Righthaven ordered to pay nearly $120,000 in attorney fees, court costs

Newspaper copyright infringement lawsuit filer Righthaven LLC of Las Vegas was hit Wednesday with an order to pay $119,488 in attorney's fees and costs in its failed lawsuit against former federal prosecutor Thomas DiBiase.

This was by far the largest fee award against Righthaven, but likely will be dwarfed by an upcoming award in Righthaven's failed suit against the Democratic Underground. Before Wednesday the largest fee award against Righthaven was for $34,045 — an amount Righthaven says it's having trouble paying or even posting a bond to cover.

DiBiase has a website covering no-body murder cases, or cases where a murder is suspected but the victim's remains have not been located. He was sued by Righthaven last year over allegations he posted without authorization a story on such a murder case by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt in Las Vegas dismissed Righthaven's suit against DiBiase this summer because Righthaven lacked standing to sue him under its flawed lawsuit contract with R-J owner Stephens Media LLC.

The DiBiase case was noteworthy because his attorneys at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco said DiBiase's nonprofit website performed a public service assisting law enforcement officials in bringing justice to crime victims — and that his post was protected by the fair use concept of copyright law.

Case law created by the Righthaven lawsuits suggests DiBiase’s use of the story would be protected by fair use as it was noncommercial and judges have found there can be no market harm to Righthaven for such uses since there is no market for copyrights Righthaven obtains for lawsuit purposes.

Hunt didn't rule on the fair use claim, but in the DiBiase case he ruled Righthaven had wrongly been claiming it had the right in its lawsuits to seize defendants' website domain names.

That standard lawsuit demand was criticized by defense attorneys who said it was meant to bully defendants into settling, though Righthaven insisted it was a legitimate demand especially against copyright infringers who wouldn't stop infringing or who failed to pay a court judgment to Righthaven.

Righthaven, as its custom, will likely appeal Wednesday's fee award in favor of DiBiase.

"The Copyright Act states that prevailing parties may recover `a reasonable attorney’s fee' along with `full costs.' Mr. DiBiase is a prevailing party based on this court’s order granting his motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on Righthaven’s lack of ownership of the copyright and consequent lack of standing,'' Hunt wrote in his ruling Wednesday, adding he also looked at other factors in Righthaven's lawsuit including "frivolousness,'' "motivation'' and the "objective reasonableness'' of Righthaven's suit.

DiBiase's attorneys received every dollar they asked for in their fee request.

"Righthaven’s lawsuit against Mr. DiBiase was a shameless attempt to extract a nuisance value settlement from someone who spends his free time trying to assist prosecutors and investigators by maintaining a one-stop Internet resource for information about `no-body’ murder cases. Mr. DiBiase prevailed in this action because he demonstrated that Righthaven could not — as a matter of law — establish the first element of a valid copyright infringement claim: ownership of a copyright. Righthaven’s case was objectively unreasonable from the outset and motivated by improper purposes throughout," their fee request said.

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  1. Great! Putting this creepy company out of business is a victory for common sense. All Righthaven did was throw things at the wall and hope they would stick. Stephens ought to be ashamed but isn't. And the R/J? It ignored the story completely. Not a word about Righthaven on their pages. Shame on the R/J which is quick to point out others misdeeds and rightly so. But, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

  2. Nothing more satisfying than seeing a bully get his butt kicked!

  3. Big mistake: Filing a lawsuit against a former federal prosecutor. Maybe Righthaven didn't see "attorney at law" after his name?

  4. The attorneys fees award shows why the copyright law, as it exists, is skewed towards those who are rich enough to sue to protect their copyrights, but is a complete disincentive to copyright infringement litigation by those who have little or no assets other than their copyrights.

    A family member of mine has spent years writing academic books on physiology and sports nutrition. A "meat head bodybuilder" from California retyped one of the books in its entirety, and then at the suggestion of the meat head's lawyer selectively edited the original text, so that the meat head could claim it was his own work.

    We went over to UNLV Law Library, and read the lawyer-oriented book on copyright law. It was clear that my family member's copyright was grossly infringed. However, all my family member could recover was the money the meat head made on selling the book with the infringed materials. However, at the instruction of his slick lawyer, the meat head bodybuilder gives the copyright infringed book away for free, if one signs up for his "physical trainer courses".

    Since my family member doesn't have enough money to hire a litigator competent at dealing with Federal Court rules, and since my family member has no meaningful assets other than his copyrights, he cannot risk suing the meat head bodybuilder "pro per" for copyright infringement BECAUSE the risk of losing the case means losing his copyrights.

    There is no pro-bono law lawyers group which wants to protect the rights of the ordinary copyright owner, but instead these groups are only interested in advocating for their own open internet and free press agenda.

    The copyright law was written for the rich (like the entertainment and publishing business, including The Sun and its owner) but does absolutely nothing to protect the intellectual property of those who can't afford a lawyer. Just more proof that Congress and the Presidency are controlled by large corporations, and do little to meaningfully protect the rights of ordinary Americans.

  5. @CynicalObserver according to your logic ALL laws - EVERYWHERE in the USA - EACH AND EVERY ONE was "written for the rich." Our system requires attorneys. Attorneys - JUST LIKE YOU - want to get paid for their work. Get over it.

  6. Wow, so many projections here. There are a few very interesting and unmentioned components to this matter. First, what is the Review-Journal's exposure (will it have to contribute to this judgement if the judgement holds?) Second, when will Stephens Media (corporate) withdraw financial support? Third, if Righthaven has to file bankruptcy will it be a 7 or 11? Fourth, can it afford to file either one of those options?

    The copyright issue is an important one. While I thoroughly disagree with the manner in which Stephens and Righthaven attacked it, it is an issue that, for all this time and money expended (on the wrong strategy), issues of copyright law, updating or otherwise changing it and so forth, remain unsettled. These companies might have done something positive had either possessed the leadership and creativity to do so. Instead, they chose the low road.