Sherman’s “little friend”

Posted on | September 2, 2010 | 3 Comments

When Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick assured his own readers yesterday that anyone who posts an article from his newspaper without securing copyright permission “will meet my little friend called Righthaven,” he sounded like a thug, which he clearly intended and enjoyed, but mostly he came off like the kind of fool that has so successfully reduced Las Vegas to one of the most depressed and depressing places in America.

Frederick argued that by using Righthaven, a company suing an ever-expanding array of non-profits, internet bulletin boards and even a local PR firm for unpermitted reproduction of R-J content, he is saving newspapers in an age of rampant internet pilfering.

With saviors like that, who needs a wrecking ball? As held earlier on this site, what Frederick really is doing is rendering R-J content worthless. For a perfect example of how, turn to the paper’s arch rival, the Las Vegas Sun, which yesterday reported that on Tuesday Righthaven “sued Kirvin Doak Communications, a longtime source of news and advertising revenue for the Review-Journal.”

According to the Sun, Frederick is suing Kirvin Doak Communications for reprinting a story made possible in part by information supplied by the PR.

The hot content involved a Celine Dion concert. Frederick’s litigiousness might be funny if it only punished promoters of ear-splitting singers, however, almost from the start of the suing spree, it has corrupted every corner of his newsroom. Last spring, for example, when Righthaven filed suit against the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada for posting articles on its internet bulletin board, in one fell swoop Frederick discredited all the R-J reporting on the desert city’s water policy.

Why? PLAN represents the conservation community of Southern Nevada. You can’t contact an organization for comment, then sue it for posting the article containing its own comment, then expect its members or allies to talk to your reporter again, or for anyone to trust what you print. You can, however, politely contact the organization and ask them not to post the entire article on their web site, but to link to your website and keep it civil while retaining public trust. As it is, Frederick has done nothing but add fuel to the idea that he is using his newspaper to destroy the conservation movement.

No observer is more delighted by Frederick’s war on his reporters’ own sources than the Las Vegas Sun, which has been doing a dandy job reporting Frederick’s march to the sea through his own newsroom. This being Las Vegas, however, even this grudge match is gamed. A joint operating agreement means that the libertarian R-J and the solidly Democratic-leaning Sun are distributed bound-up together. You can’t get one without the other.

None of this bodes well for newspapers or a profoundly depressed Las Vegas. Soon the only thing selling in Southern Nevada may be moving vans. Note to U-Haul: Whatever you do, don’t post any R-J stories mentioning the rate of people fleeing.

*Hat tip to ABM for alerting me to Frederick’s post. This post has been updated. The headline has been changed.


3 Responses to “Sherman’s “little friend””

  1. Susan Lynn
    September 2nd, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    Emily, thanks for pointing out the obvious!

    Any newspaper with buttons marked “share with a friend” or “email this article” or that encourages Facebook/Twitter/etc can’t possibly be serious about protecting copyrights?


    I was stunned when they sued PLAN, but I’m even more stunned by the “threats” of further suits. And by the time one gets permission, it’s old news.

  2. Chris
    September 2nd, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

    Well, I agree with the LVRJ up and to a point. I don’t think it is fair if someone copies and entire article to their website, whether they post a link to it or not. After you have read the whole article, why bother to go visit the website? Those who were copying the entire article should have known they were doing something wrong.

    The more troubling cases are the ones where they are suing for people using excerpts – in one case, copying four paragraphs of a 34 paragraph article.

    The lawsuits bring up the question as to what exactly is fair use on the internet, something that really hasn’t been determined as of yet. There are no hard and fast rules, so we’re all just guessing.

    But since they are targeting mostly broke bloggers and cat blogs, or, in other words, people who can’t afford high-priced copyright lawyers, (and most of whom copied the entire article and are truly guilty anyway, IMO) who knows it we’ll see any ruling on it.

    So far, the only thing that has happened in a court is that the judge refused to throw out the case because Righthaven didn’t own the copyright at the time of infringement. Then they ended up settling.

    The Las Vegas Sun says they like being linked to, it’s good for website business. The LVRJ says don’t link to us, and if you do, we’ll sue. We’ll see who fares better in the long run, I guess.

    (The interesting thing to me is that out of all of the cities in the country, it seems to me that Las Vegas newspapers would benefit most from being linked to from all over the country. They could exploit this by targeting ads for travel deals that displays for those links coming in from out of state. Seems to me they would benefit from that, more so than most other newspapers.)

  3. EmilyGreen
    September 2nd, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

    Thanks for the comments. I agree that posting an entire article is an error and am extremely interested in linking protocols. The R-J suing over minor infractions instead of sending polite warnings strikes me as a case of cracking a nut with an atom bomb. The Sun policy seems much more sane and ultimately business friendly. I’m with you also Chris in being very interested whose model ultimately works. Yet aside from the webby side of this, my concern is the cost of Frederick’s tactic, which has been abdication of basic journalistic ethics, which in turn renders to nil the value of his product. It is a central canon of journalism that you cannot be involved with your source, either too cozy or locked in acrimony; this amounts to stirring the pot while reporting on the direction that the soup is taking. In the case of PLAN and the R-J, it is wildly unethical for the R-J to be pulverizing a non-profit in court while reserving the right to report its opposition to the Great Basin water project (which the R-J editorial board and Frederick strongly support). Even the appearance of impropriety is every bit as serious an ethical breach as actual impropriety. The upshot is that everything the R-J prints on the groundwater project proposed by Las Vegas is fatally compromised, regardless of the propriety of the beat reporter. Frederick is talking about saving newspapers; this can’t be done by discrediting his newsroom.

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