As its parent company prepares to place some news articles behind a pay wall, The Denver Post is demanding that the political Web site ColoradoPols.com stop excerpting the newspapers' articles.
In a cease-and-desist letter made public on Wednesday, lawyers for MediaNews Group -- as well as Freedom Communications (parent company of The Gazette) and Swift Communications (which owns the Greeley Tribune) -- complain that Colorado Pols infringes the publications' copyright and misappropriates their "hot news" or time-sensitive exclusives.
"Your publication's wholesale, and unjustified, use of the news content published by our clients, which is produced at significant expense by them and from which your firm is deriving advertising revenue," states the letter, "constitutes multiple violations of our clients' rights."
News of the letter comes just several weeks after MediaNews confirmed that it intends to soon start testing a pay wall with a few newspapers.
Colorado Pols founder Jason Bane says the group-authored blog will stop excerpting from the newspapers. "There's thousands of other outlets out there," he says. "We don't need The Denver Post and people don't come to Colorado Pols to read The Denver Post."
He adds that the blog -- which draws around 700,000 page views a month -- always planned to stop excerpting articles that were behind pay walls, because readers wouldn't be able to click through to those articles without subscriptions.
While the newspapers mention that Colorado Pols garners ad revenue, Bane says that the total -- "a couple thousand a year, maybe" -- barely covers its hosting costs. "Technically we're profitable, but we're not talking much money," he says. Bane, like the other blog contributors, has a full-time job that is unconnected to the site.
The newspaper companies' letter details 12 instances in May when ColoradoPols.com allegedly posted between three and eight paragraphs of news articles from The Denver Post and other publications. On some occasions, Colorado Pols allegedly lifted the bulk of the article, but at other times the Web site allegedly posted only a small portion of the original.
Even though Colorado Pols links back to the original articles, the newspapers don't garner any "appreciable traffic" from the site, according to the letter. "The links inserted by Colorado Pols in the infringing excerpts of MediaNews Group's stories are generating no more than zero to five clicks to the underlying stories at The Denver Post's website," the letter states.
In a response posted online, Colorado Pols emphasized that the articles it excerpted were already available for free. "First off, you can't steal something that is already given away for free. This would be like Westword accusing you of stealing their newspaper by taking it out of one the FREE bins located all over town," the blog said.
But that theory might not carry much weight in court should litigation ensue, according to Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. "That statement is fraught with peril, and at its core, misunderstands copyright law," he says.
Goldman adds that content owners don't lose copyright protection because they make material available for free.
The blog's excerpts might still be considered a fair use of the original, but that would depend on several factors, including whether the posters took more than they needed to in order to comment on the matter.
The newspapers also complain that the site is misappropriating "hot news" by reposting (or rewriting) time-sensitive scoops, but that theory has proven controversial. In one pending matter, Google and Twitter have asked a federal appellate court to say that it no longer makes sense to allow companies sue for hot news misappropriation, given that publications can lose their exclusivity as soon as someone tweets the headline.