Jul 18, 2011

I Vanquished a Notorious Internet Troll, Righthaven LLC

The Billionaire-backed ‘copyright enforcer’ became a cautionary tale not for claimed Internet-copy infringers like bloggers, but rather for law-suit mills and deceitful trolls like Righthaven LLC filing some 275 federal copyright complaints, typically for $75,000-$150,000 since March 2010

Righthaven LLC [Image - Michael Leon]
 By Michael Leon

Madison, Wisconsin—On March 6, 2011 my girlfriend and I were watching True Blood and some idiot pounded on the door so loudly my girlfriend jumped off the coach.

"Mike, don't get that. You don't who that is," she said.

"I'm going to find out," I said.

I opened the door fast onto our porch, and demanded "Who the f__k are you" to which a wormy-looking man sheepishly stepped away, replying he was "just doing his job," laying Civil Action No 2:20-CV-01672, federal copyright complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, at my feet and quickly leaving.

Turns out I was a victim of Righthaven LLC, as certified in the complaint by one Steven A. Gibson, CEO and founder of Righthaven and Shawn Mangano, attorney of record in the service papers.

Righthaven is a LLC that has filed some 275 federal copyright lawsuits claiming text from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post has been used without regard to copyright law by the Internet users including bloggers and message board posters.

Righthaven is half owned by another LLC controlled by Las Vegas attorney and Righthaven CEO Steven Gibson, and half owned by a third LLC owned by the family of Little Rock, Arkansas investment banking billionaire Warren Stephens.

My complaint alleges a copyright violation for a piece on veterans in Veterans Today in 2010 that also appeared in a paper over which Righthaven claimed it "is the owner of the copyright" several times in the complaint—a claim of ownership replicated in the some 274 other complaints and which last week was proven false, ruled to be "deceitful," and is the cause of the stern, vocal beating by Chief Justice Roger Hunt (District of Nevada) July 15, who fined Righthaven $5,000 for repeatedly misleading the Court on this representation of copyright ownership.

Steve Green of the Las Vegas Sun, reports, "[Judge] Hunt ordered ... that a transcript of today’s hearing, in which he made several negative comments about Righthaven’s conduct, be posted on Righthaven court dockets" in the District of Nevada.

Moreover, ominously, Green reports: Judge Hunt said, "In the court’s view, the arrangement between Righthaven and Stephens Media is nothing more, nor less, than a law firm — which incidentally I don’t think is licensed to practice law in this state — with a contingent fee agreement masquerading as a company."

The win

It didn't take long for me to file an answer, along with several motions, the pedestrian nature of which likely taxed the patience of United States District Court Judge Gloria Maria Navarro.

On April 14, attorneys for the Democratic Underground, a future prevailing defendant, won a motion to unseal the Strategic Alliance Agreement between Righthaven and Stephens Media that, in sum, proved Righthaven had no standing to sue due to its lack ownership of the copyright, and that Steven A. Gibson misrepresented and concealed this relationship in the some 200 federal court cases.

I had been negotiating on the phone with Righthaven’s counsel that week wondering vaguely if this attorney, Shawn Mangano, were as duplicitous and delusional as I had been informed by an intellectual property attorney whose practice is in the Midwest.

I told Mangano over the phone and in e-mails what I thought of his lawsuit mill.

So, on April 18, I secured the pro bono services of Marc Randazza and J. Malcolm DeVoy of the Randazza Legal Group.

Mangano became so upset that I was accusing him and Righthaven of lying and engaging in abuse of process that he threatened me with a defamation suit in an e-mail and publically in our April 20 hearing before U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro.

"I’m not going to tolerate and allow someone to tarnish my professional reputation" – or make libelous claims about Righthaven and [Righthaven attorney Steve Ganim],” Mangano said.

"Mr. Mangano's reference to libel indicates a lurid conception of the term," [I] said in response after the hearing, writes Steve Green at Vegas Inc.

