Friday, September 3, 2010

Beware The Copyright Troll!

It turns out our grief stricken country is being slapped with yet another epidemic, and this one reeks of the immoral fungi that has grown on the corpse of traditional American values.

The law has yet to adapt to the information age apparently as ethically challenged lawyers like Steve Gibson of Righthaven LLC (a Copyright Holding Company) and greedy businessmen like Sherman Frederick of the Las Vegas Review Journal have partnered up to squeeze bloggers into forking over thousands of dollars for (get this) giving their website traffic! Now I can tell you that if I wrote an article, and a website picked it up and linked to it, I would be thrilled to have so many eyes on something that I had put together. These moral cripples however see dollar signs, and stab the very people who make their websites successful right in the face, all while spewing a misleading sob story of a company who is being taken advantage of by the evil bloggers of the world.

You see, the Las Vegas Review Journal (don't bother visiting their website, they apparently do not want you to visit, and I'd rather not be sued) among other companies have decided to launch lawsuits against tons of bloggers for quoting their articles on their blogs, and linking to them. Some of the websites being sued are developed from user submitted content, meaning the site owner is not even the one who posted the reference to the LVRJ article!

Trolling for intellectual property infringement in the digital space is nothing new. The RIAA, MPAA, and now the MAFIAA have heavy handily wielded their legal prowess against thousands of average Americans who are hardly in the position to pay the substantial damages the law currently demands for a conviction in such cases. They have even sued for the actions of children in the past. As a result, the fear of enormous damages and the promise of substantial legal fees is usually enough to scare John Doe into scraping together all the money he can afford in order to make the suit go away, likely leaving him in debt. This type of prosecution, although having serious morality issues, is not nearly as malicious as the "Righthaven Brand" of intellectual property trolling. The difference is, these people are clearly not interested in stopping the infringement. In fact, the several links scattered across each article to subscribe to an RSS feed, share, print and email the article could easily be construed as encouragement for the exact opposite.

In addition, traditional DMCA infringement cases begin with a cease and desist letter. Righthaven however has found a loophole in the DCMA requiring websites to be registered with the US copyright office in order to receive the safe harbor protections that require a letter to be sent demanding the removal of infringing content in order for the case to be heard by the court.

The fact that Righthaven specifically avoids sending notice to potential defendants further illustrates their true motive of extracting quick settlements from frightened and blindsided citizens.

In the copyright notice for Stephen's Media (parent company of LVRJ), you can see where they are trying to draw the line:

"Stephens Media welcomes hypertext links to its electronically-published textual content. The appropriate method for linking to Stephens Media content is to post only the headline and the first paragraph of a story and then a link to the original textual material."

Anyone living on this planet knows that posting only the headline of an article is unrealistic. To quote a sentence or two from an article to make a point or discussion about the facts contained within an article is common. We do it all the time in our everyday conversations. Take a look at and see how many thousands of articles were posted today in the very same way. It is considered bad form to steal someone's idea and rearrange the facts as if it were your own original research, but apparently, that's what Righthaven would rather? I seriously doubt that. To try and threaten someone with the draconian damages that are attached to copyright infringement for following a social norm is preposterous, especially when it poses no identifiable damage to the original publisher. Instead of damaging the publisher, being linked to from a successful blog or websites is among the most desirable outcomes of a successfully written article.

The Rumors:
The real entertainment in all of this comes into play when taking a look at the potential connection between the strategy of Righthaven LLC and the agenda of the Obama administration. Although there is no provable or documented relationship between the two, there certainly are some interesting ties.

A quick look at Steve Gibson's work history shows that he worked at Sidley Austin LLP. This is the same firm where Barack and Michelle Obama first met, and both worked as associates. Michelle Obama also worked in the same practice area as Gibson, Intellectual Property Law. The question becomes whether or not they crossed paths in some way? In all fairness the firm's Chicago office has over 500 attorneys now, who knows how many they had in 1990. Also a closer look seems to show that by the time Obama left Sidley Austin, Gibson was just finishing law school.

In addition to the Sidley Austin connection between these three, there is another major player who fits into this Chicago Law firm connection. Victoria Espinel was appointed by Barack Obama as the Copyright Czar. She also worked as an attorney specializing in Intellectual Property Law for Sidley Austin in Chicago. She is now tasked with enforcing the Intellectual Property Rights Act which was passed in 2008. Not surprisingly, she received several letters of recommendation, many of which were lobbying organizations for the RIAA and MPAA like The Copyright Alliance and the National Music Publishers' Association, as well as a letter from the MPAA itself.

To tie it all up, there are of course the numerous statements President Obama has made in regard to his feeling about the new age of widely published public opinion:

How can we act?

Weather or not you believe the story goes all the way to the Whitehouse, I would expect most would recognize the threat this sort of legal argument could pose to the voice of the people against the backdrop of a powerful media driven national viewpoint. The internet has been a conduit by which the voice of the people has been able to reach new levels of exposure. It has informed, educated, and exposed, and reminded us of people and ideas that have been traditionally placed into the shadows by the media's big decision makers. So, while the internet is still free, it is our greatest weapon.

- Do not link to any articles by the LVRJ or any of their sister websites. While you're at it, stay away from any of Righthaven's client websites too. This only increases their link popularity.
- Block companies that enjoy this sort of thing outright. You can do this by adding the lines of text from this post to your computer's hosts file. =)
- Right a message to the site's sponsors informing them of the misconduct of their advertiser.