Las Vegas - The online political discussion forum Democratic Underground is fighting back against a lawsuit filed by copyright troll Righthaven LLC, arguing in court documents filed Monday that the short excerpt of a news article at issue in the suit is a clear case of fair use.

Democratic Underground -- represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Winston & Strawn LLP, and attorney Chad Bowers -- was sued by Righthaven on August 10 for a five-sentence excerpt of a Las Vegas Review-Journal news story that a user posted on the forum, with a link back to the Review-Journal website. Righthaven has brought over 130 lawsuits in Nevada federal court claiming copyright infringement, even though they do not create, produce or distribute any content. Instead, they create lawsuits by scouring the Internet for content from Review-Journal stories posted on blogs and online forums, acquiring the copyright to that particular story from Stephens Media LLC (the Review-Journal's publisher), and then suing the poster for infringement.

As part of its lawsuit business model, Righthaven claims damages of up to $150,000 under the Copyright Act's statutory damages provisions and uses that threat to attempt to push defendants into a quick settlement. In the answer and counterclaim filed Monday, Democratic Underground asked the court to affirm that the excerpt of the article does not infringe copyright and is a fair use of the material, with no damages due to Righthaven.

"Democratic Underground is the largest independent discussion forum for liberals on the Internet. Thousands of people discuss and debate political issues on our site every day, particularly now during election season. Online discussion often requires quoting from news sources -- a legal fair use of the material," said Democratic Underground founder David Allen. "By targeting short excerpts of news articles with their sham copyright claims, Righthaven is chilling free and open discussion on the Internet."

Righthaven has claimed that its activities are intended to have a deterrent effect on the reposting of news stories online. But instead of allowing websites to remove or amend the content in question, Righthaven goes straight to court, seeking to profit by gaining sums far greater than any actual harm the newspapers may have suffered. Righthaven has already sued numerous noncommercial bloggers, such as Allegra Wong; political advocacy groups, such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Inc.; and political parties and candidates, such as the Democratic Party of Nevada and Sharron Angle.

"Despite what Righthaven claims, it's hard to interpret these lawsuits as anything else besides a way to bully Internet users into paying unnecessary settlements," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "At the same time, Righthaven is trying to discourage the practice of quoting and linking that is both essential to the interconnected Internet and helps drive significant traffic to newspapers online."

For the full answer and counterclaim:

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Kurt Opsahl
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Corynne McSherry
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation