Righthaven drops another case

Righthaven comes up a lot here at Legally Sociable, and I’ve mentioned their suit against Brian Hill, a 20-year-old blogger with autism and severe diabetes, before.  In another victory for defendants in Righthaven lawsuits, Ars Technica reports that Righthaven is dropping its suit against Brian, after the judge noted that enabling a cheap, easy settlement “is not my primary concern”:

Though the case was moving forward, Righthaven made clear it wasn’t actually interested in litigating the suit; it wanted to settle. “Righthaven is no longer willing to engage in settlement discussions over trivial issues while the Defendant and his counsel seek to extend this action for publicity purposes,” said the company. With settlement not a possibility, the company now just wants the suit to go away. [emphasis added]

Indeed, Righthaven’s lawsuits are starting to drop like flies.  It was just two weeks ago that Righthaven dismissed a suit against the freelance author of another Ars Technica article that covered Righthaven’s litigation antics.  In dropping the suit against Ars’ reporter, Righthaven claimed it was all just a mistake:

“We took immediate corrective action” after learning that Righthaven had just sued a reporter, said [Righthaven lawyer Shawn] Mangano. He added that, since reporters make use of copyright and tend to know a good deal about fair use, “It’s somewhat counterintuitive to sue a reporter for copyright infringement!”

While I certainly applaud Righthaven’s decision to drop these two particularly suits, I have to wonder about the outcomes in the other 260+ lawsuits they have filed over the past year.

Dictionary.com defines “bully” as “a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.”  This definition appears to describe Righthaven perfectly; indeed, it is only when a defendant proves not to be “smaller or weaker” that they tuck tail and run.  Clearly, Righthaven didn’t think it was worth fighting a reporter backed by one of the largest magazine publishers in the U.S. or a highly sympathetic blogger with a clearly competent lawyer (PDF).  However laudatory in result, its dismissals in these cases seem to confirm that Righthaven is not truly defending a principled (if overzealous) view of copyright law.  Instead, Righthaven appears to be a garden-variety bully out to shake down the small and weak for four-digit settlements.

Copyright reform, anyone?

Update 4/12/2011:  Joe Mullin at paidContent has additional information about the Hill dismissal:

In a 3-page motion, Righthaven tries to let Hill off the hook but maintains a complainy sort of tone….Judge Kane responded to that by taking another extraordinary action—he actually ordered Righthaven’s “warning” to be stricken from the record entirely, along with all the company’s complaints about Hill’s bad behavior. That part of the filing was “immaterial and impertinent,” Kane wrote. That’s a strong suggestion that Kane has become quite annoyed by Righthaven’s tone and actions in this case.

Wow.  I think I’d be quite worried about sanctions if I were representing Righthaven in this case.

Further reading (hat tip to paidContent):

  • Order Denying Righthaven Extension, April 7 [Scribd]
  • Righthaven Notice of Dismissal, April 10 [Scribd]
  • Order To Strike, April 11 [Scribd]

Winklevoss twins continue lawsuit against Facebook

The key conflict in The Social Network (reviewed here and here) is the lawsuit that the Winklevoss twins bring against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. This lawsuit is continuing as the Winklevosses seek a larger settlement:

If they prevail, their legal appeal would overturn the settlement, now worth in excess of $160 million because of the soaring value of the privately held company.

The Winklevosses won’t say exactly how much they would seek in their high-stakes grudge fest with the billionaire Facebook founder, but by their own calculations they argue they should have received four times the number of Facebook shares. That would make any new settlement worth more than $600 million based on a recent valuation of Facebook at more than $50 billion…

Facebook has won multiple court rulings, and legal experts say the Winklevosses are likely to lose this one too…

The controversial origins of Facebook — who actually founded it and how — have been the subject of renewed debate since Hollywood offered its dramatization of the conflicting stories from the Winklevosses, both portrayed in “The Social Network” by actor Armie Hammer, and former Zuckerberg friend and Harvard classmate Eduardo Saverin, portrayed by Andrew Garfield. In 2005, Saverin sued Facebook for diluting his stake in the company and reportedly reaped a $1.1-billion settlement.

