Friday, June 11, 2010

When Newspapers attack

I mentioned the issue, a favorite site of mine www.whatbrianthinksaboutlasvegas.com, is experiencing in my Friday Thoughts post for the week. http://lifeandtimesincleveland.blogspot.com/2010/06/friday-thoughts-6112010.html

I wanted to get into it a bit further and provide some additional background. I started using a variety of Vegas Forums about 5 years ago, at the time there were a number of us that visited Las Vegas Talk and paid for memberships that allowed us to post in an off topic forum, just for daily discussions. At one point, the moderators had some issues with posters and there were a fair number of Internet trolls that continued to harass a fair group of us. Brian decided to create his own site and forum for people to chat on.

The forum itself has a number of sections, but most of the public areas are fairly desolate, and to say that it's essentially a web posting board for friends with common interests wouldn't be out of line . The traffic that the site gets is likely due to the repeat members who congregate in the private forums for discussion. However, he does have a fair number of public forums where people discuss Vegas, and while not a very active forum compared to some others, there is a good deal of information there. One of his forums is a news forum, that one of the posters regularly updated with interesting stories about Vegas, the stories were often copied over and provided with links to the reporting source. These subjects were probably the biggest generator of posts for the public forum, as it provided some interesting discussion for the group as all of them are fairly savvy Vegas travelers.

The Las Vegas Review Journal "LVRJ" recentlyemployed the services of Righthaven LLC to pursue copyright infringement suits on it's behalf. The LVRJ has transferred it's copyright for many articles to Righthaven LLC. who has then initiated lawsuits against 37 websites, which includes for the most part blogs, forums, and other sites of that nature. By most accounts reported by the LV Sun, these are small operators at best, with a variety of sole ownership and nonprofit organizations.

The RJ and Righthaven content that the websites fall outside the lines of 'fair use'. From my contracting experiencing, 'fair use' is one of those wonderful phrases that tends to be open to deep interpretation of what constitutes such. Many of the comments to date on various websites focus around the fact that the LVRJ will not provide guidelines of what they consider 'fair use' (vegashappenshere.com put up a post on the issue). In my experience, I wouldn't expect the LVRJ to provide such a guideline because they are perfectly content with the term being ambiguous in this case.

Which brings me to my point, the LVRJ and Righthaven appear to be utilizing this ambiguous term for profit gain, rather then any defense of copyright. There are a number of factors which I base this theory on.

1. They have not provided any type of Cease and Desist request to the offending sites. They've filed suit immediately, the LV Sun is reporting that the suits are for $75,000 overall or a per dollar charge dependent on the number of hits the article got.

2. They've made no attempt at providing a framework for online resources to link to their content or reference it. Their is no requirement for the LVRJ to do so, however, not doing so brings me to the conclusion that they are not interested in cooperation.

3. The sites they have gone after are all tiny in comparison to any other media source. As non-profits and sole owned sites, most will not have the resources to acquire counsel for defense against the suits. By the LV Sun's reporting that in many instances they've been seeking out settlements for the issue, it appears much more so to be about revenue then protecting copyright in these instances. If this was truly about copyright infringement, wouldn't the largest perpetrators be the ones targeted by the RJ, given Facebook and Twitter's vast network and ability to link to articles and post content, I'd have to believe that there would be a fair number of violations according to Righthaven and the LVRJ's current belief on what constitutes infringement.

Those are my thoughts on it. My hope is that things work out for all of the owners of the sites that had similar purposes to what to the owner of www.whatbrianthinksaboutlasvegas.com intended for his site to be. I also wish him the best, while I've only talked to him virtually over the course of the last few years, I know from his postings on Facebook and the forums, that we share a lot of the same ideals and philosophies and would gladly buy him a drink the next time our paths cross in Vegas.

For the time being, I'm completely boycotting any association with the LVRJ. Which means for me no visiting the site for them to gain ad revenue from my visits and unfollowing any account associated with the paper on Twitter. It's not much, but if you utilize any of these services, I would encourage you to do the same.

I understand that our brick and mortar media is facing severe challenges in this new digital age, and I also understand the need to protect their copyrights. What I don't agree with is the manner in which the LVRJ is going about this , from a public relations standpoint it's a disaster and if the issue was truly about 'protection', my assumption is a cease and desist letter to these sites likely would have resulted in the pulling of material on at least 90% of them if not all of them.

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