Taking a sauna at a West Hollywood bathhouse with Michael Huffington last night the thought occurred to me to ask him about his ex-wife’s liberal news website--The Huffington Post. “Mikey,” I said, “people are saying that Arianna’s news lackeys are unfairly and illegally using copyrighted material to stuff their pages full of content. Whatcha think about that?”
“That dumb bitch is going to kill my Google stock if she doesn’t knock that crap off,” he erupted. “I wish she’d take some lessons from my buddy Perez.”
On cue, gossip-blogger-turned-erstwhile-beauty-pageant-judge Perez Hilton popped up from Michael’s lap.
“Dumb bitch,” chimed in Hilton, “I’ve got the easiest gig on the planet and she’s going to jack it up.”
“I have no discernable talent, no original thoughts, but I’m a great plagiarist,” Hilton boasted as he rubbed his plump, red cheeks. “I learned the hard way that you can’t just blatantly reproduce copyrighted material. You’ve got to do a little transformation. Ingest, digest, excrete… that’s my mantra. The problem with Arianna is she’s pushing it too far and might call down the wrath of the traditional media on us all.””
Perez should know. Since founding perezhilton.com (formerlySixSixSix.com) in late 2004, Hilton has been hit with numerous copyright infringement suits for offenses such as posting Britney Spears songs before they were released, linking to a copy of Colin Farrell’s infamous sex tape and posting a copyrighted paparazzi photo of John Mayer and Jessica Simpson.
Like many on the net, Perez didn’t immediately grasp the concept that just because you know how to copy and paste, copyright holders still have some protection from having the potential market for their work diminished.
“It’s all about understanding the ‘fair use’ doctrine,” Hilton opined. “The Constitution protects copyright holders. Fair use allows the limited use of material without requiring permission from the rights holder. But fair use means I have to use that material for purposes such as criticism, comment, or,” he winked, “news reporting.”
“Now I’m just a drama grad from New York University,” Hilton added, “but my attorney taught me that the law favors ‘transformative’ uses of copyrighted material. I’ve found that jotting down a few lines of commentary underneath a video post or digitally altering a photo covers my oft-admired buttocks.”
“So that’s what’s up with all the inane comments you couple with your pinched videos and the sophomoric doodles on the photos you post,” I observed.
“You betcha, cupcake,” he twittered. “Post an untouched AP photo of Mike Tyson and I’m looking at another lawsuit. “ But if I use the Telestrater effect in Photoshop to create an amateurish illusion of semen dripping out of Tyson’s mouth, I’ve got the Los Angeles Times defending my right to achieve a ‘satiric or humorous end’. If I want to add a video clip from Extra! on Lindsay Lohan, I just jot down some comments about how she’s ditching the ‘bush’ and going back to the ‘peen’. Copyright problem solved.”
Hilton continued, “That’s what HuffPo doesn’t get. They grab a couple of paragraphs verbatim from someone else’s website and call it a ‘Quick Read.’ The problem is there is no commentary, no opinion, just copy and paste.”
“They argue that the ‘Read the Whole Story Here’ hyperlink they add constitutes fair use because readers can use it to link to the original work... Wrong! Hilton snapped angrily. “This is the Internet. The simpletons who visit aggregation sites like mine read in snippets. Welcome to Web 2.0. Someone who has read two entire paragraphs of a story can hold themselves out as a de facto subject matter expert when they regurgitate what they read on their own blog. No one is savoring every syllable of a 2,000+ word news story anymore.”
The heat of the sauna was starting to sap my strength. Michael retreated to a corner of the sauna bustling with activity and obscured by steam. But Perez just continued pontificating:
“Worse yet, Huffington doesn’t quite get that another tenet of fair use is that the courts look at how much of the work is quoted in relationship to the entire body of work. Back in December of ’08, Arianna’s minions grabbed two paragraphs from a Chicago Reader blog for one of their entries. That’s two paragraph’s from a post that, in its entirety, was a whole two paragraph’s long.”
“Huffington needs to calm the hell down or she’s going to blow it for the rest of us,” Perez vented. “The courts have yet to weigh in definitively on whether search engines and aggregators have a valid fair use claim under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Google is copying the headlines it displays word for word and media giants such as News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and MediaNews executive Dean Singleton are starting to squeak about how this skirts the fair use provision.”
Perez made me think. America loves to litigate. Media giants, who continue over leveraging their companies even as subscriptions and ad revenues plummet, might just see dollar signs in going after news aggregators. The need for short-term cash to make interest payments might just blind them to the fact that most aggregators are actually driving eyeballs to their sites and to their online advertising.
There is a big difference between someone like Matt Drudge (who coincidentally was sharing a sauna with us but will deny it if ever asked) who just posts hyperlinked headlines that takes the reader directly to the original source and Huffington who reproduces enough of the news post to make clicking through to the original source unnecessary. But will the courts see that?
Don’t ruin it for all of us Arianna! Whether my frontal lobotomy has me jonesing for a quick recap of far left news or oxygen deprivation has me veering off to the far right, I love biased sites that pull together the selective snippets of news that support their flawed, unbalanced arguments.
The more I thought about what she was doing, the angrier I got. “Stop flagrantly skirting fair use you dumb bitch!” I muttered as I snuggled up to Perez. “There, there honey cheeks,” Hilton said soothingly, “Arianna might goad big media into crushing us, but you got to knock off the potty talk. It’s just ugly and misogynistic when a straight man talks that way.”