Bloggers Beware! Copyright Laws Apply to You, Too.

 

There is a battle developing between bloggers and traditional print newspapers.  The battle is over content, and copyright law is at the heart of the dispute.  And, I believe that the battle is likely to spread from newspapers to other on-line content providers.

 

Is this a serious matter for bloggers?

 

Yes.  There have already been lawsuits filed against bloggers over content.  So, it’s important for bloggers to understand what this new trend is, and how to guard against claims and lawsuits.  I believe in prevention over the cure.  That means that I am first a “teacher” of the law to my clients.  If I can empower my clients with information and knowledge about the law and the legal consequences of their decisions, then they are more likely to make the right business and legal decisions in the future, even when I’m not around to help them.  Knowledge leads to wisdom, right?  So, the more knowledge you have, the wiser your decisions will be.

 

Plus, who wants to pay their lawyer to review each blog before its posted?

 

Why a battle now?

 

Increasingly, newspapers are seeing their markets evaporate as fewer and fewer people read the daily paper.  Subscriptions nationwide have been falling for years, and the trend seems to be increasing in pace.  Just in the past few months, we have witnessed dozens of newspapers stop printing second or weekend editions, or close their doors altogether.  Many newspapers are consolidating sections.    Here’s some of the carnage:

 

Rocky Mountain News-          shut down

The Journal Register Company-   bankruptcy

Philadelphia Enquirer-     bankruptcy

Chicago Tribune-    bankruptcy

Minneapolis Star Tribune-      bankruptcy

San Francisco Chronicle–    near death

Seattle Post-Intelligencer-    online-only publication

Gannett, owner of USA Today-   dividends slashed

The New York Times-   dividends slashed

Cincinnati Post-    dead

New York Sun-   dead

 

So, as a result, two things seem to be happening in the newspaper world:

 

#1-   Some newspapers are becoming non-profit, public interest entities.  Examples of this are ProPublica (“investigative journalism in the public interest”) and MinnPost.com.  ProPublica is funded by the Sandler Foundation and other trusts, while MinnPost.com gets funds from certain trusts, the wealthy and foundations.

 

#2-  For-profit newspapers are trying to generate revenue on-line. 

And that’s where you come in, my fellow bloggers.

 

The for-profit on-line papers cannot charge readers for content, if bloggers are copying, re-posting or re-blogging meaningful parts of the newspaper’s articles, especially original stories/works generated by a single paper.  Readers won’t pay the papers for the same content you’re giving away for free.

 

EXAMPLE OF ONE LAWSUIT-     Silicon Alley Insider, a business blog, got sued for quoting 25% of Peggy Noonan’s article in a February issue of the Wall Street Journal.  And get this, Silicon Alley Insider even gave credit to and referenced Dow Jones, which publishes the WSJ.

 

Amazing, right?  You’d think that the WSJ would appreciate the free marketing.

 

The reality is that newspapers are nervous, and nervous companies do stupid things.  Take the music recording industry, for example.  Those geniuses started suing individual music lovers for on-line music sharing.  There was virtually no attempt to be creative in preserving their market share or generating other income streams.  Rather, they elected to sue their client-base and sought huge punitive damages awards.

 

Today, we are starting to see the same knee-jerk, reactionary approach from print newspapers.  I fully expect the trend to escalate.  So should you.

 

This blog entry is getting too long.  So, I’ll follow up on this soon.  In a future blog, I’ll explore the arguments on both sides.  This concerns federal copyright law and a concept known as “fair use.”  I’ll explore copyright rules and the “fair use” defense, and I’ll try to help you understand how this new trend might impact your “scraping,” copy-paste practices , and re-blogging.

For now, please recognize that you can’t fight City Hall, and you can’t fight Dow Jones either.  Most bloggers are too small to wage a legal battle with a large newspaper, even if the paper is slowing dying.  So, start to develop the mindset that you’re going to have to exercise more caution than you did before reading this blog; review your policies and procedures for re-blogging content; and develop ways to minimize the risk of drawing fire from an angry source you quote or paraphrase.  It may be that you’ll have to start getting permission in advance to re-blog meaningful amounts of someone else’s content.  You might have to change several things you do now.  For now, just start thinking about this topic.

 

Keep reading.  More to come.

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