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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Post a Copyrighted Picture, Face a $150,000 Lawsuit

Righthaven waits for content to go viral, then buys the rights to it and sues everyone in sight.

  • February 9, 2011

We’ve all heard about the RIAA’s mass lawsuits against people who share music online, the MPAA’s crusade against movie-sharers, and the way “patent trolls” sue other companies for infringement of patents in their portfolios.

An example of an image Righthaven will not be suing over. (cc) Horia Varlan

Now the newspaper industry appears to have found its own champion: Righthaven. The Las Vegas-based law firm just filed yet another lawsuit on behalf of its newspaper clients, this time against bloggers who re-posted a picture from a Denver Post article of a TSA “enhanced pat down.”

Copyright infringement on the Web is nothing new, but what’s different about Righthaven’s suits is that it’s testing an area of the law in which the rights of website owners have long been sacrosanct: material posted by users of message boards and other public forums.

Not only is Righthaven suing the owners of those sites – it’s also, in some cases, suing commenters themselves.

What’s especially intriguing about Righthaven’s new model is that it is uniquely Google-enabled. The company basically waits for a piece of content to go viral, then buys the rights to that content from the original owner and, equipped with nothing more than a Google search, identifies and then sues whoever copied a given image or piece of content.

Advocacy website Righthaven Lawsuits estimates that so far the company has netted $308,000 in its nearly year-long campaign to badger website owners into settling out of court. When Righthaven sues a site, it demands not only the full $150,000 per infringement allowed by the Copyright Act, but also the domain of the offending site – even when it’s a site like The Drudge Report.

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