Righthaven has been running on fumes since this summer when a federal judge cut off its revenue stream by stripping the company’s standing to sue. Now, a new court order means the end looks truly nigh for the controversial copyright enforcer.
Yesterday, a federal court in Nevada signed a writ of execution directing US Marshals to seize Righthaven’s property to satisfy an unpaid bill of $60,000 in legal fees it owes to Wayne Hoehn, a blogger it unsuccessfully sued. The writ, embedded below, amounts to a flexing of the court’s law enforcement power against those who disobey its orders.
The saga grows out of a controversial copyright tactic hatched two years ago by two newspaper chains and Righthaven, a shell company that sues people who cut and paste online news articles and then shares the proceeds with the newspapers. During this period, Righthaven sued nearly 300 people without warning and reportedly collected hundreds of thousands in settlements. The company has been reviled in the media and one of its two clients left this year, calling the litigation tactic “a dumb idea.”
But the wheels really fell off for Righthaven this summer when a federal judge said it could not sue because it did not own the underlying copyright. The company, now starved of revenue, has been frantically trying to reverse the decision and told courts it has corrected the standing problem by obtaining ownership of the copyrighted articles. Its appeals have so far failed.
In the last year, courts have also grown increasingly impatient with Righthaven and began awarding legal attorney fee awards to people like Hoehn, who was originally sued for pasting a Las Vegas Review-Journal article on his blog. Righthaven pleaded poverty and refused to pay the approximately $30,000 award. That amount has since doubled as result of the expenses Hoehn incurred in trying to collect it.
The new order to the US Marshals is much what it sounds like — it authorizes them to seize whatever Righthaven property they can lay their hands on in order to satisfy the judgment. It is unclear, however, if the shell company possesses physical goods, a bank account or other property subject to seizure. If Righthaven has indeed taken ownership of the newspaper’s copyrights, these could be grabbed by the Marshals — an irony unlikely to be lost on anyone involved.
At this point, Righthaven is in the ninth inning and down to its last strike. Its remaining options appear to be a long shot emergency appeal of the writ of execution or a bankruptcy filing.