81 sites sued for copyright infringement

28 July 2010

Copyright infringement suits involving content from the Las Vegas Review-Journal have been filed against at least 81 Web site owners and organizations over the last 11 weeks, according to multiple reports by the Las Vegas Sun. A GPWA review of the lawsuits shows at least nine of those involved are online gambling affiliate sites.

According to Wired.com and Reason.com, the Las Vegas-based firm Righthaven is acquiring copyrights to newspaper content and then tracking down sites that are infringing on its copyrighted material. The Sun has reported that most of the Web site owners had no knowledge of the suits against them until they were contacted by the Sun for comment.

"We perceive there to be millions, if not billions, of infringements out there," Righthaven CEO Steve Gibson told Wired.com. In several of the cases being pursued by Righthaven, the copyrighted content was a story the Review-Journal had written about the webmaster or his/her organization.

Most (if not all) of those sued have posted word-for-word articles from the Review-Journal in their entirety. Many of those being sued had indicated that the Review-Journal was the source of the material and provided a link back to the original article; those actions provide transparency but are not sufficient to be in compliance with copyright law.

Web sites and news outlets may use portions of copyrighted material — including brief direct quotations — under "fair use." Fair use, however, is a term that is difficult to define.

"The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined," notes www.copyright.gov. "There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission."

The following examples have been regarded as fair use, according to the 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law: "quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported."

When in doubt, webmasters should ask permission and should never directly quote an entire article in a forum, blog or any other Web page. Copyright violation is a serious offense, and can lead to a fine of up to $150,000 for a single infringement.

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