Archive for February, 2011

When will Post report on 30 copyright lawsuits filed in CO?

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

The Denver Post is missing one of the biggest media stories in Colorado. That is, its own apparent effort, through a Las Vegas law firm called Righthaven, to protect the copyright of Post and other newspaper articles and other online content.

Righthaven has now apparently filed 30 lawsuits in federal court in Colorado, including one yesterday., which tracks Righthaven’s activities and news coverage, reports that “numerous” lawsuits have been filed over Denver Post material, but it’s not clear how many of the 30 cases in Colorado court touch on The Denver Post. Westword reported yesterday that Rocky Mountain Right has shut down its website for fear of being sued by Righthaven.

Righthaven buys the rights to Post articles and sues entities that use them online in alleged violation of federal copyright law. Righthaven typically sues for $150,000 plus the rights to the alleged offender’s domain name. Most of the firm’s approximately 235 lawsuits have been filed over alleged copyright violation of Las Vegas Review Journal content.

I’ve written before that MediaNews, The Post’s parent company, is right to try to stop bloggers and others from helping themselves to The Post’s online content, beyond what The Post authorizes in its fair-use guidelines. Righthaven’s approach is ugly, and I’d alter it if I were in charge, but I’m a reluctant supporter because stealing newspaper articles robs The Post of online ad revenue it needs to survive now, and will need even more in the future (if the newspaper doesn’t die).

And if The Post and other big-city dailies go under or continue to shrink, taking a huge chunk of the country’s serious journalism down with them, our democracy, imperfect as it already is, will pay the price.

But what’s baffled me, as I wrote here, is why The Post doesn’t report on the Righthaven copyright lawsuits. I understand that businesses hate to talk about topics even remotely related to litigation, but you’d think The Post would have the guts to figure out a way to do this, if only to warn members of our community who might get sued out-of-the-blue for violating copyright law that they didn’t know they were breaking.

As I see it, along with filing lawsuits, The Post should be educating the public about The Post’s fair use policy, and why it’s important to honor it. Running one little notice in the newspaper is obviously way inadequate. And by remaining silent on the Righthaven cases, especially as they propagate, The Post isn’t helping its own cause very much.

And it’s missing its journalistic responsibility to report on major media stories.

Last Month, I queried Post Editor Greg Moore about the Righthaven lawsuits.

I wrote Moore:

“I would think that part of the goal with the lawsuits is to educate bloggers and others about fair-use policy. A lot of people need educating about why it’s so important for newspapers to protect their content. It’s as important as any issue in journalism. Yet, I’ve seen no news about Righthaven in The Post, even though there’s a local hook. Why?”

Moore replied:

“As to Righthaven, there’s nothing to report. They are suing on our behalf those who infringe on our copyright. This is not about educating bloggers or anyone else. It is to restrain them from appropriating our content. We have been clear that we will protect our content and if anyone is unclear about why that’s important, there is probably nothing else the institution can say.”

Do Gardner, Becker, Szabo, and other CO politicos still favor public posting of 10 commandments?

Monday, February 7th, 2011

The 10 Commandments always make for good conversations. For example, do you prefer the version that includes “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife?” Or the version that shortens this to “Thou shall not covet?”

Trouble is, most everyone I ask, except my mother-in-law, can’t recite the Commandments. Most people remember some of them, but the middle group trips them up. The ones like, “Remember thou keep holy the sabbath day.”

In any case, I was asking people about the Commandments last week because a U.S. Court of Appeals in Ohio ruled Wed. that a county judge violated the constitutional separation of church and state by hanging a  poster listing the 10 Commandments in his courtroom.

Not a huge story, of course, but one that’s been dragging on for a while and has developed a following.  And it’s a story with a Colorado angle that local reporters missed.

During the 2010 primary U.S. Sen. candidate Ken Buck, U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner,  State Sen. Ken Lambert (SD 9), State Sen. Kevin Grantham (SD 2), Rep. Mark Barker (HD 17), Rep. Jon Becker (HD 63), Rep. Ray Scott (HD 54), and Rep. Libby Szabo (HD 27) apparently  filled out a survey indicating that they support “public posting of 10 Commandments.” It was the Christian Family Alliance Candidate Survey.

