Rosen may be ok with re-using his own columns, but he may not have legal right to do so

Denver Post columnist Mike Rosen told his editor yesterday that he will continue to use his writing from old columns in new ones.

In an email to Post Editorial Page Editor Dan Haley, which Rosen forwarded to me, Rosen wrote: “As for using the same wording, if I’ve perfected the explanation, there’s no need to paraphrase it. This is fresh information to new readers.”

Trouble is, Rosen’s writing from his days as a freelance columnist at the Rocky Mountain News may not be his to give away. (Yesterday, Michael Robersts in Westword and ColoradoPols revealed that portions of a 2008 column by Rosen published in the Rocky Mountain News were used verbatim in a 2010 Denver Post column by Rosen.)

I was a freelance columnist for Scripps, which owned the Rocky, just like Rosen was, until Scripps viciously killed the newspaper.

My 2004 Scripps contract stated:

“Contributor grants to the Company and any other company, including Scripps Howard News Service, under common control with the Company the exclusive right to publish or broadcast the materials in any media form in Colorado and a non-exclusive right to publish or broadcast the Materials in any media form in any other part of the world.”

Maybe Rosen had a different contract, but I doubt it.

So, as I see it, and maybe I’m wrong, he’s providing The Post with material that’s not his to give away, if his use of his own writing goes beyond “fair use” guidelines.

I asked Westword editor Patricia Calhoun, who’s seen a feelance-writing contract or two, if the “exclusive rights” language could mean that Rosen doesn’t own his old Rocky Columns.

“I had to call [Westword uber blogger] Michael Robertrs and tell him not to bust me,” she said. “I certainly plagiarize myself all the damn time.”

But she agreed with me that Rosen’s contractual language with Scripps might technically preclude him from being allowed to plagiarize himself. It depends on the language in the contract and who owns the Scripps archives, Calhoun said.

In an email to bloggers today, Haley addresssed the Rosen issue:  “We expect all columns published in our section to be original work and I recently told Mike this. While it’s true that you can’t plagiarize yourself, and it’s easy to simply lift paragraphs from your previous work as a way to provide background or supporting information, I expect writers to let readers know when they’re doing that.”

But to clear up the legal issues, even if plagiarism in the usual sense isn’t involved, Rosen needs to produce his contract with Scripps that shows he’s on sound legal footing.

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