Righthaven LLC v. Hoehn

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: 05-09-2013
  • Case #: 11-16751; 11-16776
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Clifton for the Court; Circuit Judges O’Scannlain and Trott.
  • Full Text Opinion

The transfer of the base right to sue for copyright infringement without the transfer of exclusive property rights, is not sufficient for standing to sue for copyright infringement.

Righthaven LLC (“Righthaven”) sued defendants Wayne Hoehn and Thomas DiBiase for copyright infringement, for articles they posted online without authorization from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The lawsuits were based on a copyright agreement between Righthaven and Stephens Media LLC (“Stephens Media”), who owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The copyright agreement between Righthaven and Stephens Media stipulated that “ ‘subject to [Stephens Media’s] rights of reversion,’ Stephens Media granted to Righthaven ‘all copyrights requisite to have Righthaven recognized as the copyright owner of the Work,’” intending for Righthaven to be able to “claim ownership as well as the right to seek redress for past, present, and future infringements of the copyright.” They also had a Strategic Alliance Agreement, which controlled what Righthaven could do with the copyrights it had been assigned. Righthaven agreed to find instances where copyrights were being infringed upon and then sue. When Righthaven filed suit against Hoehn and DiBiase, defendants both filed motions to dismiss for a lack of standing. Righthaven and Stephens Media then created a “Clarification and Amendment to Strategic Alliance Agreement” to clarify that their intent had been to “convey all ownership rights in and to any identified Work to Righthaven through a Copyright Assignment so that Righthaven would be the rightful owner of the identified Work.” The district court granted the defendants’ motions. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissals, and held that under the Copyright Act you must be the “legal or beneficial owner of an exclusive right under a copyright” to have standing. The panel relied on Silvers v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc., which held that “the assignment of the bare right to sue for infringement, without the transfer of an associated exclusive right, is impermissible under the Copyright Act.” AFFIRMED in part; VACATED in part.

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