Growing Classified Advertising Piracy?

Article excerpt

Many newspapers believe so, and turn to the NAA for protection

New threat to newspapers' classified ads

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel puts Wisconsin job ads company on notice, while NAA works at the federal level to gain support for legislative remedies

While the editorial content of newspapers is protected under copyright law, publishers now fact the more troublesome question of whether the same rules apply to one of its key revenue-generating engines -- classified advertising. "What we hear from our members is that it's a big deal," says John F. Sturm, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). "We've been working on this for quite some time. Some of the leading newspapers in the country are very much interested not only in protecting their database for online classifieds, but other databases."

The problem facing the newspaper industry is that computer technology and the Internet have made it increasingly easy to simply scan newspaper print classified ads and either reprint them or use the copy and paste features of Web browsers to capture hundreds of ads and post them online. Trying to find classified ads that appear elsewhere -- either online or in print -- is a daunting task.

Newspapers face a potential revenue loss if classified ads are taken and advertisers are not reaching their target audience. In the long run, it can hurt the growth of the $17 billion or so that newspapers generate annually from classified ads. What's complicating the issue is whether federal copyright law protects this kind of writing. Legal experts say it depends.

In September, the NAA alerted member newspapers about a Milwaukee, Wis.-based company called National Ad Search. The letter, obtained by E&P, alleges that National Ad Search displays help wanted ads from 60 to 65 metropolitan area newspapers, reprinting them in a tabloid publication and also placing them online.

The company charges a fee to access the job ads, ranging from 10 cents for a single ad to $10 for 100 ads.

"It appears that there may be serious copyright issues presented by National Ad Search's method of operation." warns the NAA.

According to National Ad Search's Web page, it boasts that since 1970, "... the newspaper version of the National Ad Search has provided the most complete coverage of job opportunities in the nation. It is our goal to provide this same service to you at this Web site. Our objective is to provide you with current employment information which will enable you to quickly and easily obtain the specific ads you need for your job search. All ads are display ads and will contain direct contact information for the company. Each week we compile Sunday help wanted ads from over 65 major cities from across the United States and organize them by the following: Date the ad appeared (Sunday); City (Metropolitan Area) and Job discipline."

Sturm declines to name the newspapers that have complained about their classified ads being used in other publications and online. He says the NAA is lobbying for federal database legislation that would give newspapers more protection.

"We had an interest in this legislation from a general public policy standpoint, long before National Ad Search popped up on the screen." Sturm adds. "National Ad Search did not occasion this."

At the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, attorney Jim Pepelnjak wrote a cease-and-desist letter in September to National Ad Search.

"Your organization is utilizing ads on your online site and in your print product that originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel," Pepelnjak wrote. "National Ad Search does not have the permission of our organization to do so. This unauthorized misappropriation of our ads is a serious violation of our copyright and ownership rights and may constitute a criminal matter."

Scott D. Morey, vice president of National Ad Search, would only say, "Our attorneys are taking care of that," in reference to the letter from the Journal Sentinel. …