It's becoming increasingly obvious that the business model of Righthaven LLC was, in fact, very wrong - evidenced by the fact that it has been ordered to pay nearly $120,000 in attorney fees and court costs to the defendant in one of its failed copyright infringement suits.
For those who haven't been following the Righthaven saga on our blog and on our Patent Infringement News page, Righthaven established a reputation as a "copyright troll" when it sued individuals - on behalf of publications, usually local newspapers but sometimes larger papers - for posting copyrighted articles on their websites. Often the copyrighted articles were "puff pieces" or vanity articles.
Basically, Righthaven's business model involved signing agreements with publications to act as their copyright enforcer, suing anyone who used their content without permission and negotiating settlements. Beginning in March 2010, Righthaven filed 274 lawsuits in Nevada, South Carolina and Colorado against website owners and bloggers who reposted content from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post. And in the beginning, many defendants simply settled.
The problem: Righthaven doesn't actually own, or have any share in, the copyrighted material it enforces. And without full and complete control of the copyright(s) at issue, Righthaven lacks standing to bring lawsuits on behalf of its clients.
Now that Righthaven is losing its lawsuits due to the fact that it had no right to bring them in the first place, the damages are snowballing. The troubled company is having trouble coming up with damages payments of $3,815 and $34,000 from previously dismissed lawsuits, and now it has been ordered to pay $119,488 to Thomas DiBiase - a former federal prosecutor whose website follows "no-body" murder cases, or those in which murder is suspected but no remains are found.
The case against DiBiase, like some of the others Righthaven has lost, was dismissed on the basis of "fair use" instead of standing. DiBiase's posting of articles was found to provide a public service to law enforcement officials and thus constitutes a fair use of the copyrighted material.
What's next for Righthaven? More woes, most likely: The award of attorney's fees and costs in Righthaven's dismissed lawsuit against the Democratic Underground is expected to surpass even that in the DiBiase case. And Righthaven reportedly can't even raise the funds to cover the $34,000 award to another defendant, Wayne Hoehn.
The lesson to be learned: If you sue for copyright infringement, better make darn sure you own the copyright.
While it's good news to many that courts are deciding that Righthaven is in the wrong, it's too bad that some defendants initially settled. While settling troll suits may often seem to be in a company's best interests, economically and otherwise, the turn of events for Righthaven defendants can also be seen as a situation in which it might have been advisable to fight. But then, hindsight is 20/20.