Everyone agrees that stealing the work of another person is wrong, but the definition of what constitutes stealing is a murkier matter. In most cases we roll back to the term “fair use” which allows a person to quote a section of an article or book for the purposes of education or discussion. You see that here all the time. There’s no malicious intent and there is no damage to the original party. On the contrary, the original writer will likely get a traffic boost from people clicking through to the source material, so it’s often a good thing.
Now here comes Righthaven LLC. According to a story in Fortune, the law firm is taking an aggressive stance against copyright violators by skipping the cease and desist letter and going straight to court. In every case, they’re demanding $150,000 in damages and the offender’s domain name. Ouch.
What’s especially disturbing about Righthaven’s crusade is the way they’re going about it. In order to prosecute, the original creator of the material transfers copyright ownership to Righthaven so they can sue on their own behalf. One judge took exception to this saying they aren’t a publisher, so they can’t sell the original work, so no damages.
The real fear here is not whether Righthaven has a leg to stand on, but that most people won’t have the money to fight. When faced with court costs, most bloggers will have no choice but to pay a fine and give up their domain name even if they were inside the letter of the law.
But the damages to society, print publications, and the Internet at large may far surpass any fine, no matter how substantial. These cases will define where — in the social media era — sharing ends, stealing begins, and fair use applies.
Sounds like it’s time for the courts to tighten up the rules. For example? If a blog offers an RSS feed and I put that feed on my website, is that a violation? Does the act of offering a feed or a share button negate their copyright claim? Could we reach a point where the fear of getting sued outweighs the interest in reposting an article or photo? Will the court system ever catch up to technology?
Tune in tomorrow. Same blog-time. Same blog-channel.