Archive for the 'Righthaven' Category

Post and Review Journal should defend their own copyrighted articles

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Here’s one lesson from  a Las Vegas Judge’s decision Friday in favor of a nonprofit group that stole a news story from the website of the Las Vegas Review journal.

Newspapers should defend their own stories from copyright violations, instead of selling their copyrighted stories to a law firm and having it sue on the newspapers’ behalf.

One of the reasons cited by the judge Friday, for ruling in favor of the nonprofit group, was that the article in question was not owned by the Las Vegas Review Journal. He cited other reasons, too, some of which I disagree with, but the judge is right that the copyright protections for an article, like the one in the current case, change dramatically when the article is sold to a law firm like Righthaven, which is suing for copyright violations of Review Journal and Denver Post articles.

This would be remedied if newspapers sued on their own behalf.

Not only their legal case, but also their ultimate goal, to protect online content and help journalism survive, would be better served as well, because newspaper executives would be more likely, I hope, to stand up and explain to the public why it’s so important for people not to violate copyright law and to respect the fair use guidelines that newspapers like The Denver Post publish and ask readers to abide by.

As activist, my approach was, let’s steal content until told not to

Friday, March 4th, 2011

As reported yesterday by Westword and the Denver Daily News, Reporters Without Borders makes a seemingly reasonable request of The Denver Post and its associated law firm, Righthaven: warn bloggers and activists before suing them for stealing your content.

Let me make a confession here: For years as an activist (now I’m a progressive journalist), I’d steal content (a song or an article or this or that) and use it under the assumption that I’d just take it down if I or my organization received a cease-and-desist letter. So I knew I was stealing stuff, but I didn’t care.

I know I’m not the only one who burgled in this manner.

Now let’s look at the current situation in the newspaper industry. Journalism is dying, especially big-city dailies. Politicians send reporters like Lynn Bartels at the Denver Post condolence gifts when their newspapers close, but they don’t do anything about it. In fact, few people care. The interest groups benefiting from journalism don’t seem to know who they are, and they are mostly silent.

So I don’t like a lot of what Righthaven is doing, and I don’t understand why the newspapers aren’t publicizing the lawsuits to educate the public, but I love to see newspapers fighting back aggressively.

That’s what this desperate situation calls for.

So here’s a legal strategy being tried by Righthaven that’s addressing what could turn out to be a central part of saving journalism: protection of online content. I admit that neither the revenue from online content, nor the strategy of suing to protect it, will likely work.

But it could be a part of saving journalism, and it’s worth it to try.

And sending “takedown” letters before suing will allow too many bad guys, like I myself was, to continue to be bad.

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.”

Ripping off newspaper websites shortchanges democracy

Monday, January 31st, 2011

There’s a feast raging on the Internet. Websites and bloggers are helping themselves to huge servings of whatever newspapers offer online.

People who run content-starved outlets steal articles from newspapers’ websites and post them on their own sites, without payment.

Who cares, you might say. Most newspapers post all their articles on their websites, free for anyone to read, whether they’ve got a subscription or not.

But many newspapers definitely care, because they make money when people visit their websites to read articles. Web advertisements are an increasingly important part of newspapers’ shrinking revenue stream.

When an entire article is copied from a newspaper’s website and posted on another website, fewer people go to the newspaper’s website to view the original article, and the paper makes less money.

Some newspapers are trying to protect their articles from being stolen. They’re trying to develop clearer “fair-use” policies, specifying for example how much of an article can be copied by a blog or website without violating the newspaper’s copyright.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has gone further. Its parent company, Stephens Media, has helped grubstake a law firm called Righthaven, which is suing Internet entities that post articles from the paper without proper authorization.

Righthaven buys the copyright to a specific newspaper article and then sues the website or blog that posts all or even part of it, typically for $150,000 and the rights to the domain name of website that allegedly commits the offense. Most of the approximately 200 lawsuits filed against organizations, ranging from the Democratic Party of Nevada to GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle, have been settled out of court.

In December, on behalf of MediaNews, owner of The Denver Post, Righthaven sued the Drudge Report for allegedly publishing The Post’s content in violation of copyright law.

Critics, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, say Righthaven is abusing copyright law by buying copyrights to articles it will never use and by demanding excessive damages, particularly from small-time bloggers who can’t afford to defend themselves.

Critics also don’t like Righthaven’s tactic of filing lawsuits without sending a warning letter first. These warnings, referred to as “takedown” or “cease-and-desist” letters, would give a website owner the chance to remove the offending content to avoid a lawsuit.