Buck’s back in Weld County, but the ones doing people’s work, do they still favor the public posting of the 10 Commandments, even though it looks even more definitively like the law does not?

Maybe you’re thinking this is a waste, and we should move on to a more timely topic.

But it’s obviously worth a reporter’s time to track back and find out what candidates are thinking about their election pledges, especially when the issues involved are in the news.

Much has been written about the trap Colorado Senate Ken Buck fell into when he positioned himself on the far right of the political spectrum, advocating, for example, a ban on common forms of birth control. These far-right positions helped Buck beat his opponent Jane Norton in the GOP primary, but they tied him in knots later, as he tried to say no one cared about the social-conservative issues that Buck had passionately endorsed in the primary.

Compared to a far-right pledge on abortion, a promise to support posting the 10 Commandments may sound like a throw away.

But just in case you’re like me, and you can’t seem to remember the Commandments, here’s one common version:

1. I am the lord your god.
2. Thou shalt not take the name of the lord, thy god, in vain.
3. Remember thou keep holy the sabbath day.
4. Honor they mother and father.
5. Thou shalt not kill.
6. Thou shalt not commit adultry.
7. Thou shalt not steal.
8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.

So, as can see, we’re not just talking about, Thou shalt not steal, here.  

My own atheism biases me, but can anyone explain how it possibly doesn’t mix church and state for the government to post this religious list. They best argument is, well, the government already allows public displays of religion on government property with government funds. But this is more extreme than, “Merry Christmas.”

Messages to Gardner, Szabo, and Becker were not returned on Friday.

One of the core functions of journalists, when you think about it, should be to track campaign pledges.  It helps people understand the election process, the dyanamics of a primary versus the general election, for example. It helps illuminate candidates’ commitments to doing what they say they’ll do, which is clearly a major concern of voters these days. Generally, reporting on campaign promises helps voters make informed decisions, which is, again, a big part of what journalism is about.

Regardless of where you come down on this, journalists should be in the business of tracking campaign pledges. And this is an interesting one.

With Schrager leaving, changes slated for YourShow

Friday, February 4th, 2011

9News’ innovative public affairs program, YourShow, will air monthly as a stand-alone program, instead of weekly as currently scheduled, but each week, guests will be asked questions submitted by viewers, with their answers aired on newscasts, according to an email from YourShow host and 9News political reporter Adam Schrager.

YourShow, which solicits guest and question ideas from viewers, was developed by Schrager, who is departing for at Wisconsin Public Television. He leaves 9News next week.

9News reporters Chris Vanderveen, Kyle Clark and Matt Flener will take turns hosting YourShow, which airs on Channel 20.

In response to my question about the future of YourShow, Schrager emailed me:

My colleagues Chris Vanderveen, Kyle Clark and Matt Flener will all take turns on the program which is morphing a bit. It will not be a half hour long every week, but once a month. Weekly guests will still be asked viewers questions with segments on the Sunday morning and evening newscasts and I believe longer segments will be on line.

Post should call on moonlighters like Stapleton to follow Hick’s lead on cell-phone use

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Kenny Be summed up Scott Gessler’s moonlighting problem nicely in Westword last month, depicting Colorado’s Secretary of State with a phone on each ear.

If you’re The Denver Post, the two phones in the cartoon would have caught your eye, because the newspaper waged a multi-faceted campaign to get Bill Ritter to turn over his personal cell-phone records for public review…-with his personal calls excised.

Ritter refused to do this, even though he apparently conducted state business on his personal cell phone, because he said it was an invasion of privacy.

The Post got pretty upset at Ritter. There weren’t any front-page editorials, but it hopped up and down on the editorial page, calling for the release of his cell-phone records, and even filed a lawsuit that drags on to this day. (Two decisions have gone against The Post, and the daily has appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.)

Ritter has come and gone and, unfortunately, we never reviewed the state calls he made on his personal cell-phone.

But The Post’s campaign paid off.

John Hickenlooper  told a conservative journalist that he’ll use two cell phones, one for conducting the people’s business and another for personal and campaign work.

He’ll make records of calls on his “government cell phone” available for public review. And he plans to have a neutral party review the records from his private phone to make sure he’s not hiding state biz there.

Former Post Editorial Board member and current Post reporter Chuck Plunkett discussed Hick’s cell phone policies on Jon Caldara’s “Devil’s Advocate” TV show on KBDI. (The name of the show should actually be “The Devil,” dropping the “Advocate” part, but who am I?)

