Las Vegas First Amendment attorney Allen Lichtenstein has joined the initiative to shut down copyright infringement lawsuit filer Righthaven LLC.
Lichtenstein said Friday he's signed on to represent the receiver who claims to control Righthaven and who plans to put an end to Righthaven pursuing appeals of its legal setbacks.
After judges rejected its lawsuits and its assets were seized by creditors in December, Righthaven continued to operate solely to pursue those appeals. And as recently as June 22, Las Vegas attorney Steven Gibson publicly claimed to be the CEO of Righthaven and had openly hired an outside attorney to deal with the appeals.
Lara Pearson, another Nevada attorney appointed by a judge as the receiver of Righthaven assets last year, moved Monday to fire Gibson and said she would seek dismissal of Righthaven’s appeals.
Those appeals had little chance of succeeding and are subjecting Righthaven to additional liability, she said. Already, the company has been ordered to pay $318,000 in attorney’s fees to defendants who prevailed against Righthaven in the copyright lawsuits. But with no cash and its trademark and website already auctioned off, Righthaven so far hasn't paid off its debts.
The federal court in Las Vegas hasn't yet acted on Pearson's request that it ratify her move to fire Gibson.
On Friday, Lichtenstein filed court papers showing he’s representing Pearson, the receiver, and Righthaven’s interests in one of the appeals at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Gibson hasn’t indicated if he’ll oppose Pearson’s effort to fire him and force Righthaven to drop its appeals. He has indicated he disagrees with her claims.
Lichtenstein is known in Las Vegas for free speech work as general counsel for the ACLU of Nevada.
But in the Righthaven case he’s operating as a private attorney, as the ACLU is not involved.
In an odd twist, Lichtenstein for a time in 2010 represented one of the websites that had been hit with one of Righthaven’s no-warning lawsuits — a nonprofit in New Hampshire called windaction.org.
Perhaps confusingly, that means Lichtenstein has now both fought against and represented Righthaven. But that type of thing can happen when a company is taken over through a creditors’ receivership action.
Lichtenstein said Friday his role will be to represent the receiver in whatever she decides to do — she’s already disclosed plans to wind down the company and has threatened to sue Gibson for malpractice.
"Her job is to clean up the mess that was created,'' Lichtenstein said, adding Righthaven was a legal house of cards that was bound to collapse because its lawsuits lacked legal merit.
He said the job of representing Pearson interested him because of his passion for free speech and because of what he felt were threats to such speech posed by Righthaven.
"More speech is better than less speech," he said.
Critics said the Righthaven suits infringed on free speech by inhibiting the flow of information, even when the sharing of information was protected by the fair use doctrine of copyright law.
Righthaven, however, said the defendants it sued had harmed newspapers by using their information without paying for it.
Righthaven was half-owned by Gibson and an affiliate of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
As a company — not a law firm — Righthaven filed 275 lawsuits starting in March 2010.
The suits claimed websites and other Internet operators infringed on copyrights by posting, without authorization, material from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Denver Post.
The litigation campaign collapsed when judges found the suits were based on flawed or ineffective copyright assignments Righthaven received from the newspapers, which hoped to share in revenue.
Several defendants also defeated Righthaven on fair use grounds.