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October 4, 2015

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New Review-Journal publisher stands behind copyright lawsuits

The new publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Tuesday expressed support for the newspaper’s copyright enforcement partner, Righthaven LLC.

Interviewed on Nevada Public Radio KNPR’s State of Nevada with Dave Becker at News 88.9 KNPR, Bob Brown was asked about the newspaper’s relationship with Righthaven, a newspaper content copyright enforcement company that since March has sued 180 website operators and bloggers.

An affiliate of Stephens Media LLC, owner of the Review-Journal, is an investor in Righthaven, and Stephens Media participates in the lawsuits over Review-Journal stories by transferring copyrights to Righthaven that are the basis of 179 of the lawsuits.

The lawsuits, typically filed without warning, have been controversial because in the past the Review-Journal and the rest of the newspaper industry generally attempted to deal with copyright infringements out of court before resorting to litigation.

The suits initially were filed over Review-Journal stories, but last week Righthaven sued a South Carolina blogger over a Denver Post column that was posted on her website.

“Part of the future is about protecting our copyrights. I will vigorously protect our copyrights,” Brown said on State of Nevada.

“The purpose of Righthaven is to protect our copyrights,” Brown said during the KNPR broadcast. “You can take our content and you can link to it and there is a whole outline (on the Review-Journal website) on how to do that legally, and there is no problem with it. But if you are going to extrapolate our content and put it on your site and not ask us our permission, that’s a copyright infringement — always has been.”

“Other papers have seen that. While we were the leader, the Denver Post now does that and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (in Little Rock) has now signed up with Righthaven. I think a lot more papers will” as well, he said.

“This is a business decision and it’s based on what’s right. For somebody to tell me that it’s not right for me to file a lawsuit based on them taking my information, I think is specious,” Brown said on the broadcast.

Brown’s comments would seem to contradict theories by some Righthaven watchers that longtime Review-Journal Publisher Sherman Frederick left that post on Nov. 12 to be replaced by Brown at least in part because of negative publicity the Righthaven lawsuits had brought to the Review-Journal and Stephens Media.

Critics had seized on Righthaven lawsuits filed against Review-Journal news sources and advertisers as well as a seemingly innocent cat blogger, but Frederick had remained steadfast in his support of the lawsuit campaign.

In the meantime, more information surfaced about the Righthaven lawsuit against South Carolina blogger and grassroots activist Dana Eiser.

As in its Las Vegas lawsuits, the suit against Eiser was filed in South Carolina without warning or a takedown request, Eiser said Tuesday.

“I have never been contacted by the Denver Post nor Righthaven regarding the removal of this article. This lawsuit comes as a complete surprise to me and the officers of our small group,” said Eiser, who for now declined further comment on the allegations against her.

Eiser’s group,, says it’s a grassroots group for “conservatives who want to get involved.”

The lack of warnings or requests that allegedly infringed material be removed and/or be replaced with links has been one of the main complaints about Righthaven. Critics also say Righthaven is a settlement shakedown operation that coerces defendants into settling for what has been reported to be in the $2,185 to $5,000 range, less than what it would cost to hire an attorney to fight Righthaven. Many defendants have settled rather than risk the threat of $150,000 in statutory damages and seizure of their website domain names.

Righthaven and Stephens Media, however, have insisted the lawsuits are necessary to deter infringements of Review-Journal material.

While critics complain about Righthaven’s no-warning lawsuit, Righthaven points out the defendants it sues didn’t bother to call or e-mail the Review-Journal or the Denver Post before posting information from those newspapers on their websites.

“Ms. Eiser did not seek permission, in any manner, to reproduce, display or otherwise exploit the work (column),” Righthaven charged in its lawsuit against Eiser.

And, it turns out, the Denver Post last month modified the copyright warning on its webpage to explicitly warn that copyright infringers may face legal consequences.

The new copyright warning was posted on Nov. 14 — nine days before publication of the Denver Post column that Eiser allegedly posted to her website.

“Our work is illegally reproduced everyday on websites across the country. The federal Copyright Act protects our right and our readers’ rights to make fair use of copyrighted content,” the Denver Post notice says. “We have no issue with people who quote a small amount of a Post story so as to comment on it, perhaps even criticize us. That’s the essence of free speech in a vigorous democracy.”

“But fair use of our content restricts those who want to reference it to reproduce no more than a headline and up to a couple of paragraphs or a summary of the story. (We also request users provide a link to the entire work on our website). The fair use rule generally does not entitle users to display the whole story or photograph on their website. To do so is a violation of our copyright and we will use all legal remedies available to address these infringements,” the notice says.

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