Caldara and Plunkett couldn’t say enough good things about Hick’s cell-phone policies. And a Post editorial patted the new gov on the back.

Recent news cycles have illuminated other state officials whom The Post should now call on to follow Hick’s lead.

I’m thinking of Colorado’s proliferating crop of moonlighting public officials. Among other things, we need to be sure that their “conflict of time,” as The Post put it, doesn’t blend their two jobs together on their personal cell phones.

So that means these guys: GOP Attorney General John Suthers, who’s teaching law classes; Secretary of State Scott Gessler, if he starts down the moonlighting path again; and Dwayne Romero, whom Hick appointed to lead the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade.

Of most concern, when it comes to transparency, is Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton. He’ll be raking in to $150,000 per year, at $250 per hour, working for his old real estate firm.

This works out to 600 hours or over 11 hours per week. That’s over quarter time, based on a 40-hour work week. Of course, Stapleton’s weeks will likely be longer, but it’s a lot of time.

I mean, with 600 hours of out-of-state business to conduct, Stapleton will have to be on the phone so frequently that some state matters could slip onto his personal phone, despite his best intentions. He might just get mixed up about whose clock, I mean, phone he should be on, as he makes quick calls for his own business and then the people’s.

I asked Stapleton’s Communications Director Michael Fortney whether his boss would be following Hick’s example on the cell phone issue.

He said he’ll have one cell phone for personal use and another for matters relating to his state work.

“He’s going to do his state business either on his land line or state-issued cell phone,” Fortney told me. “He won’t do state business on the personal.”

Fortney has not yet discussed with Stapleton whether he will let a neutral party review records for his personal cell phone, as Hick says he’ll do, and weed out anything that should be made public.

The Post, which has waged the good fight on the cell phone issue, should stay the course, with a focus mostly on Stapleton, but all the moonlighters should be urged to follow Hick’s lead.

Here’s a video of Plunkett explaining this issue.

Reporters should ask Suthers: If your anti-gay legal brief isn’t anti-gay, what is it?

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has offered different explanations for filing a legal brief in support of a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that bars gay and lesbian married couples from receiving  federal marriage benefits. Reporters should find out what Suthers is really thinking.

Massachusetts is suing the federal government to enable gay couples, married there, to receive the same benefits given to other married couples, and Suthers’ office joined the feds in defending DOMA against the Massachusetts challenge.

On KHOW’s Caplis and Silverman show, Suthers said Monday there was no anti-gay-marriage political agenda behind his action. It’s about federalism, he claimed.

He went on to say he’s trying to stop the feds from forcing Colorado to recognize a gay marriage performed in Massachusetts.

“I’m getting all kinds of grief about filing an amicus brief in Massachusetts’ constitutional challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act,” said Suthers on the radio. “And it’s very apparent to me that people are attributing political motives to me, being anti-gay marriage, when in fact I think this is another case that really bears upon federalism….We don’t want Massachusetts to be able to impose on the federal government or the state of Colorado its definition of marriage.”

So what’s motivating Suthers? The gay-marriage part? Or the states-rights/federalism part?

It’s confusing, especially to people like Brian Moulton, Chief Legislative Council for the Human Rights Campaign, which has been tracking the issue.

He told me that, in response to questions about the case, Suthers’ office has sent emails to constituents stating that Suthers decision to get involved in the Massachussets case was to defend Colorado’s Amendment 43, which defined marriage here as between a man and a woman. Moulton said that Suthers’ email stated that his office is obliged by law to defend Colorado’s laws, and that’s what he is doing.

Moulton told me:

“So certainly, at least initially, he was telling his constituents that he was defending Colorado’s marriage laws, and that was the initial response he gave to The Denver Post when they inquired about it. It’s all fine and good to say you’re concerned about federal involvement with the states….But certainly that was not the initial response of the AG’s office, and I’m finding it hard to square the circle. It’s hard to know which of the messages to believe.”

It’s particularly hard to square the circle because the case that Suthers has decided to join isn’t really about gay marriage. It’s about whether gay couples, who are already married in Massachusetts, have a legal right to federal marriage benefits.

