Last Saturday the New York Times posted a PDF of a 1976 article by the legendary Boston sports journalist Clark Booth that appeared in the Real Paper, an alternative weekly that was published for several years in the 1970s. The article accompanied a column by Joe Nocera on football injuries, about which Booth wrote perceptively some 36 years ago.
I have to confess I didn’t think twice about copyright, figuring Booth, whom Nocera interviewed, had given him permission to reproduce his words. But now Boston Phoenix editor Carly Carioli has pointed out — rightly, in my view — that, in fact, the Times has violated the Real Paper’s copyright and that of the photographer(s) whose work was reproduced. And since the Phoenix acquired the Real Paper’s assets when the paper went out of business, the Times must answer to the Phoenix.
The Times’ reproduction clearly fails the fair-use test, most obviously on the grounds that it reposted the Real Paper article not for the purpose of commentary and criticism, but so that its readers could enjoy reading it. I imagine the Times could also get whacked for taking too much of the article (i.e., the whole thing). Even though it would be tough to argue that anyone lost any money as a result of the Times’ actions, another important fair-use test, I’d guess a judge would favor the Phoenix if it ever came to that.
But Carioli is not concerned with the negligible harm the Times has done to the Phoenix so much as he is with the behemoth’s rank hypocrisy. Former executive editor Bill Keller, now a Times columnist, has been obsessed with the nefarious forces whom he believes have been improperly profiting from Times content. And, Carioli notes, the Times reached out and killed a pretty cool iPad app called Pulse merely because it reproduced headlines without permission.
Writing that “copyright in this country is a goddamn mess,” Carioli continues: “We want an internet and an intellectual-property regime that rewards discovery and innovation. We won’t get it with copyright construed the way it is now.”
And we won’t get it with the Times saying one thing and doing another.
Addenda: (1) I had the privilege of copy-editing Clark Booth’s weekly sports column for a short time in 1990, when I was working at the Pilot, for whom he still writes; (2) you can also read Booth in the Dorchester Reporter.
Disclosure: I’m a contributor to the Phoenix, and was a staff member from 1991 to 2005. I have a standing disclosure here, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to remind people.