Federal judge rules Las Vegas firm can't sue over copyright infringement

A Las Vegas-based company does not have the right to file copyright infringement lawsuits over Review-Journal content, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

In a 16-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt dismissed a case filed in August by Righthaven against Democratic Underground.

"We're studying the ruling, which primarily affects Righthaven," said Mark Hinueber, the Review-Journal's vice president and general counsel. He declined to comment further.

In his order, Hunt also expressed his belief that Righthaven "has made multiple inaccurate and likely dishonest statements to the court."

The judge specifically cited Righthaven's failure to list Stephens Media, which owns the Review-Journal, as an interested party in the case.

"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," Hunt wrote.

The Nevada judge gave Righthaven two weeks to explain in writing why it should not be sanctioned "for this flagrant misrepresentation to the Court."

Las Vegas attorney Steve Gibson, Righthaven's chief executive officer, said that "certainly there was no intent" to be dishonest with the court.

Gibson said he will review the decision with Righthaven's lawyers and evaluate appeal options.

"It's important to recognize that Righthaven respects the judiciary and respects judicial decisions," he said.

Gibson said the ruling left him pondering an interesting question: If Righthaven does not have "standing," or the right to file a lawsuit, then who does?

Righthaven and Stephens Media entered into an agreement in January 2010 that gave Righthaven the right to bring and profit from copyright infringement cases involving Stephens Media content.

But Hunt ruled that the agreement was insufficient to give Righthaven legal standing in such cases.

The judge also ruled that Righthaven previously failed to disclose a portion of the agreement that granted Stephens Media a 50 percent interest in any damages recovered, minus costs.

Hunt allowed Democratic Underground's counterclaim against Stephens Media to proceed.

Gibson said the judge issued his ruling without allowing the parties to present oral arguments.

"We certainly hope that we will be given that opportunity with respect to the other cases that have standing at issue," he said. "But that is with absolutely no disrespect to Judge Hunt and his decision."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Las Vegas attorney Chad Bowers are defending Democratic Underground. The following statement from senior staff attorney Kurt Opsahl appeared Tuesday on the foundation's website:

"Today's decision shows that Righthaven's copyright litigation business model is fatally flawed, and we expect the decision to have wide effect on the over 270 other cases Righthaven has brought."

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.