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Controversial copyright-enforcement company Righthaven was already catching a lot of flak for its lawsuit against Brian Hill. Denver alt-weekly Westword was eagerly reporting that its biggest competitor, The Denver Post, was trying to make extra cash off its photos and articles-by working with Righthaven to sue a 20-year-old, chronically ill, mildly autistic hobby blogger. Now Righthaven has dropped that case. But the same Colorado judge who showed little patience for Righthaven’s tactics in the Hill case is overseeing dozens of other Righthaven cases.
Court orders from today and Thursday make it clear that the judge overseeing the Hill case has great distaste for Righthaven’s sue-first-ask-questions-later business model. The problem for Righthaven is that the same judge-U.S. District Judge John Kane-is handling all 58 of the lawsuits the company has filed in Colorado.
Righthaven operates by finding websites, mostly small-time blogs, that have copied articles or photos from the websites of newspapers it works with, primarily The Denver Post and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Rather than ask for the material to be removed, Righthaven sues those websites, typically demanding $150,000 in damages and a transfer of their domain name.
Weeks ago, Righthaven asked Kane for an extension of time to file its next motion in the Hill case. Such requests are common in civil litigation and rarely get denied. But on Thursday, Kane issued just such a denial, saying that Righthaven wasn’t going to get another minute to file its next motion litigating against Hill-Righthaven lawyers would have to work over the weekend and file by the deadline, which was today, April 11.
And Kane didn’t just deny the motion-he slammed Righthaven’s business model, writing: “[W]hether or not this case settles is not my primary concern. Although Plaintiff’s business model relies in large part upon reaching settlement agreements with a minimal investment of time and effort, the purpose of the courts is to provide a forum for the orderly, just, and timely resolution of controversies and disputes. Plaintiff’s wishes to the contrary, the courts are not merely tools for encouraging and exacting settlements from Defendants cowed by the potential costs of litigation and liability.”
On Sunday, Righthaven filed papers indicating the company would be dropping its case against Hill, from whom it was reportedly demanding a $6,000 settlement. In a 3-page motion, Righthaven tries to let Hill off the hook but maintains a complainy sort of tone. “Righthaven’s Notice of Dismissal is in no way a concession that the Defendant is immune from copyright liability,” wrote Righthaven lawyer Shawn Mangano. “Righthaven is no longer willing to engage in settlement discussions over trivial issues while the Defendant and his counsel seek to extend this action for publicity purposes.” Mangano even took the opportunity to warn other defendants not to take comfort from Hill’s case, writing: “Others observing these proceedings should so likewise heed this advice because this Notice of Dismissal in no way exonerates any other defendant in any other Righthaven action for stealing copyright protected material and republishing such material without consent.”
Judge Kane responded to that by taking another extraordinary action-he actually ordered Righthaven’s “warning” to be stricken from the record entirely, along with all the company’s complaints about Hill’s bad behavior. That part of the filing was “immaterial and impertinent,” Kane wrote. That’s a strong suggestion that Kane has become quite annoyed by Righthaven’s tone and actions in this case.
That wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that Kane is handling all of Righthaven’s Colorado cases. As of today, the federal courts database indicates that Righthaven has 58 lawsuits filed in that state, 15 of which have been closed. The chief judge of the district agreed on February 14 [PDF] to hand them all to Judge Kane. That’s a big chunk of the 250+ cases Righthaven has filed in total. Given Judge Kane’s leanings, Righthaven might want to think twice now before filing any more lawsuits in Colorado.
In total, Righthaven has lost two cases on fair use grounds and withdrawn two cases-the Hill case and the lawsuit against reporter Eriq Gardner. While it hasn’t won any cases in court yet, it has reached settlements with dozens of defendants. A website set up by defendants that tracks Righthaven suits estimates the company has earned more than $400,000 from those settlements.