Courts in Nevada are sorting out the complexities of whether a website’s copying of a newspaper article–even if it’s used in its entirety and deprives a newspaper of potential revenue–can be justified under “fair-use” doctrine. Critics say the doctrine is more complicated than the Righthaven legal briefs would have you believe.

These critics have a point, but in the bigger picture, the newspaper industry’s cause is just.

The Righthaven approach, imperfect as it is, gets to the heart of one of the most important questions in journalism: How do newspapers protect online content?

Organizations shouldn’t post entire news stories on their websites, and bloggers shouldn’t reproduce newspaper articles in their online diaries.

Here’s why: News articles are written by journalists, who need to be paid. And most of their salaries come from advertisements. (There are exceptions of course, including OtherWords, the non-profit editorial service that happens to be distributing my op-ed to newspapers and new media.)

Newspapers’ advertising revenue has tanked in recent years. For journalism to survive, newspaper websites must sell more ads.

The routine looting and scattering of a publication’s website content across the blogosphere, where newspapers have no prayer reaping any profit, amounts to one more nail in the coffin of journalism. Advertising dollars will then flow to any online outfit that posts stolen news stories.

That’s not only unfair, but it’s bad for our democracy. We need journalists to play a watchdog role now more than ever.

Sure, Righthaven is unseemly in the way it’s suing people, including “little” people. But if you have a better idea on how newspapers should safeguard their online content, lay it on me.

A former media critic for the Rocky Mountain News, Jason Salzman is board chair of Rocky Mountain Media Watch and author of Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits.

This column was originally distributed by the OtherWords syndicate.

The Post should report on and explain its campaign to protect copyright

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

UPDATE: This post was corrected Dec. 16 after a reader pointed out that Stephens Media, which is connected to Righthaven, does not own the Las Vegas Sun, which has been reporting extensively on the Righthaven lawsuits. Since March, Righthaven has been suing entities that post content from Las Vegas Review-Journal, not the Las Vegas Sun. But the Review-Journal, like the Denver Post, did not report a peep about this, until September, when it published a story about Righthaven suing Senate candidate Sharron Angle for alleged illegal use of Review-Journal articles.  The Review Journal ran a second article last week when Righthaven began suing to stop alleged illegal use of Denver Post content. Last week, the Review-Journal ran this and this blog post. Still nothing in The Denver Post on this topic. I’m sorry for my error.

You may have heard about a Las Vegas law firm, called Righthaven, that’s buying the copyright to Denver Post content that is allegedly being used illegally, in violation of The Post’s fair-use policy, and then suing the alleged violators, typically for $150,000 plus the rights to the offender’s domain name.

Or, more likely, you haven’t heard about the firm, because shamefully, as far as I can tell, neither it nor its activities have been mentioned at all in The Post. (Please correct me if I’m wrong here.)

But the legal strategy to stop alleged copyright infringement has been comprehensively reported in Las Vegas Sun, and locally Westword picked it up, as did The Colordo Independent, among others.

On Monday, The Denver Daily News weighed in with the most comprehensive local coverage so far, interviewing the co-founder of Righthaven as well as representatives of some of the blogs and websites that have been sued. Righthaven, with the apparent blessing of The Post, is suing entities large (Drudge Report) and small (

I’m glad The Post is trying to protect its content, because I don’t buy the argument, nicely summarized today in the Sun, that newspapers are giving away their articles on their websites for free to anyone who wants them.

Still, you have to wonder about the Righthaven approach when you read a quote like this, in the Denver Daily News piece, from Steven Gibson, founder of Righthaven and reflecting comments he’s made elsewhere:

“It does not appear that an approach to addressing the infringement of copyrights that is based upon merely sending out takedown letters is a very effective way of dealing with that issue,” said Gibson. “There are literally millions, if not billions of infringements out there.”

“If a newspaper were to add the requisite staff to identify the infringements, to properly identify the infringers, and spend the time drafting appropriately worded letters, and kindly ask each one of those infringers to stop infringing, it would cost a newspaper an unmanageable amount of money to do that,” continued Gibson.

So Righthaven is suing without warning.

I called Righthaven founder Gibson, and he confirmed cease-and-desist letters are not sent because they do not work and the process is too expensive. He said:

Gibson: Think about it a minute, Jason. You are managing a newspaper’s legal department, and you have to go to management to say I need to fund the effort to staff enough people who will have notice of an infringement, then do due diligence to make sure you’re sending the letter to the right place, and then draft an appropriate letter, and follow up to make sure that the infringer received the letter because more likely than not you might not receive a response. How long do you wait in order to receive a response? That’s a lot more than one minute.

