Saturday, September 4, 2010

R-J Finally Covers Its Own Copyright Efforts

With the exception of some commentary by publisher Sherman Frederick -- and on his blog, not in print, I believe -- the Review-Journal has not covered its own unusual and very newsworthy efforts to enforce its copyrights via a large spate of lawsuits against all sorts of websites. That has been left to Steve Green of the Las Vegas Sun, who has done a terrific job.

Until today.

The decision to sue U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle for $150,000 and ownership of her domain name, it seems, tipped that balance. That moves this matter into a campaign issue rather leaving it as just a journalistic or technology story, so today courts reporter Carri Geer Thevenot put it in print.

Unfortunately, she allowed Righthaven LLC CEO Steve Gibson to reference me incorrectly and didn't provide me any chance to respond, nor did she quote from this blog the passages that would contradict him.

"Hopefully, Mr. Friess will understand that our present action against Ms. Angle demonstrates that we don't follow a political agenda," Gibson said.

Huh? I never said otherwise. In fact, what I said was that because they have shown they wouldn't discriminate on that basis, they were dutibound to follow through on this. On Aug. 23, I wrote:

The Righthaven approach is to sue first, ask questions later and Gibson has been proud of not taking an ideological slant in which sites they attack. This means even if Angle takes these down, they still must sue her and pursue damages.

See? I just thought it would make for a fascinating political sideshow. I had my doubters, of course, but I was right. And that's always fun.

The R-J's first entry here was a straightforward courts story, though, and it lacked any balance other than an attempt to reach the Angle campaign for comment. What Carri didn't do was contact experts in copyright or Internet law to find out or explain to readers how unusual, controversial and legally confusing this effort is. And, by the by, yesterday Righthaven also won a legal victory in which a judge refused to dismiss the lawsuit against a Texas website owner accused of infringement. So at least that could have been mentioned, even if the news broke too late to do the other sort of coverage I just mentioned.

The Angle campaign didn't respond, but Thevenot might have taken notice that they have, in fact, removed the full stories from their site and provided a link after a few paragraphs to the ReviewJournal.Com. Here's an example of what it looked like then...

...and now:

It's also disappointing that Thevenot had access to people who could answer some important questions and either didn't ask or couldn't get those answers. For instance, why did they only sue the campaign for the two pieces when I counted at least half-dozen? Will they now be going after the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, too, and risk angering a potentially very lucrative advertiser? Have they let the Las Vegas Advisor suit languish in order to preserve the source relationship between Anthony Curtis and R-J journalists? On what basis have they settled with some of the defendants?

Also, while I support efforts to enforce copyright, I am skeptical that Righthaven can wrest away a domain name that contains someone else's intellectual property, i.e., someone's name. There is case law on this, as I cited in the prior post. They may be able to sue and even shut down a website, but can they seriously come to possess SharronAngle.Com? And why would they even want to?

Maybe now that the R-J has begun to cover itself, we'll get the answers. In the meantime, let's see where it goes. By not commenting, of course, Angle's side has guaranteed this story gets a few more news cycles before it quiets down, if it does at all.


Anonymous said...

Hmm ~ I've been doing a little research to see if all of this violates the Federal Voting Rights Act(s) and the interpretations of same the courts have applied.

This is some very dangerous business messing with a lawful political party or two, and candidates.


Some of the federal civil rights laws include prison terms for folks messing around with candidates and voters and donors.

I suspect the lawyers didn't do much beyond brief their client's rights ~ but these civil rights laws concerning voting and campaigns force you to examine the voters' rights.

Could be a lot of fun when the New Senate with Senator Angle takes this up in January.