Want to Reprint a Newspaper Article? Watch Out for Copyright Infringement Lawsuits!

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January 7, 2012; Source: VegasInc | Newspaper sites more often than not seem to encourage readers to copy or reprint their articles for other media or other forms of distribution. But every once in a while you read about individuals or groups blundering into unfriendly newspaper sites and having copyright infringement lawsuits filed against them for republishing their articles.

Apparently, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post have attacked readers with lawsuits charging them with copyright infringement if they shared the newspapers’ stories online—a whopping 275 copyright infringement lawsuits since March of 2010.

One nonprofit didn’t take the lawsuit lying down. The Center for Intercultural Organizing, an immigrant-rights group based in Portland, Oregon, was targeted for posting an entire thirty-three-paragraph Review-Journal article on the relationship between immigrants and the Las Vegas police.

The “ambush” suit was filed by a firm called Righthaven LLC, which is the “copyright enforcement partner of the Review-Journal and formerly of the Denver Post.” Unfortunately for the R-J and Righthaven, Righthaven tends to lose these suits, often because the courts rule that Righthaven lacks standing to sue because it doesn’t own the republished material, and that the R-J or Denver Post maintain control over the articles. Having lost frequently, Righthaven is being chased by defendants who won judgments in court. Some litigants say that they were entrapped, encouraged by the R-J to use the material so that they could be sued by Righthaven.

A U.S. District Court ruled in March that the CIO had not violated copyright infringement because it was protected under the fair-use doctrine, in that the use was “informative” rather than “creative.” The judge also said that a factor was that it was Righthaven rather than the R-J that had sued. The idea that there would have been market harm to Righthaven by the CIO’s reprinting is undermined by the fact that the only use Righthaven exercises over the articles is in lawsuits.

Righthaven is appealing, claiming that the CIO did use the articles “creatively.” The responding CIO brief pointed out that the R-J encourages readers to republish with its “email this” buttons on the top of each online article and its suggestion to readers to save articles on their own computers. “These options lull the readers into a false sense of security. On one hand, the Review-Journal freely encourages its readers to disseminate its articles, while Righthaven lies in wait to ambush the innocent users with lawsuits,” the CIO brief said.

Although the Denver Post has ended its relationship with Righthaven, the owner of the R-J said that Righthaven’s copyright infringement suits “were necessary to deal with a ‘parasitic’ business model in which newspaper content is regularly stolen by infringers.” So, how creative can one be with reprinted newspaper articles before one loses fair use protection?—Rick Cohen