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A federal judge has summarily shot down a lawsuit filed by a copyright enforcer that's filed more than 150 complaints against websites for quoting all or parts of articles published by a Las Vegas newspaper.

The order dismissing Righthaven's lawsuit is significant because it lends credence to arguments leveled by critics that the lawsuits are an abuse of US copyright laws. It came in a suit the group filed against a real estate blogger who quoted eight sentences from a 30-sentence article published by The Law Vegas Review Journal. The excerpt included factual information but specifically left out the reporter's commentary.

Like almost all of the 156 other lawsuits Righthaven has filed, the complaint was filed without first sending the website a notice to remove the supposedly infringing material. Like most of the other defendants, the blog in this case, www.michaeljnelson.featuredblog.com, quoted only a small part of the overall article and provided a link to the newspaper's site where it could be read in its entirety.

Last week, a federal judge in Las Vegas dismissed the action on grounds that the quote was protected by the fair use exception.

“The court finds that Nelson's use of the copyrighted material s likely to have little to no effect on the market for the copyrighted news article,” US District Judge Larry R. Hicks wrote.

“Nelson's copied portion of the work did not contain the author's commentary. As such, his use does not satisfy a reader's desire to view and read the article in its entirety the author's original commentary and thereby does not dilute the market for the copyrighted work. Additionally, Nelson directed readers of his blog to the full text of the work. Therefore, Nelson's use supports a finding of fair use.”

According to Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman, it's “the most important Righthaven ruling yet.”

“The case shows that judges will pay close attention to fair use defenses, especially when it's simply not credible that the republications had any detrimental effect on the newspapers,” Goldman explained. “The case also shows that judges will tolerate partial quotations of articles.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has recently agreed to defend one website sued by Righthaven and has offered legal assistance to others. It wouldn't be surprising to see more courts rule against Righthaven in the months to come. ®

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