By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

What’s the matter with Cleveland?

In my commentary for the Guardian, I take on the latest bad idea to come out of the Cleveland Plain Dealer — reader representative Ted Diadiun’s widely mocked claim that bloggers are “pipsqueaks” who steal content.

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Commenting on comments with Keller


A banner day for the Banner?


  1. jk

    Dan,If I may amiably say this, I'm appalled at the way your shorthand description of the Marburger brothers' proposal distorts what they said.Whatever Judge Posner may have said, the Marburgers very specifically did NOT propose a ban on linking to copyrighted content. What they propose is a change that would open the way for newsrooms to use copyright to challenge what they call "parasitic aggregators."That's not an attack on all aggregators; it's an attempt to define a subset that, the Marburgers argue, do everything but steal newspaper copy outright. Their proposal — at 50 pages, it has room to be very clear — acclaims the value of sites that drive traffic to newspapers with links. What they oppose are sites that, instead, siphon off that traffic by presenting almost-but-not-quite identical versions of stories, based not on their own reporting but on flatly rewriting the original. I'm not defending the proposal. But if you're going to criticize it, please critique it for what it really says.Look at it this way: They're arguing that copyright law as it stands now prevents theft only if the stolen object — the full story — remains in exactly the original condition. They want to allow that protection to extend to cases where the original has been slightly altered. I suppose they might argue it this way: If someone steals your car, but when the cops find it, the thieves have taken it apart and put it back together with different bolts, is it still theft?John Kroll

  2. aml

    jk: I read the proposal last night, but I don't think that your description is quite right either. The "car with the bolts replaced" analogy falls under the category of a derived work, and already has its place in copyright law. I don't think that Dan's is quite right either.It doesn't have to be almost-but-not-quite identical versions of stories, just enough of the underlying facts or ideas of the story to prevent the reader from needing to click through into it. A headline like "AL wins All Star Game" may not need to be clicked into but "The results of last nights game" might be.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    John: Thank you for checking in. I will read it. As my coverage of the Boston Globe/GateHouse Media fair-use battle shows, I'm not an absolutist on these things.I will defend my description of Schultz's description as 100 percent accurate. Has the Plain Dealer run a correction? And why didn't she link to the actual proposal in either her original column or her follow-up? At one point she suggests that she has linked to it, somewhere, but it's not clear where.

  4. Amused

    Wowzers. Guy uses the term pipsqueak in discussing bloggers who pontificate but don't report and the return fire is as purple as piece of prose that I've seen in quite a while.Basically the guy was involved in a "screw up," recorded on a "now-infamous video" which has now been reinterpreted to suggest he "hailed newspapers as the only legitimate source of journalism?" resulting in " self-immolation" which forced hinm to "eat a healthy helping of crow" next to "an amiable but appalled colleague" in order to be walked "back from the brink and undo at least some of the damage." Then, for merely having raised the issue of whether bloggers would even exist if they didn't rely on the work done by people who report for newspapers, we find his ideas branded as "a boneheaded amalgam of arrogance and ignorance" because he looked favorablly on "a colleague's bad idea" that work product remain the property of the people who created it.And to further condemn this man who suggests that a lot of blogging involves absolutely no reporting, refuge is sought in the "widely read" (whatever that means since there is no standard by which widely read can be judged) "Twitter feed," (limited in depth by design.)Then, because he engaged in further discussion, we find that he "admitted, essentially (a weasel word if ever there was one), that he didn't know what he was talking about when he claimed that bloggers don't do original reporting"Apparently, bloggers do some sort of public service by relying, and in come cases profiting, on the work of others, but all is well because "aggregators are driving traffic to those sites" from which the work originates.Isn't it a decision to be made by the creator of content whether traffic driven to their web sites is worth giving up the very essence of what makes their main product unique? And isn't it true that it very rare to find a blogger who breaks news based on original reporting, rather than merely interpret news, analyze news based on the reporting of others, or use print journalism to set an agenda from which their meager efforts at reporting originate?Suggestions that copyright laws be extended to protect original works from being used by bloggers and aggregators do not necessarily prohibit referring to news broken by the newspapers. To use the absurd example of Mr. Jarvis in his rant about the subject, if the Plain Dealer reported that a governor was off with an argentine bombshell, the story would be news in an of itself that could be reported, but you wouldn't be able to use the newspaper's work by long quotation or link until a certain time had passed. Jarvis also seems more interested in bomb-throwing than in rational discussion. Radio and television (and the wires) have long done stories based on newspaper pieces; they don't read them, they report on what the newspaper reported.Diadiun is dead-on when he talks of bloggers in that the overwhelming majority of them do precious little reporting. Unfortunately, he has hit a nerve and the bloggers seem to believe that the only appropriate response is name-calling, derision and exaggeration rather than discussion of the intellectual concept of whether someone who creates a work is entitled to copyright protection that is aligned with a universe in which technology has changed the very definition, if not the concept, of publication.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Amused: Gee, I was beginning to think you were going to quote every last word that I wrote. Have you checked the copyright laws? 😉

  6. aml

    Dan, she did link to the proposal in her original column. If you view a bit more than a dozen paragraphs down, there is an inset section that the main article flow around. That inset has two thumbnail images of relatively plain text laden pages. Each one of those thumbnails is a link to the PDF.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    ami: Ah, yes. I was looking in the column itself. I'm pretty tunnel-visioned when I read online. Not Schultz's fault — it couldn't be more prominent. It's just that it wasn't where I was looking for it.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    All right, then. I've now read the Marburger brothers' proposal — more quickly than I should have, but I think I was able to glean the highlights. I'd make the following points.1. John Kroll says he's "appalled" by my description of the proposal. But my purpose, frankly, was to criticize columnist Connie Schultz, who wrote a piece essentially endorsing the proposal. And I contend that my description of her description was entirely accurate — and not even that far off from the Marburgers' 50-page original.2. But my column, more than anything, was about Ted Diadiun. Weirdly enough, the Marburgers' proposal, which Diadiun sort of endorsed by proxy, makes absolutely no mention of bloggers, whereas Diadiun himself talked about nothing but bloggers.3. A wrinkle I had not expected was that the Marburgers say they have no problem with Google News, which they describe as a "pure" aggregator. Rather, their beef is with sites that could be construed as a substitute for the original, like Newser and the Daily Beast, which they call "parasitic" aggregators. I don't really disagree, and I'd add the Huffington Post to the list of parasites. The question, then, is whether we need a change in federal law.4. The Marburgers claim that changes in copyright law over the years have left newspapers with no legal recourse. Yet surely fair use, as currently understood, has plenty to say about parasitic aggregation. Earlier this year, the New York Times Co. and GateHouse Media settled a fair-use suit brought by GateHouse for practices almost identical to those decried by the Marburgers. The terms of the settlement were quite favorable to GateHouse, whose legal expert spoke of the Times Co.'s Boston Globe having created a "perfect substitute" for GateHouse's Wicked Local sites.To take another example — earlier this year Josh Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard, told Time magazine that he thought the Huffington Post might very well be vulnerable to a copyright-infringement suit. He called it "the site that has got closest to the line" on fair use.In other words, the Marburgers propose a change in federal copyright law to combat a problem that may very well yield a solution under our current understanding of copyright and fair use. I certainly stand by my description of that as a "bad idea." And I didn't need 50 pages to say it.

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