this one law firm devotes all its resources to copyrighting content and suing users of Reddit, Fark and its ilk, most web users should be able to continue sharing with impunity without too much fear. But if the practice catches on and other law firms scent blood in the water- a possible outcome, to be sure- such a practice could have terrible implications for the way the web works.

Do you think this legal strategy will have lasting implications for the way viral information travels on the internet? Is this what copyright laws really exist to protect?