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Brian Hill: Hobby blogger sued by MediaNews & Righthaven is 20, chronically ill, autistic

MediaNews Group's get-tough policy toward copyright protection has been led by Righthaven LLC, a Nevada firm whose Denver Post-related lawsuits have targeted the likes of Internet star Matt Drudge. Far less powerful is Brian D. Hill, a twenty-year-old hobby blogger on disability, who says he received no warning about unauthorized use of a Post photo and can't afford the $6,000 Righthaven told him he must pay to squash a suit against him.

According to BigMedia.org's Jason Salzman, Righthaven had filed thirty suits in federal court here in Colorado as of last week. Thus far, the Post hasn't kept readers abreast of this legal deluge, with the paper's editor, Greg Moore, telling Salzman "there's nothing to report. They are suing on our behalf those who infringe on our copyright."

Brian D. Hill.
Brian D. Hill.

Moore added: "This is not about educating bloggers or anyone else. It is to restrain them from appropriating our content. We have been clear that we will protect our content and if anyone is unclear about why that's important, there is probably nothing else the institution can say."

As for the individuals on the receiving end of these suits, Drudge is easily the biggest name. The first suit in the barrage was aimed at South Carolina blogger Dana Eiser, accused of republishing a Mike Rosen column about the Tea Party on her tiny LowCounty912 website -- and most of the listings on a docket linked by Salzman feature little-known operations such as Matzoball Entertainment Online. This focus on the little guy was a factor in Rocky Mountain Right overseer Anthony Surace taking his site offline for fear another user had put up Post content without his knowledge.

Also represented on the docket is Hill, sued as an individual for publishing a Denver Post pic of a TSA agent on his website, uswgo.com, launched in October 2009. A resident of Mayodan, North Carolina, Hill is twenty years old and, in his words, "mildly autistic." He also suffers from "a brittle case of Type 1 diabetes. That means my blood sugar tends to fluctuate a lot" -- so much so that he can't work and receives disability payments.

At this writing, uswgo.com, which Hill describes as "an alternative news site where people can post political stuff that would usually not be covered by the mainstream media," is not accessible. He says he pulled it down last week after learning he was being sued -- information that came to him not from Righthaven, but from a journalist.

Hill took this photo of his summons.
Hill took this photo of his summons.

"A reporter from the Las Vegas Sun, Steve Green, sent me an e-mail and told me about the lawsuit, and he gave me a copy of the lawsuit," Hill notes. "At first, I didn't think it was real, but then I looked at the article and saw my name on there, and I found my name on the court docket site. And I thought, 'Oh my goodness, I'm being sued.'"

At that point, Hill immediately removed the photo, "and then me and my mom contacted Righthaven to try to reason with them. I told them I'm renting a house, so I don't own any property, and I'm on disability, so I really don't have any money for them to take."

According to Hill, a Righthaven representative responded by telling me "that if I paid them $6,000 in an out-of-court settlement, it wouldn't go to trial."

Unfortunately for Hill, he has neither the $6,000 nor enough money to travel to Colorado for a hearing. He received a summons last week that gives him 21 days to respond -- "so me and my mom sent a letter to the judge to try to get him to dismiss the case." And if he doesn't? "Then the only way we can afford to go to Colorado is to countersue Righthaven and have them pay the filing fee."

Of course, Righthaven, represented in the suit against Hill by attorney Steven Gamin, could drop the case, too. Thus far, Gamin hasn't replied to an interview request from Westword. When and if he does, we'll update this post.

Why does Hill think Righthaven is suing him, as opposed to contacting him in advance and asking him to remove the photo, which he says he would have done? Money is one reason -- but after doing an Internet search and finding references like this one to Righthaven's alleged links to the Obama administration, he wonders if there is "a political reason" behind the cases.

And if the case does go to trial? Hill will be representing himself -- because he can't afford a lawyer, either.

More from our Media archive: "Dean Singleton interview about stepping down as CEO of MediaNews Group."


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