I find three definitions of the term ‘barratry’ when I look it up – two of them are obscure, but the third is relevant, and if stretched a bit, can apply to the current blogosphere kerfuffle-du-jour – the Righthaven violation of copyright lawsuits. Well, that’s the politer term; a quick internet search on ‘righthaven’ also turned up qualifiers such as ‘trolling’, ‘extortion,’ ‘bottom-feeders’ and ‘barratrious a**holes.’ A more thorough search would, I am certain, turn up more pungent terms of abuse and a fair collection of lawyer jokes. (Sample – what’s brown and black and looks good on a lawyer? Answer – a Doberman.) Suffice to say, I went through five or six pages of google-search results before finding a single link to a post which made a feeble attempt at defending Righthaven’s practices – of searching out instances of copyright infringement on the part of bloggers and news aggregators and without warning, or demanding credit and a link to the original story – suing the bee-jezzus out of the proprietor – usually small enthusiast bloggers without deep pockets or institutional support. Adding fresh insult, Righthaven LLC also demands that the domain name of the offending website or blog be turned over to them, as well as fairly substantial payments. Yes, copying someone elses’ work off a website or blog and posting it on your own and taking credit for it. Quel tacky, and plagiaristic, and someone doing it probably richly deserves being served with a complaint, a cease-and-desist order, or just hunted down, smeared with honey and staked out over a fire-ant nest.

However: is posting the story with a link to the original source, with a plainly posted credit – is that plagiarism as well? What about a paragraph excerpt, or the ‘three line’ fair-use standard, with a link, a credit and a recommendation such as “Read this!” A discussion group, with members posting excerpts, and links and talking about it? Is that a violation of copyright also? What about just a link . . . urm, through those little news feed dinguses at the bottom of the page. A Facebook recommendation? News aggregate sites consist of constantly updated pages of all these variants, with links to the new, the weird, the newsworthy or just plain interesting, from a variety of sources, large, small, official, unofficial, regular media or whatever. Even blogs like my main blog which focuses on original writing – I’ve occasionally posted interesting links. Linking, promoting, tweeting and favoriting interesting stories has been the lifeblood of the blogosphere as I have known it for yea these many years; advantageous linkage is beneficial to bloggers and websites alike, guaranteeing a larger and wider audience than the unlinked story or post might have had. But the way that L’affiare Righthaven is shaping up, it appears that all of the above may open up liability among news aggregate and commentary blogs for legal action from the ‘barratrious a**holes.’

The Righthaven law firm has entered into a professional alliance with an enterprise called Stephens Media Group, which owns a number of local newspapers across the southern and western states. One of their publications is based in Las Vegas, a city large enough to generate a fair amount of national-interest news – and it appears that bloggers who excerpted or linked to stories from that particular newspaper over the last few years are now providing a rich harvest of copyright lawsuits brought by Righthaven. Righthaven’s method of operation appears to be either to search out those posted and linked stories, and obtain the copyright for the story from Stephens Media, or to have had the copyright in their sweaty little hand all along before filing suit. Give them credit – Righthaven has figured out how to monetize the blogosphere, and Stephens Media has figured out how to extract a few more bucks from their newspaper holdings. For now, at least – until bloggers and news aggregate sites begin acting on the principle that any content in any Stephens Media newspapers is about as toxic as radioactive sewer sludge. While a fair number of bloggers and websites have paid up just to make it all go away, others are fighting back by either ‘Righthaven-proofing’ their sites, or blacklisting Stephens Media through their site-posting rules. There are even Firefox and Chrome plug-ins to automatically exclude Stephens Media from your internet browser. Righthaven and Stephens Media may perhaps gain in the short run, but prospects for long-term gain seem pretty iffy.

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