Nonprofit seeks donations to cover Righthaven copyright lawsuit costs

A Virginia nonprofit is asking for donations to cover the $30,000 it spent successfully fighting a Righthaven LLC copyright infringement lawsuit.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League Inc. (VCDL), a gun rights group in Newington, Va., was sued by Las Vegas-based Righthaven in September 2010.

VCDL was targeted in one of 275 no-warning lawsuits filed around the country by Righthaven since March 2010, a litigation campaign that ground to a halt early this year because of rulings finding Righthaven lacked standing to sue or that defendants were protected by fair use.

Righthaven, the copyright enforcement partner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and formerly of the Denver Post, claimed the VCDL and two officials there infringed on a copyright when it posted on its website without authorization an R-J story about police shooting and killing Erik Scott at a Costco store in Las Vegas.

Righthaven said it had obtained the copyright to the story for lawsuit purposes — but most of the judges handling Righthaven cases have now invalidated what defense attorneys called the company’s sham copyright assignments.

Despite Righthaven’s claims of ownership, the R-J and the Post maintained control of the material Righthaven was suing over, the judges ruled.

Unlike many defendants that settled with Righthaven, the VCDL fought back and ultimately prevailed in its lawsuit on March 30 when Righthaven gave up and stopped prosecuting the case.

In a statement posted on its website Wednesday, VCDL said that Righthaven’s suit against it “was a form of legal extortion” in which VCDL suggested that Righthaven early on offered to settle in hopes of making a quick profit at the expense of VCDL.

“If Righthaven didn’t want a fight, then they picked the wrong organization to sue. The (VCDL) board simply would not tolerate the idea of caving in to Righthaven and voted unanimously to fight the case to completion. When we stood to fight them, Righthaven’s attorneys then hinted to our attorneys that they might consider a smaller out-of-court settlement from us. Settlement was simply out of the question for two reasons: we had done nothing wrong and it would also encourage Righthaven to continue these illegitimate and unfair practices against other companies, groups and individuals,” the VCDL statement said.

Righthaven and the owner of the Review-Journal have denied the suits involved extortion. They say the suits were needed to crack down on rampant online theft of newspaper content.

While VDCL believed it would have been cleared on fair use grounds if the case would have continued, it’s now unable to recover its legal fees because Righthaven is “financially defunct,” the VCDL statement said.

Righthaven says it has no cash and some of its last key assets — federal copyright registrations and copyright assignments from newspapers that its suits were based on — have been seized by a receiver.

Nevertheless, the company has managed to hire a new attorney to represent it in one of its appeals.

Attorney Erik Syverson, a partner at the Los Angeles-area law firm Miller Barondess LLP, made an appearance April 16 for Righthaven in a case pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

That case involves Wayne Hoehn, a Kentucky man who not only won dismissal of the Righthaven suit against him, but then won an award of $34,045 in attorney’s fees against Righthaven.

Details of Righthaven’s financial arrangement with Syverson have not been made public and, so far, Syverson has not taken any action in the Hoehn appeal.

Separately, a new round of criticism erupted of Righthaven CEO and Las Vegas attorney Steven Gibson after Gibson was quoted in an ABA (American Bar Association) Journal story asking, “Why is it so difficult for copyright owners to hire competent copyright litigation counsel?”

Online commentators noted that Gibson’s Righthaven lawsuits were thrown out in part because they didn’t comply with 9th Circuit law about who has standing to sue and they didn’t take into account the precedent of fair use.

Gibson and Righthaven have also been criticized for demanding in the lawsuits that defendants forfeit their website domain names to Righthaven, a demand widely seen as a tool to coerce settlements from defendants.

That’s because Congress never authorized such a seizure in the federal Copyright Act and, ultimately, Righthaven’s domain-name seizure demand was struck down by one of the Nevada federal judges.

“I can show him a couple of competent copyright lawyers,” Las Vegas attorney Marc John Randazza wrote in a Facebook post in response to Gibson’s question.

Randazza’s firm, which represents Hoehn, along with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights group in San Francisco, and EFF-affiliated attorneys are most responsible for the downfall of Righthaven.

That’s because they represented defendants in key cases in which Righthaven lost on standing and fair use grounds and in which Righthaven assets were seized — or threatened with seizure — for nonpayment of defendants’ attorney’s fees.

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  1. All that is left is for someone to pierce the corporate veil and go after Gibson and the other investors directly. Then the saga will finally be at an end.