The new chief executive of MediaNews Group, publisher of the Denver Post and 50 other newspapers, said it was “a dumb idea” for the nation’s second-largest newspaper chain to sign up with copyright troll Righthaven.
The Denver-based publisher’s year-long copyright infringement litigation deal with Righthaven is terminating at month’s end, said John Paton, who replaced Dean Singleton to lead the company on Wednesday.
“The issues about copyright are real,” Paton told Wired.com in a telephone interview. “But the idea that you would hire someone on an — essentially — success fee to run around and sue people at will who may or may not have infringed as a way of protecting yourself … does not reflect how news is created and disseminated in the modern world.”
“I come from the idea that it was a dumb idea from the start,” Paton added, noting that Righthaven was informed of the decision to end relations last month.
On Wednesday, Wired reported that Las Vegas-based Righthaven, founded more than a year ago to monetize print news content through copyright infringement lawsuits, was struggling after several courtroom setbacks. Righthaven has not prevailed in court on any of the infringement lawsuits filed over MediaNews’ content, though it appears from court records that about two dozen cases had settled out of court.
Paton said if he was MediaNews’ chief a year ago, he likely never would have signed on with Righthaven, which hoped to fix the print media’s financial ills by suing bloggers and website owners for reposting snippets or entire copyrighted articles. Terms of the Righthaven-MediaNews deal grant each side a 50-percent stake in settlements and verdicts.
Three dozen outstanding MediaNews infringement cases over Denver Post material are one hold while a federal judge in Colorado weighs dismissal over MediaNews’ agreement with Righthaven. A decision by U.S. District Judge John Kane of Denver is pending on whether the lawsuits can proceed to the merits of the infringement allegations.
Sara Glines, a MediaNews vice president, said those cases are likely to remain active as Judge Kane weighs whether Righthaven has standing to sue over the Denver Post copyrights.
“It’s more complicated than that because the cases are with Righthaven, and they have control as long as litigation is in process,” Glines wrote in an e-mail. “But our position is that we will not pursue further litigation with Righthaven.”
The legal flap in those copyright cases concerns Righthaven not owning the copyrights it was filing suit over, despite initially saying it did. Instead, MediaNews granted Righthaven permission to sue over the newspaper chain’s content. The deal does not grant Righthaven license to use the content in any other way other than for litigation purposes. The Copyright Act, however, only gives rights holders legal standing to sue on behalf of their own works.
Judges in Las Vegas have been dismissing Righthaven lawsuits left and right over the same standing issue in lawsuits regarding content owned by Stephens Media of Las Vegas — Righthaven’s first and remaining client — and a major investor in the faltering enterprise.
Righthaven has not filed a new case in two months. Righthaven’s chief executive, Steve Gibson, said in a recent telephone interview it is awaiting appellate rulings on the issues of standing and and fair use before pursuing more litigation.