The technique in a nutshell: MediaNews Group and Stephens Media, respective owners of the Denver Post and the Las Vegas Review-Journal, assign Righthaven the copyright to items that have been published by other sites without authorization. Righthaven then files suit against the site in question, offering to drop litigation in exchange for a hefty cash payment and other concessions. Any money collected is split fifty-fifty between Righthaven and the parent companies of the papers, according to a court document made public last month.
This last element of the deal was important to Nevada-based U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt. As reported by Wired, Hunt had been assigned to bench-sit a Righthaven suit against Democratic Underground for allegedly swiping four paragraphs of a Review-Journal story. But he tossed the case under the theory that Righthaven didn't have standing to bring suit in the first place. He wrote that a "copyright owner cannot assign a bare right to sue" -- which is essentially the basis of the Righthaven model.
Hunt also faulted Righthaven for not disclosing its deal to divide any cash with Stephens Media. His ruling added: "Making this failure more egregious, not only did Righthaven fail to identify Stephens Media as an interested party in this suit, the court believes that Righthaven failed to disclose Stephens Media as an interested party in any of its approximately 200 cases filed in this district. Accordingly, the court orders Righthaven to show cause, in writing, no later than two weeks from the date of this order, why it should not be sanctioned for this flagrant misrepresentation to the court."
The suggestion that Righthaven's previous success had been based on trickery and nondisclosure hardly reflects well on the papers using the outfit's services. The Post belatedly acknowledged its connection to Righthaven this week, albeit without mentioning anything about Brian Hill. At this writing, however, it has not published anything about the latest damning development.
More from our Media archive: "Reporters Without Borders letter faults Denver Post for Righthaven suit against Brian Hill."