Then let’s assume that the receiver [of the letter] takes down their infringement, and says you take it down if you don’t sue me. And let’s assume there are tens of thousands of infringements out there.  And how long does it take you to develop a story? And how much are you being compensated? The newspapers are already financially strapped, and adding the capacity to write people gentle letter to say would you please take down the infringement.

And the other thing is that then the other people who know you are doing it say, ok well, they have another 9,999 letters to go before they get to me, and if all they are going to do is send me a letter saying take it down then there is no real risk to me for posting the infringing content. All they are going to do is ask me to take it down. So, you know, whoop-tee-doo, I’ll just post the infringing content and see if they ever get around to writing me a letter.

Well, our experience here in Colorado shows Gibson to be wrong about the deterrent effect of a takedown letter. One measly letter was sent to ColoradoPols, and now you rarely see any of the Post’s content in Pols, and there’s been nothing close to a violation of The Post’s fair-use policy since the letter was sent.

But Gibson has a point, no doubt, that the prospect of a no-warning lawsuit is much more frightening  than the prospect of receiving a takedown letter. I am ashamed to admit to having used copyrighted content in past lives knowing that a cease-and-desist letter would probably arrive before a lawsuit. Had I expected a lawsuit first, I may not have done broken the law.

He’s less convincing about the resources required to send warning letters. I mean, interns could do it. It just doesn’t seem that complicated to me, even if it takes a little longer than you might think at first blush. In any case, the fact that Righthaven has reportedly taken in a quarter million dollars from these lawsuits makes you wonder if there’s a better way to fund copyright enforcement.

Actually, I’m hoping that the no-warning lawsuits are part of an initial PR strategy that will be abandoned once the word gets out that newspapers are serius about protecting their content. 

I thanked Gibson for making himself available to me, and I asked if this was part of a PR strategy to let scare the world to stop stealing content. He denied this, saying:

I believe that Righthaven is going to ultimately be recognized as doing the right thing. Money is not everything. And we believe that we are advancing a social purpose, independent of whether there is a deterrent value. We believe that protecting the ownership interest in copyright is an appropriate thing to do and is forward looking, irrespective of the deterrent. And while we are running a for-profit business, we like to believe that the propriety of Righthaven’s approach will be proven over time, as issues are more fully addressed by the courts, in both Righthaven cases and otherwise that we will create a greater and broader understanding. That’s why I try to make myself available to member of the press….

Let’s go back to the basics. Copyright law is in the Constitution. It comes from the Constitution where our forefathers said, we’re going to protect inventors and artists, effectively. It’s important that at the very founding years of our country that we are going to advance the protection of the people who engage in the creative capacity, such as you. You’re going to write this article, and people should respect that. And so all of these folks out there saying, we’re attacking people, that’s very strange.

Gibson goes further:

Jason: I just think in the spirit of public discourse, which actually a newspaper tries to promote, you try to solve things without this kind of harsh—

Gibson: What’s harsh?

Jason: Filing a lawsuit when you could send a letter first.

Gibson: First of all, that presupposes that that’s harsh…-who is it harsh on? You don’t factor in the fact that we have $350 filing fees, we have $100 more of service and process fees on these defendants. So, you know, the plaintiff in these cases, Righthaven, has to expend hundreds of dollars, and arguably thousands of dollars, there are copyright registration fees and application fees. We put our money where our mouth is, if you will. This isn’t easy or inexpensive.

And, again, the question is have takedown letters succeeded in addressing the infringements. Can anyone argue in all of these blogospheres that the takedown approach will ever be successful in stemming the tide in infringement?

Jason, here’s a fantastic story for you, because your approach to this has been a bit more balanced and objective and you’re generally asking some good questions. Think about the future of the American economy. Think about 20 or 30 years from now. Think about the evolution of the American economy. Think about where value is going to be created in the future. And that is, more likely than not, our society to continue to advance, and the creation of intangible assets, content, will continue to be much more important in the future. You follow me?

Jason: Hmm mmm.

Gibson: And we continue to migrate from a post-industrial economy, whereby a vast part of the American economy is the management of information and the development of content. If you think it’s important today, look at how important it is going to be decades from now. And as such, isn’t Righthaven recognizing today what is going to be readily apparent 20 to 30 years from now, and that is, when a good part of our economy is relying on people respecting that which drives our economy, i.e., the creation of intangible assets in the information economy.

So what to do if you’re in The Post’s shoes?

