Reporters Without Borders letter faults Denver Post for Righthaven suit against Brian Hill

Thumbnail image for brian hills photo cropped.JPG
Brian Hill.
As an organization devoted to freedom of the press, Reporters Without Borders typically targets dictatorships and other iron-fist nations that attempt to quash objective journalism. Now, however, RWB is protesting a story very close to home: the copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Nevada's Righthaven LLC against twenty-year-old, chronically ill blogger Brian Hill on behalf of the Denver Post.

In a letter addressed to Dean Singleton, who is both the Post's publisher and the head of the paper's corporate parent, MediaNews Group, RWB director Clothilde Le Coz and general secretary Jean-Francois Julliard note that "After posting a photo to his personal blog -- which he has never profited from -- Hill was notified by Righthaven LLC, acting on your behalf, that he may pay $6,000 to close the case or fight against a $150,000 lawsuit in court. Hill, 20, who receives Social Security payments, cannot afford the lesser amount and is planning to defend himself in court."

That last part's a bit out of date: Upon reading about the case, Fort Collins attorney David Kerr is now representing Hill pro bono. But these facts are a side note to the authors' main message, which compares Righthaven's tactics unfavorably to some of those RWB members have witnessed across the globe:

We were surprised to witness such behavior here, in the United States, while this is generally a phenomenon Reporters Without Borders witnesses in authoritarian regimes to silence netizens and intimidate journalists, bloggers and others. Therefore, we ask you to drop the lawsuit against him and find a reasonable compromise regarding his case.

As MediaNews Group Inc. is one of the largest newspaper publishers in the US, we fully understand the copyright issues that The Denver Post has to face and we are not at all supporting the theft of a picture. However, this decision led Brian Hill to close down his website, which constitutes a very bad precedent for freedom of the press in the US. Though we believe news organizations deserve to make money off their creative work, Reporters Without Borders urges The Denver Post to reconsider its approach to these lawsuits. We suggest that you first ask bloggers and other secondary users of materials to first remove content before taking such drastic actions. This would help keep a vigorous decision of timely issues alive while guarding against silencing and censorship themselves -- as Hill did when he shut down his blog.

The disconnecting of Hill's site is hardly an isolated incident. Thus far, at least two Colorado-based websites -- Rocky Mountain Right and KnowYourCourts.com -- have temporarily pulled the plug for fear that they might have inadvertently published Post material capable of attracting the wrath of Righthaven.

The letter below was forwarded to Westword by Colorado State University professor Kris Kodrich, who's worked with Reporters Without Border. He also shipped a copy to the Denver Post newsroom. To date, the paper hasn't written about the Righthaven suits in general or the Brian Hill case in particular. It'll be interesting to see if the missive changes that.

Here's the letter:

More from our Media archive: "Denver Post parent MediaNews Group puts Mike Rosen column at center of copyright suit."

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7 comments
AInsider
AInsider

I want you all to look at the information I have presented here.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/5011...

This is very important as it reveals about Righthaven's Code of Conduct violations and should be sent to the Nevada Bar Counsel.

Stella
Stella

Terry, As Brian's grandmother, I can tell you that Brian has been having the problems you state in the past. On January 9. 2011 his site was back up. He found another website host. He did in fact, take the picture down just as soon as he found out about the lawsuit from a news journalist from Nevada toward the last of January that the law suit had been filed, and we got on the Internet and found this was true, so he took the photo down (since apparently now it has a copyright and the new owners did not want him to display it on his website), then when he received the actual papers from the court, he did take down his site and explains why. www.uswgo.com explains that he is afraid Righthaven can take his work, get it copyrighted and sue him for his own work. Even the photo he had on his website had a link to the article from another state. He did not claim the photo but put the link where he got the information from. The photo itself has no watermarks or copyright marks on it. Both articles are asking others to share and or print this article, which is permission. We all got scared realizing even with a link to where your information is from and the source asking you to share this info with others, you can still be sued $150,000, court cost and your domain name and having to go to another state for the jury trial. Not only that, the lawsuit says that Brian had this photo on his website on Dec. 1st. Riighthaven got a copyright on it on Dec. 8, 2010. True, Brian's website was now hacked and was down from I think Dec. 7, 2010 until Jan. 9, 2011. He worked hard, found another web host (or whatever you call that) and got his website back up and running. My daughter who had some on line books removed her books, and we removed our website, and a good friend from another country removed her website as well. I look at this as more of a freedom of speech issue than a copyright issue. I think the freedom of speech issue is also why my grandson has been having so many problems with his website since September, 2010, too much traffic then hackers, then the lawsuit.

American Justice
American Justice

Well Stella, we're praying for him and know that he'll soon be back in business. As the father of a teenager who is also autistic, I consider Gibson's lawsuit a personal affront against those with developmental disabilities.

Stella
Stella

Terry, thank you so much. I just wanted for you to know that Brian did get scared (we all did), and he did shut it down for that reason. You understand how the mild autism is. He believes strongly in freedom of speech for himself and others and was determined to at least explain why on his website. I am so impressed with him and proud of him, knowing his battles constantly with health. Did you watch the show this week on TV about Parenthood where the parents had to explain about asperger syndrone (mild autism) to their son? That was good! I just can't believe this lawsuit is going on, and when we answered the court, we messed up. Brian has got a wonderful attorney who fought to get more time to correct everything. Righthaven did not want this corrected, even after Brian's mom sent proof of his disability income and his disabilities to the court and to Righthaven. Thank goodness, the judge is giving more time to correct this! Thank you, too. I remember reading your articles as well. This is very stressful for all of us since the last of January!! Having a son with autism, you know how important this website is to Brian and how dedicated he is to it! Thank you, Terry, for your support!

American Justice
American Justice

I think we need some clarification here. American Justice Dot Org has been supporting Brian Hill from the beginning of this lawsuit. We have corresponded with him as well. As I understand it, the shutting down of his website was due to the excessive amount of bandwidth he was using with his server, and not the fact he had put up the copyrighted photo belonging to Steven Gibson of Righthaven LLC. Simply put, Brian was required to upgrade his service with the web host to accommodate the heavy traffic to his site. He has not been forced to take down his web site because of this photo. Nonetheless, this has been a life shattering experience for this young man who is being treated like he stole the Mona Lisa.

Terry PelzAmerican Justice Dot Orghttp://www.americanjustice.org

AInsider
AInsider

I want you all to look at the information I have presented here.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/5011...

This is very important as it reveals about Righthaven's Code of Conduct violations and should be sent to the Nevada Bar Counsel.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Terry, thanks for the additional information. Appreciate the post.

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