Brian Hill: Autistic blogger reboots site, shares plan to avoid new Righthaven copyright lawsuit

Update: Brian Hill, a chronically ill, mildly autistic North Carolina blogger sued by Nevada's Righthaven LLC for unauthorized use of a Denver Post photo, put his website,, in sleep mode while fighting the claim. But after Righthaven dropped the matter via a snippy dismissal notice, most of which was stricken by a judge (details below), he's rebooted the site -- and he has new strategies to avoid being targeted by another copyright infringement suit.

In an e-mail sent to reporters who've been covering his case, Hill counted down a series of what he calls "legal precautions:"

1. My website will have a takedown page and will start a small fundraiser to be able to afford DMCA Act Safeharbor protection, since my website is open to blog posts from anyone who wants to register. I don't want what any person [who] decides to post to lead me into another lawsuit, so I am setting up pages for cease and desist orders.

2. I will have someone check my websites images to see if any are a potential infringement [issues], so I can remove them accordingly. That way, I don't make a stupid mistake ever again.

3. I will cite any laws that will protect reporters and bloggers on my website or a separate law page that will be used to protect Free Speech, Free Press, and other civil liberties.

4. I will start gathering more people to join my website as a team of volunteer news bloggers that will write their own stories so we can get the news out without violating anyone's copyrights.

Hill stresses that he will comply with any cease-and-desist orders that are legitimate, as opposed to "some prank to attack my website."

At this point, most of the content on the site dates back to January or earlier, prior to the Righthaven filing; he promises it'll be fully up and running soon. But Hill's clearly ambitious: A note near the top of the home page begs the question, "The New Drudge?"

Not quite: Matt Drudge settled his Righthaven lawsuit, for using the same Post photo of a TSA agent as Hill did. Look below to see our coverage of the suit's withdrawal and more.

Original April 11 item, followed by update published at 7:56 a.m. April 12: Righthaven LLC, the Nevada firm that's been suing for copyright infringement on behalf of companies like Denver Post owner MediaNews Group, picked a sympathetic target when it went after Brian Hill, a twenty-year-old, chronically ill, mildly autistic hobby blogger. Amid hugely negative publicity, the company is now dropping its lawsuit. But its latest filing criticizes Hill and his lawyer and warns others being sued that they won't get off so easily.

With the help of pro bono attorney David Kerr, Hill filed a motion to dismiss the Righthaven suit -- and the tone of last week's ruling by U.S. District Judge John Kane denying the company's request for an extension suggested an antipathy for its approach.

Typically, Righthaven obtains copyrights for material that's already been used in unauthorized fashion (like a Post photo of a TSA agent Hill published on his site), then sues for big bucks in the apparent hope of a speedy settlement. For instance, Righthaven offered to let Hill off the hook for $6,000 -- an enormous sum given that he and his mom are both subsisting on disability payments. He has brittle diabetes, and she has to monitor him at night to make sure he doesn't lapse into a coma.

In its notice of voluntary dismissal, on view below, Righthaven's attorneys write that they were unaware of Hill's medical condition prior to suing -- although they stress that his health is "not a basis for excusing him of liability." They also argue that Hill's "incessant use of the Internet as a means to post inflammatory statements about Righthaven and about these legal proceedings say more about his cognitive ability than one would otherwise surmise from the press statements made by his counsel."

When speaking with Westword, attorney Kerr has never said Hill's autism hampered his ability to communicate.

In addition, Righthaven accuses Hill and Kerr of dragging out the case, and ignoring good-faith efforts to settle, as a way of giving the company a PR pummeling. Hence, the document continues, Righthaven has decided to pull the plug. But the authors emphasize that this decision doesn't sanction Hill's "unauthorized replication of the copyright protected material at issue," and if he tries to do it again, it will be "at his own peril."

What about the thirty or more individuals or websites sued by Righthaven around when the outfit zeroed in on Hill? The notice declares that observers should pay heed, because the dismissal "in no way exonerates any other defendant in any other Righthaven action for stealing copyright protected material and republishing such material without consent."

Kerr's response? "I can only speculate as to why Righthaven chose to dismiss Brian's case instead of answering his motion to dismiss," he writes via e-mail. "Others can read the public court filings and draw their own conclusions.

"Everyone at Santangelo Law Offices, P.C., is thrilled for Brian and his entire family," he goes on. "However, there are still several pending issues that we believe need to be presented to the Court. We are evaluating how to proceed as we speak."

Update, 7:46 a.m. April 12: As we pointed out, Righthaven's notice of dismissal in the Brian Hill complaint was filled with attacks on the young blogger and his attorney, as well as an announcement that the dropping of one suit doesn't mean the Nevada company will stop pursuing other people or websites it's accused of copyright infringement.

But U.S. District Judge John Kane has no interest in allowing his court to be used as the equivalent of Western Union. In a highly unusual order issued in the wake of Righthaven's dismissal filing, Kane declared that the majority of the document was "immaterial and impertinent." With that in mind, he struck from the record the text following the sentence "The notice closes the file for this case" -- meaning everything after page one of the three-page document.

Ouch. Here's the original filing.

Righthaven vs. Brian Hill: Notice of Dismissal

More from our Media archive: "Reporters Without Borders letter faults Denver Post for Righthaven suit against Brian Hill."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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