Last November, MediaNews Group vice president of field operations Sara Glines didn't respond to repeated interview requests about a series of lawsuits filed by Nevada's Righthaven LLC for unauthorized use of Denver Post content. Now, following controversy over a suit against autistic hobby blogger Brian Hill, Glines is repeating the feat in regard to court documents revealing how Righthaven does business.
We've known for a while that Righthaven obtains the copyright of material that's been published without authorization -- like, for example, the Denver Post photo of a TSA agent that Hill put up on his USWGO.com site. Then, rather than sending a standard cease-and-desist letter, the company files a lawsuit that it promises to drop only if the litigation target agrees to pay a sizable sum. In Hill's case, the requested total was $6,000 -- an amount far beyond the means of a chronically ill twenty-year-old living on public assistance that must cover costs for him and his mom, who acts as his fulltime caretaker.
Beyond that, however, the ins and outs of Righthaven's agreements with media companies was a mystery -- at least until a judge released a confidential pact with Stephens Media, the parent company of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. As noted here, the document, on view below, shows that Righthaven and Stephens agreed to split the proceeds from complaints fifty-fifty. However, Stephens retained the right to squelch suits if, for example, the site in the cross-hairs is "likely without financial resources," among other reasons.
Hill certainly fits this definition, but Righthaven sued him anyhow, and only dropped the matter after months of bad publicity. Moreover, it did so in an argumentative notice of dismissal that cast aspersions on Hill and his pro-bono lawyer, David Kerr. Judge John Kane subsequently struck all of this invective from the official record and set a new court date over attorneys fees Righthaven may be ordered to pay.
Another part of the document shows that the only part of the copyright signed over to Righthaven by Stephens Media pertains to the right to sue. In a separate suit described in the article linked above, lawyers from the Electronic Freedom Foundation argue this clause calls the actual copyright transfer into question, rendering suits based upon them a sham.
Does MediaNews Group have the same agreement with Righthaven? If so, did the company tell Righthaven to drop its suit against Hill after criticism that included a letter from Reporters Without Borders that compared its tactics to press attacks by dictators? And are execs confident the copyright transfers will stand up in court?
We hoped to pose these and other questions to Glines, identified by Post editor Greg Moore as the MediaNews staffer who can speak to the subject. But she has not replied to several interview requests sent to her over the course of a week.
This lack of response is tough to defend for an organization that is presumably dedicated to the free and open exchange of ideas. Then again, perhaps MediaNews is so embarrassed by the reports generated by the Hill case, and the prospect of more grim PR to come, that it would rather look hypocritical than to openly defend its relationship with Righthaven.
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Here's the recently unsealed Righthaven-Stephens Media document:
More from our Media archive: "Brian Hill: Chronically ill, autistic blogger's lawyer blasts Denver Post for Righthaven suit."