Righthaven Picks Its Biggest, Riskiest Fight Yet

Righthaven, the company that’s filed more than 200 lawsuits based on copyrights it bought from The Denver Post and the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has gone after its biggest target yet by suing Citadel Broadcasting, the largest “pure play radio company” in the U.S. The lawsuit is over a Denver Post photograph that was posted on the website of 630WPRO, a Rhode Island radio station owned by Citadel. This particular lawsuit has an interesting twist.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, 630WPRO actually posted the photo for the purpose of running a “caption contest” that would allow listeners to pick the caption they think best suited the photo, which depicted a TSA agent doing a pat-down.

This battle is bound to be Righthaven’s toughest yet. Until now, its biggest target has arguably been the two-employee Drudge Report; Citadel has more than 4,000 employees, and had revenues of almost $700 million in 2007, the last year for which data is available. Not only does Citadel undoubtedly have much better resources to fight a lawsuit than the mom-and-pop bloggers that are the typical Righthaven target, but TSA search procedures have become a topic of vigorous public debate in the past several months. Asking readers to comment on a photograph by writing captions could be seen as part of that debate, and fall under the “fair use” exception to copyright infringement.

Legal technicalities aside, Righthaven’s actions are effectively squelching commentary about the TSA photograph, which raises questions about whether the copyright-enforcement company is thwarting the journalistic mission of the newspapers it claims to serve. After all, the whole purpose of a publication like The Denver Post is to use photos and stories to provoke discussion of the issues of the day. Righthaven’s lawsuit effectively shut down the caption-contest discussion about TSA patdowns on 630WPRO.