Zuckerberg has called the film, which received eight Academy Award nominations including best picture, “fiction.” In it, his character tells the Winklevosses: “If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.”

But that’s exactly what the Winklevosses said they did.

The article suggests that the Winklevosses can’t really lose here: if the courts say they shouldn’t receive more money, they still get to receive the initial settlement. We can ask how much The Social Network influenced the decision to seek more money. There were relatively few people in the media who concentrated on the veracity or one-sided nature of this story. For many who saw this Oscar-nominated film, Zuckerberg looks like a jerk.

Of course, this movie and portrayal should have little influence on the courts. And the Winklevosses say they have new evidence for the courts to consider. But I suspect the case was brought in part because of the positive portrayal of the Winkevosses in this film. If this case were in the court of public opinion (and perceptions), would the Winklevosses win?

40,000 ways to file a lawsuit

How do you file lawsuits against 40,000 people you think are infringing your copyrights?  Sounds like the answer is “one at a time”:

Thousands of unnamed “John Does” in P2P file sharing lawsuits filed in California, Washington DC, Texas, and West Virginia have been severed, effectively dismissing over 40,000 defendants. The plaintiffs in these cases must now re-file against almost all of the Does individually rather than suing them en mass.

Let’s unpack this.  Copyright owners often don’t know the names of people they suspect of using the Internet to infringe their works — they only know that such-and-such an Internet protocol address allegedly accessed a pirated file of their content.  In order to match that address with a particular person, they often have go to court to compel an Internet service provider to tell them what account/person is associated with that address.  They can only sue individuals once they have actual names.

Copyright owners have been in the habit of suing thousands of “John Doe” IP addresses in one lawsuit and then using those names to settle quickly:

These rulings may have a significant impact on the copyright trolls’ business model, which relies on being able to sue thousands of Does at once with a minimum of administrative expense. The cost of filing suit against each Doe may prove prohibitively expensive to plaintiffs’ attorneys who are primarily interested in extracting quick, low-hassle settlements.

In my view, courts’ rejection of this tactic brings some procedural balance back to copyright infringement lawsuits.  Copyright owners often sue alleged infringers in courts that are convenient for the owner, and this can effect a substantial injustice.

Perhaps a concrete example is in order.  Let’s assume an individual defendant that (1) is unquestionably innocent and (2) lives in Iowa.  Let’s further assume the plaintiff copyright owner is a movie studio based in California who wants to sue her in Los Angeles.  As a practical matter, this defendant has a difficult choice.  Litigation is always inconvenient and expensive, but hiring a California-based attorney from Iowa and flying out to Los Angeles is probably more than a typical defendant can afford.  Under these circumstances, she may pay the studio a $2,000 settlement even though she’s innocent just to make the matter go away.  After all, it’s pretty easy to burn through $2,000 with a lawyer and travel expenses.

Given this procedural tilt favoring copyright owners, it seems only fair that they be required to file their suits one at a time.  If a copyright owner doesn’t think her claim is even worth a filing fee, she probably shouldn’t be filing that lawsuit in the first place.  Copyright was, after all, designed “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”, not to provide extra-judicial windfall profits to content owners.

Thanks to Matt Berntsen for the original link to the EFF write-up.

$1 for your trouble

How much is a technical trespass worth?  Apparently $1. That’s the amount just granted to a couple who had their home photographed by Google as part of its Street View service:

over two and a half years after the case got started, a judge has handed down her consent judgement, ruling that that Google was indeed guilty of Count II Trespass. [The plaintiffs] are getting a grand total of $1 for their trouble. Ouch.

Ouch indeed.  It’s not quite Bleak House, but 2.5 years of litigation is an awful lot of trouble for $1, any way you measure it.