Call it evil, call it ingenious, or call it a little of both. A company named Righthaven has been buying rights to Las Vegas Review-Journal stories then trolling blogs and other websites for the content. When they find it in a comment or other third-party contribution, they pounce, suing the website owners for copyright infringement. According to Wired Magazine, Righthaven has settled about 60 of 160 cases for a few thousand dollars each, and plans to expand its operations to other newspapers across the country.
How can companies do this?
A “safe harbor” provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives website owners immunity from civil copyright liability for copyright infringement by the site’s users as long as they promptly remove infringing material at a rightsholder’s request. (That’s how sites like YouTube can continue to exist without fear that a user’s video could cost it hundreds of thousands of dollars in court every day.) Righthaven is exploiting a loophole in intellectual property law by targeting companies that have failed to register a DMCA takedown agent with the U.S. Copyright office.
How can website owners protect against a suit like this?
If your company allows public participation (comments, forums, etc.) on your website, protecting yourself against a costly, fact-intensive lawsuit is pretty straight forward, and only costs $105. Just download this form (.pdf) and send it with the $105 fee to Copyright RRP, Box 71537, Washington, D.C., 20024.