Newspaper Legal Impasse Gets Curiouser

UPDATE: The blog Ed News Colorado takes its own issue with the Post:

We’re happy to credit  the Post when referencing a story from the only remaining city daily so we have no problems with the Post  copyright policy prominently displayed yesterday on its website. We would ask, however, that the newspaper follow its own guidelines:

But fair use of our content restricts those who want to reference it to reproduce no more than a headline and up to a couple of paragraphs or a summary of the story. (We also request users provide a link to the entire work on our website).

In a Post editorial, also published yesterday, the paper referred to original work by Education News Colorado and neither gave us credit nor included a link, though our partners at 9News did so prominently:

Recent news reports in Colorado in which some educators are questioning whether a sharp rise in drug offenses in schools is attributable to medical marijuana could be devastating to legalization efforts.

Apparently the policy applies only to other people.

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The Denver Post published an unusual notice yesterday, which seems to pertain to their legal threats against this blog earlier in the year. We’re not entirely sure what to make of this notice in relation to the letter the Post’s attorneys sent us in May, but we’re pretty sure what they assert in this notice relating to the use of their copyrighted material cannot apply to us.

To recap, we were sent a letter in May from attorney Christopher Beall, representing the owners of the Denver Post, the Colorado Springs Gazette, and various local papers owned by Swift Communications. This letter made a number of assertions about our blogging practices that we dispute, and ordered us to stop quoting any material from these publications. There’s a very clear demand in the letter, which bears no resemblance to what the Post wrote on Sunday. From the letter:

Please be advised that our clients hereby demand that Colorado Pols cease and desist from any and all unauthorized literal copying from our clients’ newspapers or websites, i.e., from any of the publications operated by MediaNews Group, Freedom Communications, and Swift.

Our clients reserve all their rights with respect to this matter, including their right to seek injunctive relief to halt your website’s unlawful conduct.

Not even with a prominent cite and link, which we always gave. Not even a headline or “a couple of paragraphs” as the law plainly allows under fair use. Nothing. The Colorado Statesman left no ambiguity on this point in their interview with Beall:

If the news organizations just wanted the website to post briefer excerpts and be sure to add some commentary, why initiate the discussion with such a hard-line stance? Beall said confusion about the law required hitting hard out of the gate.

“The position we stake out is, if you want to be sure you’re not infringing, don’t engage in any literal copying,” he said. [Pols emphasis]

This demand was and remains well in excess of their legal rights, and significantly beyond the policy described in the Denver Post’s published notice yesterday. At no point has the Post attempted to reconcile the unreasonable and legally unjustifiable demands made on us in their attorney’s letter with this published notice, which appears to comport better with the law.

In the absence of something concrete rescinding the demands improperly made on us, this notice doesn’t change a thing in terms of our relationship with these newspapers. We will continue to avoid quoting their material in all cases, and avoid linking whenever possible–which it usually is. We ask all Colorado Pols users to follow the same guidelines.

There have been cases where individual reporters at the Post and other outlets involved in this dispute have obtained an exclusive scoop, or done an exceptionally good job with the details of a given story. In those cases we have, at our sole discretion, given a link to them. We can only say again that we regret being unable to freely highlight the work of journalists who we do value, but the decision to prevent us via draconian legal threats from doing so was not ours.

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