Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Issues of Newsprint Plagiarism in the Digital Age

In an incident currently making the rounds on social news sites, blogger Duane Lester comes face-to-face with the potential stubbornness of print-based media. Lester's exploits, published on the site All American Blogger on May 14th, 2012, chronicle his efforts to assert a claim of copyright against a small-town newspaper in Oregon, Missouri who stole an article he published on May 1st nearly word-for-word. This incident is interesting not only because of the immediate case itself, but also due to Lester's use of Internet technologies to help his cause.

Upon finding his work so heavily plagiarized, Lester's initial course of action was to seek legal advice from Twitter user @AskACyberLawyer, who answers questions from Twitter users concerning "cyber law, from copyright to commerce, and everywhere in between." According to his account of the incident, Lester also made use of other online resources to draft up a letter with a claim of copyright before driving to the offices of the Oregon Times Observer and confronting the editor in person. Continuing with this theme of utilizing available web technologies, Lester also filmed the confrontation, in which Bob Ripley, the paper's Publisher and Managing Editor, was slow to comply with Lester's request for monetary compensation.

Lester's story, which was picked up on sites such as BoingBoing and The Daily Beast, pierces straight to the heart of conflicts surrounding copyright in a digital age. Massive Internet entities such as Facebook and Tumblr actively promote a culture of copying and sharing, often in the form of "light" content such as text or images. While these sites may not strike up high profile notoriety for sharing and distributing "heavy" copyrighted works, such as Hollywood films or commercially produced music, this culture of sharing nevertheless pushes the boundaries of reasonable copyright violation, as evidenced by an upcoming lawsuit against Tumblr. To put it simply, the ease of access to so much content sharing in online entities has the potential to create a sense of security for sharers online, masking serious issues of copyright infringement which Lester decided to actively fight.

Whether or not the paper's editor Bob Ripley was influenced by this sense of online security may never be known. However, Lester's actions demonstrate that such violations, especially by members of commercial media outlets, do not come without consequence. As commentator mazzworld2002 states on Gawker's coverage of the story, "If anything, an old-timer should know more about copyright and plagiarism than you youngsters with your Napster and your Bittorrent and your mash-ups and your.... dagnabbit!" Nonetheless, Ripley's attitude towards the incident might best be summed up in his statement written on the "For" line on Lester's compensation check, which according to the YouTube video, simply reads "Bull shit."


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is an incredibly interesting story to people like me who have been following plagiarism and piracy stories involving digital news for a while. The irony, of course, is that large traditional media companies (like AP) have in the past complained about bloggers cutting and pasting stories written for newsprint into their online forums without properly giving credit where credit is due. Here we not only have a switcheroo case in which print steals from digital, but we also see sites like Twitter and YouTube -- along with mega-blog sites like BoingBoing and the Daily Beast -- all play a role.