(CN) – A federal judge in Nevada blasted copyright-holding company Righthaven for its “flagrant misrepresentation” about its purported standing to sue on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, dismissing one infringement lawsuit and hinting that roughly 200 of the company’s other lawsuits may meet the same fate.
U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt found that Righthaven lacks standing to sue a political website for posting the Review-Journal’s articles, and he gave the company two weeks to show why he shouldn’t toss out roughly 200 other federal copyright-infringement lawsuits Righthaven has filed in Nevada.
Called a “copyright troll” by fair-use advocates, Righthaven signed an agreement in 2010 with Stephens Media that supposedly gave the company the right to sue websites and bloggers on behalf of the Las Vegas Review-Journal for the unauthorized use of the paper’s articles and photos.
Righthaven has filed hundreds complaints in Nevada District Court based on this “Strategic Alliance Agreement,” including an action against the political website Democratic Underground. In that suit, Righthaven claimed that the website illegally posted a portion of a Review-Journal article about a senatorial campaign. Democratic Underground shot back with a counterclaim against both Righthaven and Stephens Media, forcing Stephens Media to reveal the details of the agreement.
Based on those details, Democratic Underground challenged Righthaven’s standing to sue, arguing that the agreement does not actually give the company the rights that it claims it has.
U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt agreed in an order signed Tuesday.
Hunt found that, based on the 9th Circuit’s 2005 ruling in Silvers v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, “only the legal or beneficial owner of an exclusive right under copyright law is entitled, or has standing, to sue for infringement.”
The agreement, however, grants Righthaven only the right to sue on Stephens Media’s behalf; it does not give the company actual ownership rights to any of the newspaper’s copyrights.
“In reality, Righthaven actually left the transaction with nothing more than a fabrication since a copyright owner cannot assign a bare right to sue after Silvers,” Hunt wrote. “To approve of such a transaction would require the court to disregard the clear intent of the transaction and the clear precedent set forth by the en banc Ninth Circuit in Silvers.”
After dismissing Righthaven from the action against Democratic Underground, Hunt went on to question the company’s standing in all of its suits, and argued that any of its previous victories in Nevada District Court were “tainted by Righthaven’s failure to disclose the SAA and Stephens Media’s true interest.”
Hunt gave Righthaven two weeks to show why it should not be sanctioned for failing to disclose the details of its contract with Stephens Media, and hinted that his finding could doom all of the company’s current lawsuits.
“Not only did Righthaven fail to identify Stephens Media as an interested party in this suit, the court believes that Righthaven failed to disclose Stephens Media as an interested party in any of its approximately 200 cases filed in this District,” he wrote. “Accordingly, the Court orders Righthaven to show cause, in writing, no later than two (2) weeks from the date of this order, why it should not be sanctioned for this flagrant misrepresentation to the court.”