After the Patent Troll, Enter the Copyright Troll

We’ve all heard of patent trolls who buy up patents without using them to make any products. Their only goal is to seek out possible infringers and sue them, making money via the justice system. It was only a matter of time, but we’ve now got something new: copyright trolls.

There’s a company called Righthaven in that little piece of The Netherlands in Nevada called Las Vegas. We’ve heard of patent trolls, and most of us will probably despise them for hurting innovation and abusing the (already severely broken) US patent system. Well, Righthaven has a somewhat similar business model, but instead of buying up patents, this company buys up copyrights.

Right now, the newspaper Las Vegas Review-Journal™®℠ is the company’s only client. Righthaven buys the copyrights to some of the newspaper’s articles and then scours the web for possible infringements. Without any form of a notice or warning, Righthaven then moves to sue the infringers, relying on the over-the-top penalties possible under the US Copyright Act (up to $150000 per infringement).

“We believe it’s the best solution out there,” Steve Gibson, the company’s CEO told Wired, “Media companies’ assets are very much their copyrights. These companies need to understand and appreciate that those assets have value more than merely the present advertising revenues.”

Gibson foresees big business and big profits in Righthaven’s future, and is currently working on hundreds of lawsuits. Luck would have it that the Review-Journal™®℠‘s parent company owns over 70 newspapers in nine other US states, so there’s lots of room to grow even with just one client. “We perceive there to be millions, if not billions, of infringements out there,” Gibson states.

They file complaints everyday, Gibson states, and one of those is making headline news in Nevada. Righthaven is accusing Republican US Senate candidate Sharron Angle for reprinting two (2) Review-Journal™®℠ articles on her campaign website; Righthaven states they’re entitled up to $150000 in damages. The Angle campaign said they would not comment on the case until the lawsuit has been studied in more detail.

“Righthaven LLC vigorously enforces the copyrighted work of Review-Journal reporters, columnists and editors,” Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal™®℠‘s vice president and general counsel, told the Review-Journal™®℠, “We expect everyone to comply with the copyright laws of the United States. It is never appropriate to utilize entire Review-Journal™®℠ articles or columns without prior, express written permission of the newspaper.”

The previous paragraph has been lifted almost entirely from an article on the Review-Journal™®℠‘s website, so I hope we don’t get sued by Righthaven. In any case, while violating copyright this way is against the law in the US, I don’t think this ought to be the goal of the Copyright Act (in any country).

Righthaven is turning copyrights into patents, something that exists solely to make profits from, even without actually creating a damn thing. I don’t think it is possible to insult our leaders of yore, who invented copyright to promote the arts and sciences, to any greater degree than this.

The copyright troll claims that “the number of newspapers that are struggling financially has increased since the advent of the Internet”, which he apparently sees as justification for his despicable business practice. Of course, you could also think that the internet is simply what we call progress, and a new competitor for newspapers to deal with – or work with. I guess it didn’t cross Hinueber’s mind that maybe, just maybe, his dead tree business model is failing, and failing hard. If you can’t compete, litigate. That goes for Apple, Nokia, the RIAA, and, as it turns out, for some newspapers as well.

Oh and Righthaven, go to hell.


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