Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Righthaven's Aggressive Legal Tactics

We have written about trends in mass-copyright-infringement suits previously, but what's happening with the Righthaven suits in the United States is an entirely different set of legal problems altogther.

Righthaven LLC is the "copyright enforcement partner" of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post, which sues alleged copyright infringers of and on behalf of those newspapers.

Righthaven has launched approximately 250 lawsuits for copyright infringement as of this writing, with the overwhelming majority of them commenced since March 2010.

Of late, each individual suit has demanded as much as $150,000 in damages for the infringement, plus surrender of the infringer's website/domain name.

Righthaven's suits have been launched against everybody from individual bloggers to The Toronto Star. (The Star, at present, has not made answer to Righthaven's suit.)

Some of Righthaven's targets have had success with fair use defenses, although Righthaven has appealed in these decisions. Critics of Righthaven allege that its business model is one designed to harass and intimidate the company's targets.

Righthaven's legal tactics are reportedly quite aggressive - Defendants frequently state that they received no demand letter or notice before Righthaven proceeded with civil action, and that Righthaven's six-figure requested damages are extremely high for the types of copyright violations alleged.

More recently, however, at least one of Righthaven's targets is alleging even more aggressive behaviour on the company's part:
"Since December 2010, Righthaven, and more specifically Mr. Mangano, have engaged in continuously unprofessional behavior in an attempt to take advantage of my pro se status and squeeze a settlement out of me," Neveau complained to the court. "Mr. Mangano even had the audacity, after being provided with documentation from my doctor, to grant a discovery extension for two months if I dismissed my counterclaim. In other words, he tried to blackmail me into dropping my countersuit."

An email attached to his complaint from Mangano to Neveau notes: "Please keep in mind that YOU filed a counterclaim against Righthaven LLC and a third-party complaint against Stephens Media LLC. As such, this is not a case where you were merely defending claims brought against you. Rather, you have chosen to seek affirmative legal recourse against Righthaven and Stephens, both of which have incurred and will continue to incur legal fees defending your baseless claims."

The Jan. 14 e-mail indicated Righthaven offered to stay litigation in the case for 60 days if Neveau would drop his counterclaim against Righthaven and his complaint against Stephens Media with prejudice, meaning they could not be re-filed.
I query how our own Law Society's "civility regulators" would look upon this sort of conduct. Not fondly, I suspect.

- Christopher Bird, Toronto

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