Protecting Newspaper Content II: Thieves are thieves

A reader wrote the following letter to Review-Journal columnist Vin Suprynowicz.


"Dear Mr. Suprynowicz:

"Throughout the years I have enjoyed your columns and have been privileged to hear you speak on more than one occasion. You might call me a "fan" of your work; so please know it will pain me to issue a call to boycott the RJ.

"Unfortunately, given the misguided "greenmail" approach taken by Righthaven to supposed "infringement," I am no longer willing to visit the RJ site and/or to open any email with a link to an RJ piece.

"Further, I will be sharing my opinion of the Review Journal/Righthaven with advertisers, activist groups, and my own close circle in the hopes that we can eventually demonstrate that we no longer wish to follow links to or read the RJ. "With regard and affection for your work -- C. Carter".


To which Vin replied:


"Hi, Mr. Carter --

"CEO Sherm Frederick replies "We will miss him."

"I believe the copyright laws -- authorized in the Constitution -- are still on the books. Although I'm not an attorney, and I have no role in crafting my employer's copyright defense policies, I don't believe that anyone who quotes a few sentences, properly attributed, or "splashes" the first few paragraphs of a copyrighted Review-Journal column and story, and then links back to the R-J Web site, has faced legal action, or would.

"To the best of my knowledge, anyone who believes he's falsely charged with a copyright violation can seek a summary dismissal, asking the court to demand that the complainant present prima facie evidence of theft before a case proceeds. I understand they can even seek attorneys' fees and costs if they can show the action was frivolous. Copyright laws are not obscure; those lifting others' content know full well they need advance permission in writing. In preparing my own books for publication, I allow WEEKS to laboriously seek "permissions" to quote even two lines from a song lyric, and scrupulously delete such material if proper permission cannot be obtained.

"The fact that those so charged, here, instead resort to urging letter-writing campaigns is interesting.

"Perhaps you believe that a news organization that spends millions of dollars per year generating its unique news content has no ownership right to that content, despite the copyright laws, and is legally required to just continue as a money-losing philanthropic venture for another year or two before closing its doors in bankruptcy. If so, your opinions about property rights differ from mine. It's not clear to me whether you are then volunteering to make good said closing newspapers' losses out of your own pocket, or whether you simply believe the country would be better off if we had no more credible professional news gathering companies, allowing the "bloggers" to simply parrot each other's rumors and inventions.

"How about storekeepers who wrestle thieves to the floor, hold them till the police arrive, and then show up in court to "press charges"? You urge that they all be boycotted, too? I'll bet you'd go further. I'll bet you'd favor the thief being encouraged to sue the storekeeper for "roughing him up."

"With all due respect, I don't know that I agree with Mr. Frederick, above. I don't think I will miss you. I have a far lower opinion of thieves than you appear to have. In fact, watching them copy my columns while interpolating their own content and pretending it's mine, watching them throw small merchants on the verge of bankruptcy by switching price tags and otherwise stealing merchandise below cost, I hate them with a passion. Lawsuits? They should have their goddamned hands cut off and nailed to the wall of City Hall.

"In my very personal, non-corporate, not-cleared-with-anyone opinion -- Vin Suprynowicz "


Vin gets it. Why more reporters and editors and even news executives don't is frankly hard to understand. It is their jobs and their profession is protected. You can read more of my thoughts on the topic here.