Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Don't get sued by the Trib

Posted By on January 18, 2011, 10:52 AM

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If you have a photo or a fully-reproduced article from the Salt Lake Tribune on your website or your blog, you may soon be sued for copyright violations.---

This has become an imminent issue, perhaps, now that the Tribune--like sister paper the Denver Post, also owned by MediaNews Group--has made an explicit warning to readers about its copyrights. Less than a month after a similar warning was issued by the Post, a blogger was sued for violating the Post's copyright. That's just one of over 200 lawsuits the newspaper industry has filed against alleged copyright infringers in the last year.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, hired-gun Righthaven LLC is working on behalf of news companies, suing alleged copyright violators.Righthaven's contracts with the newspaper companies, the Sun reports, give them retroactive power to enforce copyrights of the newspaper's content.

Unlike the record industry that sued mostly humble music fans for illegally sharing music online--including a fine of $80,000 per song against a single mother of four from Minnesota--Righthaven's clients are also suing powerful organizations.

The Las Vegas Sun, whose primary competition the Las Vegas Review Journal has employed Las Vegas-based Righthaven, has been the primary reporter on this issue.

From the Sun:

I checked court records in both state and federal court here in Utah: nothing from Righthaven (yet?).

In preparation for my story this week about the Tribune and the Deseret News blocking out local competition from receiving their content via the Associated Press, I asked Tribune editor Nancy Conway about the Post's copyright warning and what might be coming next for the Tribune. She said, "Every newspaper in this new media market has to be concerned about their own copyrights. We have prepared, as a matter of fact ... a reminder to our readers that our news stories, photos, etc., are copyrighted and they need to follow copyright laws. ... [But] we have no objection to fair use or people referring to our stuff."

What is fair use? Under U.S. law, no one can copyright the news per se, but one can copyright stories, or strings of words, essentially. Even those copyrighted stories, however, can be reproduced in part under the terms of "fair use." Here are some tips:

(Jesse Fruhwirth is not an lawyer. These tips have not been reviewed by a lawyer. This is not legal advice. You have no guarantee of not being sued even if you follow these tips. You should do your own research and seek competent legal counsel.)

  • Never reproduce more than a few paragraphs of a copyrighted story. If you want to be really safe, republish no more than one or two paragraphs.
  • It's safer to paraphrase copyrighted material than to copy and paste.
  • If you do copy/paste a portion, add a bit of commentary or additional news around the borrowed paragraphs to make clear that you are republishing a portion of the story as a means to comment on it or report the news.
  • Always provide a link back to the original story.
  • In addition to the link, always explicitly name the publication who owns the copyright as well as the author of the story.
  • Never republish a photo.

It's never entirely clear what the boundaries are between illegal and legal use of copyrighted news. According to the U.S. Copyright Office "The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

Righthaven is frequently seeking $150,000 or $75,000 in damages from its many defendants. We haven't seen eye-popping judgments of, say, $80,000 per article like we did in the music industry lawsuits because Righthaven has settled out of court with most defendants, the Sun reports. Those out-of-court settlements are private.

Just because Righthaven hasn't sued anyone in Utah courts doesn't mean they haven't begun filing suits based on Tribune copyrights. They could file suit in any federal court in the country. If you hear any more about this, please let us know.

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Jesse Fruhwirth

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