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Rocky Mountain Right website goes on hiatus due to fear of being sued by Denver Post

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Visitors to Rocky Mountain Right's website can usually find conservative news and commentary -- but not right now. The home page is currently emblazoned with the phrase "Access Denied." That's because site overseer Antony Surace has temporarily blocked users to the page due to concerns about possibly being sued by the Denver Post for copyright infringement.

As documented in this space, the Denver Post's owner, MediaNews Group, has a new partner: Righthaven LLC. According to a December Las Vegas Sun article linked in the post above, the firm is a "Las Vegas-based newspaper copyright enforcement company" that's filed 179 lawsuits in Nevada since March. On behalf of MediaNews, the outfit made a similar complaint against South Carolina blogger Dana Eiser for posting "a 'literary work' for which Righthaven owns the copyright" to her website, LowCountry912.

The piece in question? "A Letter to the Tea Partyers" by Mike Rosen, published the previous September.

Mere days later, Righthaven cast for a much bigger fish on MediaNews Group's behalf: Internet powerhouse Matt Drudge, accused of publishing a Post photo without permission.

That was enough for Surace, who published the following explanatory note on Rocky Mountain Right:

Rocky Mountain Right is temporarliy off-line due to the decision by the Denver Post to partner with RightHaven, a Las Vegas-based firm dedicated to suing bloggers for "copyright infringement" even if it falls within fair use guidelines in order to turn a profit.

While this site has not been the target of a lawsuit by RightHaven on behalf of the Denver Post, RightHaven is notorious for suing without warning in cases where fair use is justified in order to intimidate bloggers into paying a settlement. This site is a strictly non-profit venture.

We have 1,422 posts as of December 6, 2010 -- the vast majority posted by the over 1,000 registered users of the site -- and we will be expunging any quotes or links to the Denver Post website from all of these posts, even if they fall within fair use guidelines, in order to avoid a frivolous lawsuit.

Please check back in January 2011 for the site to relaunch free of references to the Denver Post. In the meantime, please read more on RightHaven at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and consider canceling your subscription to the Denver Post in the event that you have one.

"I've been watching Righthaven's business tactics for a while in connection with the Las Vegas Review-Journal and anticipated the Denver Post making this move," Surace elaborates. "And the reason I pulled it is because Rocky Mountain Right isn't all written by me. The vast majority of the content is from users who register and create accounts. And even though I know I wasn't copying and pasting whole Denver Post articles on the site, the odds are that in the three yeras of content on there, one of the users has at some point -- and given Righthaven's behavior, it seemed best to pull it offline until I can automate the process and pull anything they might have a problem with off of there."

Surace doesn't argue that users should be able to publish Post pieces in their entirety without a go-ahead from the paper. But he feels Righthaven's methodology "is definitely too heavy-handed, since historically, when the Denver Post sends out cease-and-desist letters to blogs, they comply."

His prime example: Colorado Pols, which stopped excerpting any Denver Post content last year after an attorney for the paper accused it of violating a gentleman's agreement to use only a few paragraphs when referencing its work, rather than five or more. Colorado Pols' Jason Bane said no such pact existed, and further declared that his site doesn't need to draw from the Denver Post to cover the political scene in the state.

From Surace's perspective, "automated spam blogs that pull stuff from newspaper articles and blog posts" are a far bigger problem than political websites like his, "but they're not going after them. The Post's targets are a small-potatoes Tea Party group in South Carolina and The Drudge Report -- and I can only imagine how much traffic he's sending them."

Filing lawsuits rather than sending letters "is causing a lot of bad blood in the blogging community," he continues, "and I think it's going to be really bad for them. To survive, they need to drive people to their websites in order to keep their online advertising going. And in looking at some of the statements by [MediaNews chairman] Dean Singleton and some of the other newspapers involved, it tells me they've somehow deluded themselves into thinking these lawsuits are going to stop copyright infringement and make newspapers more viable than they are, instead of figuring out an online advertising model to sustain them."

Because Surace has been busy with other websites, including DenverPoliceTransparency.org, which tracks brutality and excessive-force complaints leveled against the Denver Police Department, he hasn't had time to check all the Rocky Mountain Right items individually -- nor has he been able to write a program that would do the job for him. Hence, he's had to push back his goal of getting Rocky Mountain Right back online by January. In the meantime, he believes that the thermonuclear option to copyright protection being used by Righthaven and MediaNews Group "is going to do nothing more than hurt them in the long run."

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

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