Ted Diadiun, the reader representative for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, posted a piece on Cleveland.com today (9/26) that could be characterized as a scare tactic to keep people away from blogging, or as he suggests a “public service” to make people aware of the dangers of publishing online.
He starts the article/opinion piece off by providing three lawsuits involving what he calls in quotes, “citizen journalists” (notice the pejorative use of quotes). I am unaware of two of the three cases he cites, nor does he actually link to anything that would provide information on these lawsuits. I am aware of one of them thanks to Groklaw. In particular this post regarding a concept called “implied license”.
This particular lawsuit was brought against Jan Klerks (linkedin profile according to Groklaw)who runs skyscrapercity.com which is basically a bbs or forum dedicated to architecture and skyscrapers. Allegedly, a commenter on Mr. Klerks forum cut and paste an article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and posted in it’s entirety on skyscraper.com. The company that in place of LVRJ is filing the lawsuit is called Righthaven LLC (no website, though dns shows a mail server (mail.righthaven.com)) and according to righthavenlawsuits.com has launched 134 copyright infringement claims against various websites, including Mr. Klerk’s, and has to date won and estimated $124,000 in settlements.
In Mr. Klerk’s case, I do not know if Righthaven issued a cease and desist notice but according to P.J.’s notes on Groklaw, Righthaven has been known to file lawsuits with no such notification. In this case, Righthaven sent the notice of litigation to the wrong address and so Mr. Klerk, who resides in Chicago, that there was a lawsuit against him until there was a Clerks Default on him but before a default judgement. He only found out about the case only because a reporter called him apparently. The judge in this case overturned the clerk’s default which means it will go to court since Mr. Klerk responded in a timely fashion.
Mr. Diadiun provides two pieces of advice, which is basically make sure you have proof of what you say online, and two to read a book about Internet law (by what appears to be someone whom he quotes in the article and is a lawyer who represents the “Online News Association”) and information on medialaw.org. Compare that to the lengthy thoughts posted on Groklaw’s coverage that follows this sentence:
Because this Righthaven defendant decided to fight, we get to see what works and what doesn't. Several things stand out to me:
I particularly like the part about not cut and pasting articles in their entirety without permission. Not only is it likely to get you sued, but it is also intellectually dishonest. At a minimum, it is certainly more enlightening that Mr. Diadiun’s in terms of advice and thoughts in my opinion.
However, I did look at medialaw.org as not only did he suggest that we read the site, but quoted someone from that organization with a scary quote that starts with “"You're not as anonymous as you might think,"” and goes on to inform us that web related litigation is on the rise and that we need to know the law.
The first thing I looked at is who the participating members of Media Law Resource Center; a who’s who of law firms, including local law firm of Baker & Hostetler LLP, and publishing and broadcasters. What I found particularly interesting is that included in the members is the owners of Righthaven LLC and LVRJ, Stephens Media LLC. Another member is Advance Publications, Inc. the owner of both the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com.
I would expect from a “Readers Representative” a little more transparency when linkng to an organzation, as valid and legitimate it may be, that may have a tad bit of bias in favor of media companies. Needless to say, that expectation was not met.
It really makes me question what role Mr. Diadiun really plays. His title is “reader representative” and on his profile page on Cleveland.com it says:
“As the reader representative, I encourage comments, complaints, suggestions, compliments, debates, questions about fairness or anything else dealing with The Plain Dealer that a reader might want to talk about. I respond to calls and e-mails, and write a Sunday column about whatever strikes me as the most interesting or intriguing journalistic issue of the week.”
Today’s article clearly falls in the category of what strikes him as “most interesting or intriguing journalistic issue of the week.” But the overwhelming sense I get from the nuances of the article is that “citizen journalists”, aka bloggers, “often-unschooled” (is that even grammatically correct?) should leave real publishing to real journalists. (I didn’t miss the irony that his profile links to his “blog” - I guess the difference is he’s paid by corporate media and citizen journalists” are not.)
So what is the role of “Reader Representative”? Who does he represent and to whom? I don’t read him that much nor do I really have the time to wade through his blog posts to find out. But I get the sense he represents the Plain Dealer to the readers, not the reader to the Plain Dealer. Which is just fine, it just make me take a grain of salt with everything he writes that I read since he is, if I am correct, just a PR channel for the Plain Dealer.
Another thing I found about this piece was the inherent discrepancy that he misses in his piece in in the details of Righthaven LLC vs Klerk. The piece is clearly warning online commenters as he spends some effort in comparing legal liabilities differences between newspapers and online (letters to the editor versus online comments). Based on what I read on Groklaw, Mr. Klerk did not post the offending material but rather a commenter to a site hosted by Mr. Klerk. If in fact, Mr Diadiun is correct an we are all liable for online comments and not the providers,then isn’t it also true that Mr. Klerk is in fact an “operator” and therefore not liable. Rather the commenter is liable. If that is in fact true, and it is borne out in court, then isn’t cleveland.com responsible for all the comments on it’s site? Clearly, I am not a lawyer and I am writing this while watching the Browns try to compete with the Ravens, and it is certainly possible that I am possibly completely wrong.
My conclusion is that contrary to his suggestion that his piece is a public service to us poor slobs, that it is really just another defense of a increasingly poor business. He throws up lawsuits to start the article as evidence of what could happen to us poor unschooled peasants without, seemingly, the understanding or providing more substantial information on the details of those lawsuits. Nor does he indicate in any form or fashion that the people he quotes about legal liabilities are made by individuals representing organizations whose membership includes the one who provides his pay check.
So, in fact, rather than a public service, all I see is a poorly disguised defense of corporate media for which he works. Certainly, what he suggests in the post is not wrong. You should be aware of your legal liabilities and certainly no one should be copy and pasting articles in their entirety without permission. But if the quality of transparency and research is the evidence of what I should expect from "schooled" professionals, then I’m certainly glad I don’t actually have a subscription.