Denver Post to cut ties with Righthaven as momentum turns against copyright troll

A business brief in today's Denver Post notes that the paper will not renew its contract with Righthaven LLC, a Las Vegas firm that takes legal action on behalf of newspapers claiming copyright infringement. The deal's September 30 expiration will end a relationship best known for Righthaven's suit against disabled hobby blogger Brian Hill -- and the outfit's business model could soon follow the pact into oblivion.

As we've explained in past posts, Righthaven modus operandi involves obtaining the copyrights for items from papers like the Post that have been republished without prior consent, then filing suit against the individuals involved. Typically, the firm pledges to drop the matter for a cash payment -- approximately $6,000 in the case of Hill, who republished a single Post photo and was not given any warning that he needed to remove it before the boom was lowered.

Problem is, Hill, who lives in North Carolina, is mildly autistic and has a form of diabetes so life threatening that he can't work, and neither can his mother, who must monitor him in his sleep to make sure he doesn't drift into a coma. The two of them live on disability payments that a Righthaven attorney allegedly implied could be attached to a settlement.

Hill wasn't the only target. Righthaven filed at least thirty suits in a Colorado court during February alone. But after plenty of negative PR, including a letter on Hill's behalf from Reporters Without Borders, which likened Righthaven's tactics to press suppression by dictatorships, the company withdrew the Hill suit.

Meanwhile, rulings in other cases called into question Righthaven's standing to sue on behalf of newspapers like the Post, which assigned copyrights of republished items after the fact. And according to Wired magazine, these edicts are having a devastating impact on its operation. In an item entitled "Copyright Troll Righthaven Goes on Life Support," David Kravets writes:

The litigation factory's machinery is grinding to a halt. A review of court records shows Righthaven has not filed a new lawsuit in two months, after a flurry of about 275 lawsuits since its launch at the beginning of last year. A court filing indicates there have already been layoffs at Righthaven's Las Vegas headquarters and even some already-filed lawsuits are falling by the wayside, because Righthaven isn't serving the defendants with the paperwork.

Righthaven CEO Steve Gibson speaks optimistically about the company's future in the Wired piece. But the loss of the Post account, based on a decision that had reportedly been made before the naming of John Paton as CEO of MediaNews Group, the Post's owner, can't be seen as a positive sign. At this point, it's hard to imagine another major publishing company providing a bridge under which this troll will be able to hide.

More from our Media archive: "Denver Post parent MediaNews Group puts Mike Rosen column at center of copyright suit."