Peter Kafka

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Waxman to Wolff: Unhand My Content!

More shots fired in the great Web aggregation war. Or at least in the war between Sharon Waxman and Michael Wolff. The Wrap, the Hollywood news site Waxman runs, has demanded that Newser, the aggregation site Wolff founded, give her site better credit for its stories or stop using them altogether.

Waxman’s volley comes via a cease-and-desist note her site sent to Newser today, embedded below. It comes after a series of back and forths between the two sites, which you can follow here, here and here. Very short version: Waxman says Wolff’s site steals her stuff without attribution; Wolff says his company does attribute the stuff, in some form.

The bigger picture is that the debate about “content creation” and “aggregation,” both of which are pretty ugly and imprecise terms, is just getting started. Even though we’re either 15 years or 40 years into the Internet era, depending on how you want to count. (Probably best to go with 15).

This isn’t the first time Wolff has gotten legal notes from publishers. In February 2009, the New York Times (NYT) complained about Newser’s use of the Times’s iconic “T,” as well as the use of its photos.

Waxman’s argument with Wolff is that Newser either doesn’t link to her site or does it in a way that makes it unlikely that a reader will end up on one of her pages. She’s fine with aggregation in practice, she says, noting that her site repurposes other people’s stories. And it’s worth noting that she’s not firing off an angry letter at the Huffington Post, an aggregator that also uses her stuff extensively.

“There’s a principle here,” she says. “And if everybody who aggregated aggregated the way they do it, we’d all be in a bunch of trouble.”

So what does she expect Wolff and company to do now? “I don’t know,” she says. But “we’re serious… I hope they take it seriously.”

Wolff’s response, via email: “This is a joke letter about a joke allegation based on a joke premise from a joke law firm (in Cleveland at that). Waxman is just looking for press to help her raise a new round of financing. Nothing here is serious.”

Cease and Desist letter from TheWrap to Newser

[Image credit: barnabus]


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work