Blogger gives small paper publisher a lesson in plagiarism and copyright law

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This is impressive. Duane Lester, a blogger based in northwest Missouri, posted a lengthy article about the Holt County Sheriff's Department response to an audit report. He took a considerable amount of time to read the audit report, conducted interviews with the auditor and the sheriff, and turn it all into a readable but detailed story. It's the sort of story small town papers used to run and should still be running.

Imagine his surprise when, 10 days later, his article appears verbatim, typos and all, on the front page of a weekly newspaper, the Oregon (Mo.) Times Observer. The paper did not seek Duane's permission, didn't even provide attribution. According to the Missouri Press Association, the paper has a weekly paid circulation of 1,100.

After consulting with a couple of bloggers who are also attorneys, Duane wrote a letter to Bob Ripley, Oregon (Mo.) Times Observer managing editor and publisher, asserting his copyright. Attached was an invoice for the cost of running the piece, a modest $500. He then went to the office and spoke directly to Ripley, who seemed ready to get in Duane's face and tell him to perform an anatomical impossibility until the little lady in the office (Ripley's wife?) mentioned the camera.

Clearly busted for plagiarism and copyright violation, Ripley complies with the demand for payment, but writes a synonym for bovine excrement in the memo line of the check. Throughout the whole confrontation, Duane is calm and composed. Duane then memorialized the encounter with a post on his blog, including the video of the encounter:

Duane explains why he's captured the event for posterity:

I have been asked why I'm writing this article. Some think it might be an "IN YOUR FACE!" kind of article.

It isn't.

It's to demonstrate the importance of standing up for yourself and your rights, regardless. It's to show how to protect your work from those who would steal it.

It's not hard when you are right.

Consult with others, get your ducks in a row and demand respect for your work.

If you don't, who will?

Here's what I suspect happened: Someone started sending around an email with the text of Duane's entry, but without attributing it to him or providing a link. When it reached Ripley, perhaps he had no clue who had written it, but thought it would save him writing a story. A Google search on a distinctive phrase would have turned up Lester's original piece easily enough.

It's amazing to see how brazen Ripley is. A willingness to apologize would have solved matters very quickly.

Although I don't have an explicit statement on the site (though I soon will), everything I've written here on BatesLine is under my copyright, as are all my columns and news stories for other publications. (You may recall that I quit writing for UTW rather than sign a freelance agreement signing over all the rights to my work to them.)

UPDATE: Corrected the headline -- Ripley is the publisher, but I don't know for sure that he is the owner. Also, I now have an explicit copyright statement at the bottom of the home page. It will be at the bottom of every page as soon as I do a site rebuild.

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Andrew said:

"When it reached Ripley, perhaps he had no clue who had written it, but thought it would save him writing a story."

You're correct in saying that they could have found the original author with a Google search.

They seemed to know who Duane was and that he was from the Maryville, MO area. I think they knew exactly who he was when he handed them that business card.

Great post, Mr. Bates.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 14, 2012 7:50 PM.

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