On April 20, I appeared by telephone from Madison with my co-defendant, a 20-year veteran nurse who reached the court from a D.C. VA medical center, Denise Nichols, who was served with a $150,000 complaint failing to mention her once.

I won. My case was dismissed, with an opportunity to seek attorneys' fees and costs. Long story short, my attorneys won as well, and Righthaven has to pay up legal fees owed by July 25th.

The case against Nichols was discharged by Righthaven which filed and ran.

An amended complaint (filed 11/24/2010) against another of my co-defendants, an organization complaint says is of "unknown orgin," Medbillz, was certified by Gibson to be rightfully litigated in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of California as an "appropriate venue;" my venue was claimed to belong in Nevada.

Two other I/P attorneys laughed when I told them of this ruse by Righthaven and Gibson claiming two different venues simultaneously.

After the case was dismissed, Righthaven's attorney, Shawn Mangano, phoned me from Nevada and unleashed a stream of invectives at about 4:20 P.M. Central time [I log and document such items when dealing with Righthaven].

Made for an amusing conversation; but I sincerely was concerned about Mangano suffering a stroke in the Nevada heat though he phoned from some outfit entitled "Investors Realt [cut off]" on caller ID. Made some other significant, shall I say, documentation of the phone call

This month I became the first defendant to be awarded attorneys’ fees from Righthaven to J. Malcolm Devoy of the Randazza Legal Group, a First Amendment firm located in Las Vegas.

Fair Use law

The wins for the defendants piling up through the efforts of committed, public-mined attorneys like David Kerr of Santangelo Law Offices, PC, Devoy and Randazza of the Randazza Legal Group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the law firm of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati, Kurt Opsahl, Chad Bowers, and Laurence Pulgram and Fenwick and West LLP, and Todd Kincannon are only part of the real story here.

The fair use policy rationale behind Copyright law may be the big winner in Righthaven's 18-month reign of legal terror.

A first year law student will report, in essence, that copyright law ought to promote the dissemination of the arts and science and protect the exclusive right of authors and inventors to benefit from their works by virtue of their authorship.

Reading of Righthaven's campaign of finding alleged infringements for the sole purpose of filing suit and terrorizing defendants into settlements clarifies there is a social purpose in copyright law in fairly using another work, if not for commercial gain or resulting in market harm, but rather advancing discussion, comment and analysis.

Righthaven sees copyrights as a business model to be used in an innovative and dishonestly conceived law suit mill.

They were very wrong to try.

As U.S. District Judge John Kane ruled on motion from Righthaven on April 11, (later staying all 58 Righthaven lawsuits filed in Colorado), “[T]he purpose of the courts is to provide a forum for the orderly, just, and timely resolution of controversies and disputes. Plaintiff’s wishes to the contrary, the courts are not merely tools for encouraging and exacting settlements from Defendants cowed by the potential costs of litigation and liability.”

My attorney Devoy writes in a motion on behalf of prevailing defendant, Vietnam War veteran, Wayne Hahn [LLC v. Wayne Hoehn; Case No. 2:11-cv-00050. Memorandum of Law and Points of Authorities, filed July 7, 2011]:

[L]ike hundreds of other Righthaven victims, Hoehn contemplated his options upon being sued. Should he cave in and write Righthaven a check, or should he risk his savings to stand up for what he knew was right?

Hoehn recalled his [military] oath, and considered the fact that so many others had been sued, and made payments, for what clearly was fair use. Hoehn knew that he could not live up to his oath if he gave up without a fight. Hoehn stood up for fair use – for free speech – and he prevailed.
And so have I, and I’ll being joining the class-action suit by South Carolina attorney, Todd Kincannon, against Righthaven LLC for its abuse of process, fraud and lies, and lodging a complaint with the Nevada Bar against Righthaven's unscrupulous attorneys.
- Michael Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, The Advocate, In These Times and CounterPunch; and locally in the Isthmus and the Capital Times. Leon works as a writer, editor, veterans' advocate, and public relations consultant. He can be reached at: malleon@live.com

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