Righthaven LLC v. Hoehn

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright, Standing
  • Date Filed: 05-09-2013
  • Case #: 11-16751, 11-16776
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
  • LexisNexis Citation: 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 9413
  • Westlaw Citation: 2013 WL 1908876
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the SAA, the temporary assignee of a copyright does not have standing to sue for infringement.

Righthaven LLC (“Righthaven”) identifies copyright infringement for third parties by receiving a limited, revocable assignment of those copyrights, then suing the infringers. Righthaven sued defendants Wayne Hoehn (“Hoehn”) and Thomas DiBiase (“DiBiase”) for displaying copyrighted Las Vega Review-Journal articles on different websites. Hoehn posted the article on an online discussion board; DiBiase posted the article on his blog. At the time of the postings, Righthaven did not own the copyright. After the infringement, but before suit, Stephens Media LLC, the owner of the copyrights, assigned the rights to Righthaven. The Strategic Alliance Agreement (“SAA”) controlled what Righthaven could and could not do with the copyrights. Hoehn and DiBiase both filed motions to dismiss for lack of standing. The district courts granted both motions, as well as summary judgment for Hoehn. Reviewing de novo, the appellate court held that Righthaven lacked standing to sue for copyright infringement. Under the Copyright Act, only the “legal or beneficial owner of an exclusive right under a copyright” has standing to sue for infringement of that right. Because the transfer of copyrights was subject to limits by the SAA, Righthaven did not have exclusive right, and thus did not have standing. Righthaven argued that if it lacked standing, then the court had no power to reach the merits of the fair use defense upon which it granted summary judgment to Hoehn. The court agreed, recognizing that “jurisdiction [can be] so intertwined with the merits that its resolution depends on the resolution of the merits,” but that this was not one of those case. Accordingly, the Court AFFIRMED dismissal for lack of standing in both cases, but VACATED the Hoehn summary judgment on fair use grounds.

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