The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, March 12, 2004

Just in case you felt like going soft on the New York Times...

A measure of the Times' true level of humility following the resignation in disgrace of Howard Raines and Gerald Boyd appears in Executive Editor Bill Keller's memo to Newsroom staff dated July 30 2003 (standing at the front of my copy of the Siegal Committee Report [1]:
Soon after a rogue reporter precipitated a period of anguish in our newsroom...

Like a Valley Girl screaming Me me me! the Gray Lady thinks first of her own convenience.

Just how superficial have been her amends since Jayson Blair's departure is indicated by the case of Robert Cox. I had not heard of Cox before, but his site, The National Debate majors on the question of the double standards applied by the NYT to the correction of errors: news errors are corrected by the paper, op-ed errors are the responsibility of the columnist.

(This is, of course, definitely in my wheelhouse: my February 23 piece on William Safire deals with the bizarre distinction.)

Cox created for his site a parody Times Corrections page. As the New York Daily News (March 12) relates, NYTC management despatched legal muscle in his direction to get him to review the situation. Or, at least,
Times copyright counsel Nancy Richman

Not surprisingly, the Times had deposited a horse's head [2] on the pillow of Cox's ISP. Whose courage under fire was, as might be expected, less than legendary.

(For those curious about the res, the offending page has been mirrored.)

Readers will recall that this is not the first time that criticism of the Times has been met with strong-arm tactics: the infamous sex slaves article by Peter Landesman (much discussed here [3]) was criticised by blogger Daniel Radosh, who received sundry threats from Landesman as a result (my piece of January 31).

My knowledge of US copyright law is not extensive. But I am aware that there is a particular indulgence towards parodies - the Eleventh Circuit famously found in favour of Alice Randall in relation to her reworking of Gone With The Wind (wittily entitled The Wind Done Gone) from the slaves' perspective [4].

But the point is that copyrights are being infringed all over the net (God help the Times if any keen-eyed blogger spots the Sanctum of Sanctimony bending the rules in any way!) - to go after small infringements which are neither lucrative to the infringer nor more than trivially damaging to the copyright-holder is to send a simple, unambiguous message: We are hard bastards: deal with it.

For the Times cannot be worried about the damage to its goodwill from Cox's breach of copyright: it's concerned with chilling criticism.

In these days of international tribunals at the drop of a hat, the notion of warfare without quarter [5] causes attacks of the vapours amongst milquetoasts who have seen combat only via the cathode-ray tube.

The Times' management is evidently not of their number. By its action against Cox, it's telling its critics that - the Blair fiasco notwithstanding - they can expect no quarter from the Gray Lady.

As a by-product, it clearly proclaims its lack of good faith in appointing ombudsman Daniel Okrent - who, as things are turning out, seems to be billed to play Good Cop opposite the Times' legal suits' Bad Cop.

To give such thuggish arrogance its due reward will not a simple or quick matter. It may never happen. But, here's hoping...

  1. Got from here some moons ago. The link still seems to be working.

    I find that the wretched thing is copy-protected! Why would that be?

  2. Memo to Times shysters: this is a metaphor. Try a dictionary - I shouldn't rely on Times copyeditors if I were you...

  3. Trace back from March 1 piece.

  4. What looks like a helpful paper on the subject (PDF). The GWTW case is called Suntrust v Houghton Mifflin - for those without infinite patience.

  5. It was common practice in the Pacific Theatre during World War 2, I believe.

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