We’re talking about stuff like allowing gay couples to be buried together (OMG, what will they do?) in a veterans’ cemetery and to get spousal benefits under Medicaid, according to Moulton.

Is Suthers, on behalf of the people of Colorado, saying gay couples from Massachusetts should not be allowed to be buried together in a veterans’ cemetery? We don’t know because neither Caplis nor Silverman asked him. But fortunately, Silverman promised on the radio to have Suthers back on the show to talk more about the DOMA issue.

Here are some questions Caplis and Silverman should ask him (And for you skeptics, these are the types of questions they ask regularly on the show.):

First, there’s the question above about how Suthers will feel if he successfully prevents gay veterans, married in Massachusetts, from being buried together.

Then there’s a question that flows from something both Moulton and Suthers’ office (as quoted in Tuesday’s The Denver Post) agree on: The Massachusetts case involving DOMA won’t invalidate Colorado’s marriage law, but, theoretically, if Massachusetts wins its case, Colorado’s ban on gay marriage could possibly be a little bit harder to defend down the road. Is it right to support a lawsuit that strips gay couples, married in another state, of the right to be buried together or to receive Medicaid benefits, simply because having those benefits might, theoretically, make Colorado’s ban on gay marriages slightly harder to defend? Does this put any stress on Suthers’ conscience?

Another question: If Suthers’ underlying motivation is related to states rights, why pick this case? As Moulton pointed out: “In this case, what Massachusetts is saying is, our state’s rights are being impinged upon because what the federal government is saying is, here’s some money for a federal program, but if you have to use it, you have to discriminate against some of your own lawfully married citizens under your own law. They are arguing that (DOMA) is infringing on their rights as a state. It does seem odd to have some other state [Colorado] say, no no, that’s not okay.”

And this question, posed by Moulton, gets to the heart of the matter: “At the end of the day, if what you’re really doing is just attacking Massachusetts because they’ve decided to stand up for their gay and lesbian married citizens, because you have some fear that one day in some hypothetical case that doesn’t exist, your marriage law might be in jeopardy, doesn’t this seem pretty mean-spirited and maybe not the best use of state resources right now in this time of fiscal stress?”

Partial Transcript of Appearance by Attorney General John Suthers on the Caplis and Silverman Show, 3 p.m. Hour, Feb. 1

Attorney General John Suthers: You know, you can’t get into these things based on what’s going to be the politically greatest route. I don’t know if you’re watching it today, but I’m getting all kinds of grief about filing an amicus brief in Massachusetts’ constitutional challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. And it’s very apparent to me that people are attributing political motives to me, just being anti-gay marriage, when in fact I think this is another case that really bears upon federalism. The federal government in DOMA is not attempting to define marriages under state law. In fact they say, we’re simply defining marriage for purposes of federal law and federal benefits and for our purposes, marriage is between a man and a woman. States are free to do what they want. Massachusetts says, you can’t define it between a man and a woman. That discriminates against our gay couples in Massachusetts. And we in Colorado, the voters in 2006, chose to define in our constitution marriage as between a man and a woman, and we support the federal government and the states as being able to define it for their own purposes, and we don’t want Massachusetts to be able to impose on the federal government or the state of Colorado with the definition of marriage.

Craig: Mr. A. G., we can’t go on that tangent, though it’s interesting, and we’d like to talk to you about it on another day that’s not so newsy.

Suthers has delivered his moonlighting opinion to Gessler

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers announced on KHOW’s Caplis and Silverman show Monday that his office has given Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler an opinion regarding his plan to moonlight for his former law firm, but Suthers did not offer further details.

The radio show has been breaking newsbits on the Gessler moonlighting story, since it first broke in the Denver Business Journal.

On Thursday, for example, Gessler told Caplis and Siverman that his former law partners were “very uncomfortable” with his idea of making the names of his moonlighting clients public.

Yesterday, with Suthers on the program during the 3 p.m. hour to discuss recent court decisions about the federal health-care bill, Suthers answered the following question from Silverman about Gessler:

Craig: Scott Gessler has asked you for an opinion about whether his moonlighting is ok. You probably can’t tell us your decision, but can you give us some timing on when you might make the call?

John Suthers: We’ve already indicated to Scott what we think the issues are in regard to that decision. And I’m not free to comment what we’ve advised Mr. Gessler.