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Internet Information Piracy

If you’ve grown accustomed to reading Dave Barry’s humor columns in ClariNet, the fee-based news service that appears in the clari.* Usenet hierarchy, you may have noticed that Dave Barry’s columns are no longer posted (apparently the same is true of Mike Royko’s columns).

Brad Templeton, who started both rec.humor.funny and ClariNet, posted a message 17-Jun-94 saying, "We regret to announce that on the orders of Knight-Ridder Tribune and its Tribune Media Services Division, we will cease publishing the Dave Barry column and the Mike Royko column effective June 23, 1994."

It appears that Knight-Ridder became concerned about the level of information piracy on the Internet. Although the details remain unknown, reportedly a subscriber to Dave Barry’s columns over ClariNet sent a copy of a column to a mailing list of people who weren’t ClariNet subscribers, thus breaking ClariNet’s distribution rules and basic copyright law. From that mailing list, the pirated column made its way to a Knight-Ridder employee, who reported it on up the line to the executives who made the decision to remove the columns from ClariNet.

I question whether Knight-Ridder’s move was in fact the correct one to make if they wish to avoid pirated columns from flying around the nets. When Dave Barry’s columns were available via ClariNet, at least there was a legitimate source for them for some people (anyone actually, since you could subscribe via email as well). I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised to see columns being typed in and sent around in informal mailing lists, or even posted, perhaps via an anonymous posting service, in groups like (where even Dave himself is rumored to hang out)

The feel of the entire fiasco is one of grade school, when someone breaks a rule and the teacher punishes the entire class. Knight-Ridder presumably knew who had pirated the column and sent it to the mailing list; why didn’t they simply sue that person for copyright violation? Or even easier, why didn’t they let ClariNet do it for them? Brad Templeton has set up a mailbox at <[email protected]> where ClariNet copyright violations may be reported, although I’ve never heard if ClariNet has actually gone after anyone legally. ClariNet has always pushed hard to encourage people to respect copyright online, and it’s a shame to see their efforts wasted like this.

I wonder why Knight-Ridder hasn’t removed Dave Barry’s column from all of the commercial online services as well. After all, it’s no more difficult to copy a column from an AOL text window and send it to a mailing list on the Internet as it is to copy it from a Usenet newsreader and send it to a mailing list. The conspiracy theorist here would say that Knight-Ridder wasn’t earning enough from the ClariNet distribution of those columns and wanted an out so that it could provide them over the Internet again later, presumably in such a fashion as to make more money.

In any event, it’s a shame that one person’s disregard of copyright law has led Knight-Ridder to ruin it for the thousands of other people who played by the rules and paid ClariNet for the Dave Barry columns in some form or fashion. I guess I’ll have to go back to getting my Dave Barry fix from clippings from my mother, although I’ve started to wonder after reading in that some newspapers cut Dave Barry’s columns, presumably to make them fit, both in terms of space and occasionally, subject matter. Humph.

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