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Las Vegas newspaper sues websites over use of content

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The Las Vegas Review-Journal is suing dozens of websites that are using the newspaper’s content without permission. Righthaven LLC, a…

The Las Vegas Review-Journal is suing dozens of websites that are using the newspaper’s content without permission.

Righthaven LLC, a Nevada company that represents the paper, has filed 37 lawsuits since March against various organizations for copyright infringement, including blogs that discuss reforming marijuana laws, sports betting and real estate.

“We believe we’ve only scratched the surface of dealing with this issue,” Righthaven Chief Executive Steven Gibson said. “There are literally oceans of infringement out there.”

Review-Journal officials say the litigation is necessary to ensure the newspaper’s survival. When websites reproduce Review-Journal stories and post them online, they eliminate any reason for readers to visit the newspaper’s website, said Mark Hinueber, general counsel for Stephens Media, which owns the Review-Journal. Reducing Internet traffic hurts the newspaper’s ability to earn ad revenue online, where an increasing number of readers now get their news.

The problem isn’t unique to the Review-Journal; scores of media companies are searching for ways to protect the value of their content online. The Associated Press, for instance, is developing a news registry set to launch in July that will allow publishers to tag their content and track how it is being used on the web.

The Review-Journal’s aggressive approach — 11 websites have been sued this month alone — has angered those caught up in the litigation, who accuse Righthaven of unfairly and needlessly targeting small sites that receive little web traffic and don’t compete with the Review-Journal for readers.  

Jack Wooden, who runs madjacksports.com, was sued by Righthaven in May after a Review-Journal basketball story was posted on his site. In his response to the lawsuit, Wooden explained that the story was posted by a third party on a message discussion board and that the story was removed once he was notified. Wooden also wrote that the webpage was viewed fewer than 30 times while the article was posted.

In a June 2 court filing, Wooden accused Righthaven of trying to “extort outrageous multi-thousand dollar settlements from far-flung ‘innocent infringers’ . . . where actual damages, if any, are in the $3 to $100 range and could be cured with a phone call or an email.”

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was sued in March by Righthaven after a Review-Journal story about the drug appeared on its website via a third-party aggregator; the parties settled this month for $2,185. Attorney Marc Randazza, who represented the group, said damages were calculated by determining the maximum number of clicks the story could have received on NORML’s website – 247 – and multiplying that by $2.95, the amount the Review-Journal charges for readers to purchase articles from its archives. That total was then tripled.

Like Wooden, Randazza said Righthaven could have resolved the problem by placing a phone call or sending a letter. He accused Righthaven of needlessly clogging up the courts.

“This isn’t content piracy,” Randazza said. “This is people who were under the impression that what they were doing was permissible.”

Gibson, however, defended Righthaven’s approach. He said that by filing lawsuits, the Review-Journal is sending a strong message that copyright violations will not be tolerated. Merely sending cease-and-desist letters does not get the message out to the public, he said.

“We are having an impact … of making people aware of what copyright infringement is,” Gibson said. “People believe that if it’s on the Internet then it’s in the public domain, and that’s not right.”

Hinueber said that under the doctrine of fair use, which allows for some sharing of copyrighted material, the Review-Journal is not targeting websites that take a paragraph or two. Instead, the newspaper is targeting sites that republish significant portions of a story – in some cases the entire article, including the copyright notice itself.

“We’re not trying to squash dialogue on the Internet,” Hinueber said. “If you want to take a sentence or two … and link back to us, cool,” he said. “Just don’t take the entire story and cut and paste it on your site.”

Hinueber said it’s not fair for media organizations to gather the news at a significant cost, only to see their stories taken by others.

“There’s a lot of effort involved in gathering the news,” he said. “It requires blood, sweat and tears to go get this stuff.”