Watch out for copyright infringement lawsuits, warn web rights experts

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2011:

LAS VEGAS–Humane societies, pro-animal
bloggers, and even individual Facebook users are
at risk of lawsuit for alleged copyright
violation if they post articles or images from
copyrighted media, warns Colleen Lynn of
Dogsbite.org.
A professional web designer who closely
monitors copyright issues, Lynn predicts that
infringement lawsuits may be filed by animal use
industry front groups using a legal model
developed by a Las Vegas entity called Righthaven
LLC.


Formed by attorney Stephen Gibson,
Righthaven LLC reportedly searches the web for
unauthorized postings of articles and images
originally published by the Las Vegas Review
Journal and Denver Post, buys the copyrights of
those it finds, and files suit against the web
site owners for copyright infringement. The same
approach could in theory be used by any legally
incorporated entity which could purchase
copyrights from the original holders.
“From the get-go, Righthaven hits
copyright violators with lawsuits seeking $75,000
in damages and forfeiture of their website domain
names,” reported Steve Green of the Las Vegas
Sun in a series of more than two dozen exposés
and follow-ups about Righthaven tactics.
As of mid-June 2011, Righthaven “has
filed 274 infringement lawsuits since March
2010,” Green wrote. A web site called
Righthaven-Lawsuits.com published an “educated
guessestimate” that at least 35 cases had seen
settled as of September 30, 2010 at an average
cost to the defendants of about $4,000.
Since September 2010, according to
Green, the State Bar of Nevada has been “looking
into multiple grievances involving Righthaven and
CEO Steven Gibson. “While disciplinary action by
the State Bar is not inevitable,” Green
continued, “the chances of that happening may
have increased on June 14 when Roger Hunt, chief
U.S. District Court judge for Nevada, issued an
order dismissing a Righthaven copyright
infringement lawsuit against the Democratic
Underground over a Las Vegas Review Journal
story.”
Wrote Hunt in his dismissal order,
“The court believes that Righthaven has made
multiple inaccurate and likely dishonest
statements to the court.” In particular, Hunt
said, the Righthaven claim to control
Review-Journal copyrights “is flagrantly
false–to the point that the claim is
disingenuous, if not outright deceitful.”
A series of other actions are pending
against Right-haven and the owners of the Las
Vegas Review Journal and Denver Post, including
a class action counterclaim brought in Denver by
defendants in infringement cases who paid
Righthaven to settle the cases in the
belief–mistaken, ruled Hunt–that Righthaven
had legal standing to bring the cases.
But even if Gibson is disciplined, all
the Righthaven cases are dismissed, and
Righthaven itself is dissolved, cautions Lynn,
“U.S. copyright law does allow for such lawsuits.
A new Righthaven is coming,” Lynn predicts,
“and animal welfare web sites will be targets.
One of the early Righthaven victims was a poet
named Allegra Wong,” Lynn notes, “who published
a noncommercial website about cats.”
Wong, of Boston, “published City
Felines Blog, written from the point of view of
a cat,” reported Green. When sued, “Wong
responded to the lawsuit by telling the court in
a letter: ‘City Felines Blog is an online
diary, a chronology of my thoughts about felines
and about the sacredness of all creatures.’ Her
apparent offense, she told the court, was
posting on her blog a Review-Journal story about
a fire at a nature sanctuary. ‘Full credit and a
link were given to the Las Vegas Review-Journal,’
she wrote in the letter.”
However, merely crediting the source of
a copyrighted article posted without permission,
and offering a link to the source, may not be
sufficient to establish that the posting is “Fair
use” as defined by U.S. copyright law.
Wong’s blog appears to be no longer
online. Her case is apparently still pending.
Lynn has distributed to other animal
advocacy web site owners and bloggers a primer on
not getting sued for copyright violation authored
by Michael Nystrom, who operates a web site
promoting the ideas of libertarian Republican
presidential candidate Ron Paul. Nystrom was
sued by Righthaven.
“Register your site with the U.S.
Copyright Office and put a Digital Milennial
Copyright Act disclaimer on the site,” advises
Nystrom. “You may think that your web site is
protected by a blanket ‘safe harbor’ status under
the Act. It isn’t. In order to qualify for
‘safe harbor’ protection, you must designate an
agent to deal with copyright complaints and
register your site with the copyright office. It
costs $105 to register one site, and another $30
to add up to 10 more.
“Additionally, you need to have a DMCA
disclaimer on your site, clearly stating that
you comply with the DMCA and outlining the
procedures on how to file a complaint and who to
send it to,” Nystrom says. “All indications
point to Righthaven being simply an initial proof
of concept for the copyright-suit-for-profit
business model. The definition of internet
copyright infringement remains murky, but in the
realm of law, it is often the party with greater
resources that prevails. No doubt others are
eyeing the lucrative ‘business model’ of
squeezing money out of people.
“Be aware,” Nystrom adds, “that the
above steps should protect you from copyrighted
content that others have posted on your site. It
does not give you license to post
copyright-protected content. It is imperative
that you understand copyright. Be sure that you
only post content that you have permission to
use, or that you own yourself.”

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