Copyright troll Righthaven throws a fit over mounting court fees

Copyright enforcement company Righthaven LLC, often referred to as a “copyright troll” by opponents because of questionable tactics, is accusing a defendant of “litigation overkill” and needlessly submitting new evidence to drive up the court costs in a battle that increasingly appears unfavorable to the company.

The case is one of 239 filed over the past year by Righthaven and Stephens Media, which target websites and online forums posting images and stories originating from Stevens-owned newspapers including the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post. Last Friday, Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) defense lawyers representing the Democratic Underground, accused of posting the first four paragraphs of a lengthy Review-Journal story on a message board, claimed to have new “key evidence” showing that “Righthaven does not rightfully own the copyright in question, in that the assignment was a sham designed solely to pursue litigation with rights being retained by Stephens Media.”

That evidence has not yet been made public, but whatever it is has made the so-called “copyright trolls” flail and claim that the fight isn’t fair like a bratty grade-schooler who is suddenly upset when they find themselves on the losing side of a game.

“Defendants have elected to needlessly increase the burden on this court and its staff and to increase the litigation costs incurred by the parties by escalating the litigiousness of the action. Righthaven contends that this is precisely defendants’ desired effect in this case — to drive up their attorneys’ fees and costs in an attempt to burden Righthaven with an astronomical fee award,” Righthaven lawyers wrote in their latest court filing.

Righthaven has been widely criticized for capitalizing on alleged infringements by obtaining and defending copyrights for weeks, and sometimes months, after the offending act has taken place. The company’s lawsuits usually claim damages of $150,000 and ask that the defendant’s domain be forfeited. Righthaven attorneys then attempt to settle out of court for a lesser, but still substantial, amount.

Righthaven and Stephens media will likely have to reimburse defendants for the increasing court fees if the case is ruled in favor of the Democratic Underground.

“Defendants agree that this case should be over — indeed, it should never have started. But it should not end until Righthaven is called to account for the cost of the defense it provoked,” EFF attorneys wrote in a court filing last December. “This was a meritless lawsuit from the beginning, launched as part of a well-publicized business model in which Righthaven acquires interests in copyrights for the sole purpose of suing unsuspecting alleged infringers, and then seeks to leverage the cost of defending (and its own purported right to attorneys’ fees and domain name seizures) to coerce settlements. To allow Righthaven to avoid compensating those who have no choice but to defend would be unjust and unsupportable,” the lawyers stated.

While it’s understandable that publications like the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post want to protect the hard work of their journalists, the tactics used by Righthaven seem to be as shady as those used by the many P2P prosecuting attorneys that force alleged file-sharers into high cash settlements. There are even blogs dedicated to the defendants of the hundreds of cases Righthaven has filed. A court battle should at least be fought on a fair playing field and not use intimidation to control defendants into a desired behavior. This sounds like a case that Righthaven and company deserve to lose.