What’s Right Is Right

by Sonny Bunch on May 15, 2012

A blogger wrote an article about an item of local news and published it. Several days later, a local newspaper—a mom and pop-style organization, from the look of things—reprinted his article in full. As the blog’s author, Duane Lester, puts it: “The only differences I see is the removal of “MO” from the headline and someone added a paragraph to the end of the article, blaming the sheriff for the downgrading of the county’s rating. Other than that, the scraping of the article was so complete, it included my sub-heading and my typos.”

In response, he went to the newspaper, showed them where the original story came from, and demanded payment ($500) from the proprietors who basically just kind of looked surprised that what they were doing is wrong. A video of the encounter is below:

Well done, sir! I salute you for your efforts. His intellectual property was stolen without renumeration and he demanded, and received, satisfaction.

I’d like to shift away from Lester, however, and ask a few questions of the pro-piracy* crowd.

  • Given that the marginal cost of reproducing Lester’s piece was essentially zero, he shouldn’t really expect any payment higher than that, right?
  • If the clueless proprietors of this newspaper had known that he’d want payment for the piece they probably wouldn’t have run it, so Lester wasn’t actually losing out on any money when they ran it anyway, right?
  • Really, Lester’s biggest crime is expecting too much money in payment; if he charged a more reasonable fee (say, $25), then local newspapers would be flocking to him in droves, would they not?
  • They changed the subhed and added their own paragraph to Lester’s piece; is this not fair use and a “remix” of the original article?
  • Lester suffered no loss—he still had the original blog post!—so this isn’t “stealing” or “theft,” right?**
It’s easy to justify bad behavior when we’re talking about HBO and Game of thrones or the music industry. It’s much harder when we’re talking about one of our own, isn’t it?

 
*”We’re not ‘pro-piracy,’ we just understand the economic rationale behind piracy, excuse the behavior of pirates, bolster their misdeeds with our intellectual efforts, fight to keep open the peer-to-peer sites used predominantly for piracy, blame the victim for suffering piracy by charging unreasonable prices, don’t want to ‘break‘ the Internet to stop piracy, etc.” Spare me.

**Tip of the homburg to Victor Morton for that one.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew May 15, 2012 at 8:40 am

Duane could have sued for copyright infringement. The minimum penalty under the law is $750 and ranges up to $300,000.

The amount he billed them for was reasonable in that context.

Mr. Ripley could have reprinted the article for free if he’d contacted Duane and gotten permission. Duane told me the he would have given it to Mr. Ripley for the cost of a byline.

Reply

Sonny Bunch May 15, 2012 at 8:42 am

To be clear, I think Duane was entirely in the right. This post is aimed less at him than those who excuse piracy on a larger scale (e.g., illegally downloading TV shows, CDs, etc.). It’s an ongoing, quixotic battle I’ve been waging (losing?) for nigh-on a decade now.

Reply

Nathan Tankus May 15, 2012 at 8:36 pm

what they did was plagiarism. I know of no “pro-piracy” people who support that. Most people who write software for free have creative commons copyrights on that work. In addition, I also know of no “pro-piracy” people who think it’s right to profit off of someone else’s work in that way. you are fighting a straw-man.

Reply

Sonny Bunch May 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm

No no, not plagiarism, “remixing.” They materially changed the source material by adding grafs and changing headlines. They altered the original in a significant way and added new information. Totally acceptable.

Reply

buster May 15, 2012 at 9:37 pm

If I understand you correctly, so long as the victim is properly acknowledged, it’s “only” piracy, and not plagiarism. Wow.

Reply

Sonny Bunch May 15, 2012 at 9:41 pm

You, sir, are not familiar with concepts like sarcasm.

Sorry, thought that was referencing my comment, not Nathan Tankus’. Danger of answering comments directly from the dashboard.

Reply

Nedward May 15, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Apparently the new toilet-paper point-of-the-week for the anon pirate Fawkes lulz brigades is, “If somebody steals your car you’ve lost a car but how did I steal your Dexter season 3 when you still have it”

One would expect the obvious counter to be, No, you’re actually ripping off all the people who subscribe and thereby furnish capital to make it worth Viacom’s while to produce nonsensical shows about jaunty serial killers. However thanks to their open methodology the sophistry firmwares are getting patched at amazing speed, undoubtedly now rendering such a rebuttal obsolete.

Reply

Capt Mike May 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm

I am astonished at the foolishness of either bloggers or journalists that fail to attribute source material, and to add a link.

I first read of the ‘Rules’ at Don Surber’s great newspaper blog . . . and one of them is to cultivate others as a way to increase the interest in your own blog.

If the paper had simply called, or even emailed, to ask permnission to reprint with due credit, the original author might well have granted that permission for nothing other than the free advertising (and better, the implied approval of his work).

Best Regards,

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: