As an organization devoted to freedom of the press, Reporters Without Borders typically targets dictatorships and other iron-fist nations that attempt to quash objective journalism. Now, however, RWB is protesting a story very close to home: the copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Nevada's Righthaven LLC against twenty-year-old, chronically ill blogger Brian Hill on behalf of the Denver Post.
In a letter addressed to Dean Singleton, who is both the Post's publisher and the head of the paper's corporate parent, MediaNews Group, RWB director Clothilde Le Coz and general secretary Jean-Francois Julliard note that "After posting a photo to his personal blog -- which he has never profited from -- Hill was notified by Righthaven LLC, acting on your behalf, that he may pay $6,000 to close the case or fight against a $150,000 lawsuit in court. Hill, 20, who receives Social Security payments, cannot afford the lesser amount and is planning to defend himself in court."
That last part's a bit out of date: Upon reading about the case, Fort Collins attorney David Kerr is now representing Hill pro bono. But these facts are a side note to the authors' main message, which compares Righthaven's tactics unfavorably to some of those RWB members have witnessed across the globe:
We were surprised to witness such behavior here, in the United States, while this is generally a phenomenon Reporters Without Borders witnesses in authoritarian regimes to silence netizens and intimidate journalists, bloggers and others. Therefore, we ask you to drop the lawsuit against him and find a reasonable compromise regarding his case.
As MediaNews Group Inc. is one of the largest newspaper publishers in the US, we fully understand the copyright issues that The Denver Post has to face and we are not at all supporting the theft of a picture. However, this decision led Brian Hill to close down his website, which constitutes a very bad precedent for freedom of the press in the US. Though we believe news organizations deserve to make money off their creative work, Reporters Without Borders urges The Denver Post to reconsider its approach to these lawsuits. We suggest that you first ask bloggers and other secondary users of materials to first remove content before taking such drastic actions. This would help keep a vigorous decision of timely issues alive while guarding against silencing and censorship themselves -- as Hill did when he shut down his blog.
The disconnecting of Hill's site is hardly an isolated incident. Thus far, at least two Colorado-based websites -- Rocky Mountain Right and KnowYourCourts.com -- have temporarily pulled the plug for fear that they might have inadvertently published Post material capable of attracting the wrath of Righthaven.
The letter below was forwarded to Westword by Colorado State University professor Kris Kodrich, who's worked with Reporters Without Border. He also shipped a copy to the Denver Post newsroom. To date, the paper hasn't written about the Righthaven suits in general or the Brian Hill case in particular. It'll be interesting to see if the missive changes that.
Here's the letter:
More from our Media archive: "Denver Post parent MediaNews Group puts Mike Rosen column at center of copyright suit."