8 more websites sued over R-J copyrights; 34 total

Sat, Jun 5, 2010 (1:53 p.m.)

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The publishers of a noncommercial blog about cats in Boston are among the latest defendants in lawsuits claiming website operators have been infringing on copyrights by posting Las Vegas Review-Journal stories without authorization.

Allegra and Emerson Wong are among the defendants in eight lawsuits filed in federal court in Las Vegas on Friday claiming infringement of copyrights to R-J stories. Friday's suits bring to 34 the number of lawsuits filed over R-J copyrights since March.

The plaintiff in the suits is Righthaven LLC, a company that has partnered with the Review-Journal to sue alleged copyright infringers.

In most cases, the defendants have no idea the R-J is concerned they are violating copyrights until they are contacted by the Las Vegas Sun, informed they have been sued and asked for comment.

In the Wongs' case, court records indicate family in Las Vegas sent them an R-J story from March 21 about a fire at the Gilcrease Nature Sanctuary that killed scores of birds. One of the Wongs then allegedly posted the story on the blog at allegrawong.com, apparently out of concern for the animals.

More than two months later, attorneys for Righthaven on May 26 obtained the copyright to that story from the R-J; and then filed their suit on Friday.

The Wongs couldn't be reached for comment on the allegation the web post infringed on the copyright now held by Righthaven.

Also sued Friday were:

--Las Vegas public relations executive Steve Stern and his company Stern and Co. Inc. They're accused of posting R-J business stories or portions of business stories on Stern's website asternglance.com

--Pregame LLC and two individuals associated with the company, Randall J. Busack and R.J. Bell. They are accused of posting a February R-J story involving Super Bowl betting on the pregame.com website, which covers sports betting.

--The Prescription LLC and RX Advertising Inc. They are accused of posting a February R-J column on Las Vegas strip club payments to taxi drivers on the therxforum.com website, which focuses on sports betting.

--The website emtcity.com and an official associated with the site, Christopher J. Malley. The site, which focuses on the paramedic and emergency medical technician industry, allegedly posted a February R-J story involving the North Las Vegas Fire Department seeking to acquire ambulance duties.

--The Motorcycle Racing Association of Nevada, accused of posting an R-J story from February about proposed national monument designations.

--The Off Shore Gaming Association and James Quigley in the Philadelphia area, accused of posting an R-J story from March involving Internet gambling.

--Shaker Advertising Agency, an Illinois company, and an official associated with the company, Joseph G. Shaker, accused of posting an R-J story from March about a federal program to bring computer centers to Nevada. That material allegedly was posted on the company's www.vegasjobs.com website.

Requests for comments were left with the defendants. The suits typically seek damages of $75,000.

In Stern's case, an exhibit filed with the lawsuit indicates a story involving a former Stern client, Community Bank of Nevada, was posted in its entirety on the asternglance website, that its headline was changed to credit the R-J to say "LVRJ: FDIC seeks damages from Community Bank officers and directors," and that a link to the R-J story was included on the asternglance website.

"The defendants did not seek permission, in any manner, to reproduce, display or otherwise exploit the" story, the lawsuit charges.

Stories, or portions of other R-J stories, involving Silver State Schools Credit Union and the Nevada unemployment rate were also posted and again credited and/or linked to the Review-Journal, the exhibit shows.

Stern, whose clients include the Gordon Silver law firm and the Vestin real estate lending companies, has plenty of experience in media relations involving litigation.

Stern said the first he heard there was an issue with the R-J stories and his website was when he was contacted about the lawsuit by the Sun on Friday.

"I was unaware there was any concern," he said, adding it's his practice to usually run summaries of stories -- often involving his company and his clients -- with links and full credit to the source.

At the Motorcycle Racing Association of Nevada, Bryan Schierberl, a race referee, also said an inquiry from the Sun was the first he had heard there was a concern about an R-J story on the association website. He said he didn't have enough information about the matter to comment further.

Separately, in a Righthaven case filed last week against former newscaster and sportscaster Ron Futrell, his attorney Jason Wiley said he plans to contest the suit with valid defenses, but declined to say exactly what those defenses would be.

Wiley, of the firm Woods Erickson Whitaker & Maurice, said he's also considering filing a counterclaim against Righthaven and potentially against associated parties, but didn't want to name the associated parties.

Futrell was accused of infringing on Righthaven copyrights by posting R-J stories on his website www.localslovevegas.com.

In a blog post May 28, Review-Journal Publisher Sherman Frederick said the Righthaven lawsuits were filed as part of an effort to stop the theft of copyrighted material.

"When it comes to copyrighted material — news that my company spends money to gather and constitutes the essence of what we are as a business — some people think they can not only look at it, but also steal it. And they do,’’ Frederick wrote.

Of the 34 lawsuits filed by Righthaven, at least four have been settled with the terms generally not being disclosed.

But on Friday, Righthaven agreed to settle a case against the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), based in Washington, D.C., for $2,185. That case involved an R-J story called "Marijuana as Medicine."

Attorneys for NORML had been fighting that lawsuit, saying Righthaven lacks standing to prosecute the alleged infringement because the Nevada court lacks jurisdiction over NORML and since Righthaven didn't own the copyright at the time R-J story showed up on the NORML website.

But on Friday, NORML filed papers offering to settle and that offer was accepted by Righthaven.

"As a point of information, this amount ($2,185) was arrived at by examining the number of persons who could possibly have viewed the `Marijuana as Medicine' article on (codefendant) MAP Inc.’s servers (247), and multiplying that number by the dollar amount charged by the Las Vegas Review-Journal to purchasers of copies of the article from its news archive ($2.95). Nothing in this offer is an admission that 247 people actually did view the article on MAP Inc.’s servers, and in fact, NORML believes that the number is far lower. Nevertheless, this offer is calculated to be the maximum amount that Righthaven could possibly, theoretically, collect in actual damages for the alleged copyright infringement in this case, and then to remove all doubt of the reasonableness of the offer, this amount was then tripled," attorneys for NORML said in their filing.

NORML was represented by three attorneys with three law firms in the case, so its costs to defend the suit likely easily exceeded the $2,185 settlement amount.

"If Righthaven does not accept this offer, Righthaven may become obligated to pay NORML’s costs incurred after the making of this offer," the NORML attorneys said in their filing.

MAP, which stands for Media Awareness Project, is the group that provides the news feed to NORML's website. The Righthaven suit against MAP remains active.

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