Obviously, the Post should milk the PR value of this exercise by having their execs talk about it! Explain to the masses why you’re trying to protect your stories, and give people the basics about fair use.

The Las Vegas Sun is reporting on it extensively. But the Las Vegas Review-Journal, whose parent company is associated with Righthaven, has only published two articles, as far as I can tell and at least one blog post. (See the Update above.) The Post should start reporting and commenting on the Righthaven lawsuits.

The Post should take responsibility for its own lawsuits, and divulge its apparent relationship with Righthaven. Righthaven is actually kind of like one of those 527 political groups, acting “secretly” for the newspaper. And the Post’s editorial page seems to hate 527s.

The Post should also instruct Righthaven to go after the larger entities first, the ones who are more likely to know better. That’s basic kindness.

And also, The Post should insist that for every no-warning lawsuit that’s filed by Righthaven, ten cease-and-desist letters are put in the mail. This approach is more humane, while recognizing the real-life deterrent value of the no-warning lawsuit. How much time could it possibly take to write boiler-plate warning letters to copyright violators and track the responses.

In any case, if the current approach by Righthaven continues indefinitely, The Post will look seriously bad, and it looks pretty bad already, which is unfortunate because in the big picture, its cause is just.

Bloggers and legacy media deserve fair credit for stories

Monday, December 13th, 2010

In a public discussion Wed. of media coverage of the 2010 election, The Denver Post’s political editor Curtis Hubbard said if The Post reports on a news story that’s appeared previously in another outlet, the newspaper is committed to giving proper credit to the news outlet that broke the story.

The Post is “trying very hard to give credit where credit is due,” he told the audience of about 50 people. He said that, for his newspaper, this is a “sea change” in culture, but it’s only fair, he said, given that The Post wants credit for its work.

I called State Bill Colorado Editor Don Knox, who previously quoted Post a post editor saying the same thing, to discuss Hubbard’s statement, and he told me Friday that he’s seen “positive signs” at The Post lately.

“What I sense is that everybody is getting a bit better about it,” he told me. “But in the end, there’s no police, so you have to have the integrity to want to attribute.”

That’s the bottom line, and as Knox points out, if reporters do a Google News search prior to starting a story, they can usually determine if their story has been reported previously.

That part is easy, which isn’t meant to imply that reporters or bloggers or others always do it. Or that it always works for various reasons.

But this issue has layers of complicating factors.

When does a news story become sufficiently established as to become a fact of life, free for the taking without requiring a tip of the hat or a wag of the finger to anybody?

Knox says the length of time you continue to give credit for a scoop depends on the circumstances. “If you come in a month later, and write a story about it, and act like you’re breaking it, that’s where you should recognize other people’s entrepreneurial journalism.”

Semi-retired Post columnist Fred Brown, who’s written on journalism ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists, told me that once the “candidates are making a big issue of the story, the originating organization loses ownership of it.”

He also said: “I think one of the ways you make the story part of the accepted history of the campaign [so as to no longer require credit] is to further it. If you turn up a new fact, you credit the originating organization once, but after that, it’s as much your story as theirs because you’ve done reporting.”

What about a reporter who gets a story idea from another publication and then confirms the story independently from the same or a different source?

Knox says this is a “red herring.”

“It doesn’t matter whether I got it from an individual source or a publication, I still acknowledge the publication that had it first,” he said.

I asked Brown what he thought a news outlet should do if it discovers later that it failed to credit the work of a publication that reported on a story first.

He first said he sympathizes with reporters who might miss something due to the large number of news sources out there.

Then he said he’d first have to be convinced that another news organization had the story right. If so, he said, to be fair and credible, he’d write a clarification, possibly for the archive, or mention it in a follow-up story, if there were one.

“It’s not a huge ethical issue,” he said. “It’s more a matter of manners, to go back and give credit to the originating organization.”

Brown goes on to say that the public doesn’t care about who got it first.

And even big scoops can’t do much for newspaper sales these days, when news consumers get the same big news instantly as it spreads across the media.

But scoops are far from meaningless. In fact, they’re really important. They show people that a news organization is doing its job, doing reporting, breaking news.

Giving a news organization proper credit for its work, and abiding by reasonable fair-use policies, displays a basic understanding that journalism isn’t free. Proper credit helps the outfit that dug up the news pay its bills, through its ads that you see when you click through to its website to read more.

The name recognition for getting proper credit also helps. The links help. The respect helps. It adds up, and gives everyone, bloggers and legacy media, a chance to survive based on their own work.