Alan Schwarz: “I have no problem with bloggers.”

I got a call today from New York Times sports reporter Alan Schwarz. He read my post from yesterday – via his Google alert – which discussed a recent podcast interview he did.

Mr. Schwarz took issue with something I wrote.

In introducing the blockquote in that post, I originally used this sentence: “Like many mainstream journalists, Schwarz sees bloggers as endangering traditional journalism.”

Mr. Schwarz disagrees with that characterization. I listened to the podcast in its entirety, and I chose my words carefully. I think my characterization was fair. Nonetheless, no one knows better what Mr. Schwarz thinks than he does. So if other words better reflect his opinion, I’m happy to use them. Indeed, the flexibility and updatability of blogging is one of its great attributes. Thus, I replaced the contested sentence with: “Schwarz is critical of bloggers who go too far in using copyrighted content.”

In his phone call with me, Mr. Schwarz emphasized that the gravamen of his complaint is copyright infringement.

“I have no problem with bloggers. I have a problem with thieves,” Mr. Schwarz said on the phone. In general, he sees value in blogging, and he does not regard blogging itself to be a threat to the continued existence of the traditional news media. His problem is with what he characterizes as stealing.

“Thieves endanger traditional journalism,” he said, regardless of whether they are bloggers, other traditional journalists, or whomever.

So noted. But Mr. Schwarz’s distinction points to a deeper question: What counts as theft? There are, after all, usually two sides to a copyright dispute.

We might be tempted to say that some cases are easy. What about when someone, who is not the copyright owner, takes an entire newspaper story and posts it online? You might figure that is clear case of theft, but that is exactly what the New York Times did in the case of New York Times v. Tasini.

In that case, the New York Times uploaded articles written by freelance writers to an electronic database, accessible to paying online customers, despite the fact that the freelancers, who owned the copyright to their stories, never provided the New York Times with the relevant permission. Of course, the New York Times argued that what they did was entirely proper.

As it turns out, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and sided with the freelancers. But it goes to show, what one person regards as theft, another person may regard as being productive.

The questions, of course, will continue.

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