Righthaven ruling by Denver judge "stunning rebuke" of copyright troll, attorney says

This week, Judge John Kane, who ordered Denver to release eight years of excessive-force complaints, struck a blow against Righthaven LLC, the Las Vegas copyright-law firm that has been working for the Denver Post . And the attorney for one of the firm's most prominent targets -- chronically ill, autistic hobby blogger Brian Hill -- thinks it may prove fatal.

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 of a TSA agent and was not given any warning that he needed to remove it before the boom was lowered.

In the end, Righthaven dropped its suit against Hill, but the outfit pushed forward on other filings in Colorado, including one involving Leland Wolf, who oversees the It Makes Sense Blog, a conservative web destination that today features a number of attacks on President Barack Obama and a clip-and-save "race card." Wolf was accused of violating Righthaven's copyright for using the same TSA image for which Hill was cited.

However, Judge Kane ruled that Righthaven doesn't have standing in the case, because it didn't have exclusive rights to the photo, notes Law Week Colorado. Hence, he granted summary judgment to Wolf and ordered Righthaven to pay his attorney fees.

What's Hill's attorney, David Kerr, think about this turn?

"I thought Judge Kane's decision was thorough, well reasoned and fair," he replies via e-mail. "It really was a stunning rebuke of Righthaven's entire business model.

"I think the fact that Judge Kane ordered Righthaven to pay Mr. Wolf's legal fees, which will be substantial, should be a warning to others that federal copyright lawsuits are not the legal equivalent to ATM machines," he continues. "Lawsuits have consequences, and should be approached thoughtfully and as a last resort.

"In the end, Righthaven simply didn't have a legal leg to stand on. Having been present for the legal arguments before the court, it was obvious from the start that Righthaven had simply painted themselves into a legal corner. It was actually quite sad to witness."

What's next?

"I expect Righthaven to appeal Judge Kane's decision and will likely ask the court to stay the remaining cases pending that appeal," he notes. "However, based on Judge Kane's most recent order, I expect the court will not allow the defendants to be placed in legal limbo pending any appeal. I expect that Judge Kane will grant summary judgment for each of those defendants, which could make Righthaven liable for additional attorney's fees."

Kerr's final analysis: "Righthaven is done in Colorado. Judge Kane's ruling was the final nail in the coffin."

Look below to read Kane's order in the Wolf case.

Righthaven summary judgment

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