Living by the sword

I’ve covered the antics of Righthaven, a copyright-enforcement entity that sues first and asks questions later, before.  From their activities over the past year, it seems clear that Righthaven thinks (at least, it loudly says) it fighting the good fight by vigorously enforcing copyrights in news stories.

Ironically, Steve Green at the Las Vegas Sun thinks that Righthaven is undermining newspapers’ case for copyright protection:

One year ago, U.S. newspapers and broadcasters could feel confident they controlled the news content they created….Then along came Righthaven LLC of Las Vegas, the self-appointed protector of the newspaper industry from such news sharers.

Some 250 Righthaven lawsuits later, Righthaven’s startling achievement is that newspapers now have less — not more — protection from copyright infringers.

Steve’s full analysis is well worth reading, as is his cogent summary of highlights from recent Righthaven-related cases.

Personally, I find this idea that Righthaven may be hurting copyright owners more than helping quite compelling.  Copyright law is often ambiguous, and the precise line between infringement and fair use is unclear.  Whatever else can be said about the merits of a typical Righthaven lawsuit, the sheer number of cases is forcing courts to take a hard look at the policies underlying copyright law and to provide some much-needed clarity.  Insofar as Righthaven’s tactics are, in practice, little better than bullying, judges seem to be doing every thing they can to skew that clarity in favor of Righthaven defendants — and away from established news publishers.

It is ironic that Righthaven’s own actions are starting to set precedents that are undermining the legal foundations for copyright’s protection of news stories.  If I were a publisher with an expansive view of copyright law, I’d be furious at Righthaven.

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