Archived: Ripping off Newspaper Websites Shortchanges Democracy


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 of 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.

Posted - Copyright © 2022 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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  1. Newspapers using Righthaven to turn copyright violations into a business model to make money through lawsuits cannot claim to be righteous. You could at least ASK that the copyrighted material be removed (what a concept) and THEN sue. The vast majority would take it down immediately, but the newspapers don’t care about that. They’re using lawsuits as a money making opportunity.

  2. Ryan: I just a few questions, and I’m not at all trying to be combative.

    You say it’s all about Sales and ROI and that content is last – but how do you get sales and ROI without content? How can you raise sales and ROI with content taking the backseat?

    No matter how many times you steal, “tweak” or re-post an article, someone had to come up with that original content. If all you do is focus on sales and ROI and run those journalists out of business by taking their work, it would seem you would quickly run out of content to steal…

  3. Even if your “cause is just” if you only create more injustice to try and combat it then you are no moral authority. Newspapers that have aligned with Righthaven have lost the moral authority by dealing with schiesters and scam artists like Righthaven. It used to be that newspapers would expose scams like this but now they are in bed with them.

    If stopping copyright infringement was their goal they wouldn’t seek to profit from it with dubious means. If they want to stop it they would hire a real law firm that works for their interests not one that fights for their own self interest. By dealing with Righthaven they lose the very copyright they are professing to defend. Righthaven is not damaged by copyright infringement because they do not publish the works they own the copyright to. This fact is making it difficult for them in court and will likely set court president that will damage the newspaper and in fact all the publishing industry.

  4. This is such a load of crap. Journalist and Newspapers need to stop crying and start innovating.

    First off, Mr. Journalist you better learn “Sales” cause that’s where it’s all at. Content is readily available anywhere and everywhere, so get off your high horse and adapt.

    Newspaper, wah wah, boo hoo, damn cry babies, you’ve been screwing advertisers for years and now it’s all biting you in the A$$.

    You can tell Righthaven idiots you better hurry and sue Google that’s probably the only way anyone found any of the stories in the first place. Also why your at it you better sue Topix, Yahoo, Aol and a handful of others, what a joke. (Sounds to me the law firm is broke or needs work)

    Protecting content that is so 2000, this is 2011 the social media era. You can’t stop anything from hitting the web if you post somewhere on the web, forget it.

    Check out Ruberts famous “The Daily” it got scraped in a matter of seconds before trying to hide on the Ipad or behind the payment wall, JOKE.

    Bunch of damn babies crying. Newspapers need to concentrate stricktly on “Sharing” and partnering with the more nimble of startups and bloggers and need to start working on producing ROI for there advertisers.

    I mean really, I pay $1000 to be on a newspaper homepage and you won’t even throw me in your twitter stream or Facebook stream, C’mon.

    I’m so glad I’m doing my part in the takedown of these pieces of none producing ROI entities that think they’ve been the powerhouses for so long. Watch out cause when I come to town it’s all about Revenue and Sales and Content is a distant last and you can bet your butt I’m going to aggregate from the so called big boys.

    It’s all about Sales and ROI, content very last, content is everywhere.

    Journalism has fundamentally changed and forever will be, it’s over, now go learn sales.

    I can launch a site in anytown, aggregate some news, sell advertising and make more than a Journalist working at some fancy Newspaper, what a joke.

    It’s over trying to save your content and if you don’t think so then let’s all welcome “Finese Writing” taking what you wrote and changing it up just a bit then re-posting. NOW WHAT, who’s content does that belong to, not you it’s different.

    It’s all a game, either play or get out.

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