Legal Worries for News Web Sites

By Levins, Hoag | Editor & Publisher, August 9, 1997 | Go to article overview

Legal Worries for News Web Sites


Levins, Hoag, Editor & Publisher


A Newspaper Web Site Attorney Points Out Important Issues; Notes the TotalNEWS Case was Just the Beginning

Although most newspaper executives know about the TotalNEWS lawsuit, few appreciate why the Washington Post and five other media giants felt compelled to take such strong legal action against a tiny Web site, attorney David Bralow told a gathering of online newspaper editors last week.

To the audience's surprise, Bralow suggested that the plaintiff media companies were not as concerned about the misappropriation of their actual editorial content as they were about interference with their long-term online brand-building efforts. The lawsuit motivation, he pointed out, was more about trademark than copyright law. And, he warned, if Web editors and publishers don't understand the difference, they may not be able to adequately protect their business interests on the Internet.

The Florida-based attorney explained that one of the biggest potential problems faced by online newspaper publishers was not bootleggers seeking to infringe their editorial content, but rather larger corporations seeking to claim ownership of some part of their online product names.

He warned that the battle over brand identification on the Internet "is going to be the single largest legal issue" online publishers will face in the near future. He also noted that tot) few newspaper companies seemed to appreciate the crucial importance of properly trade- or service-marking their online product names.

Bralow, widely recognized as one of the leading authorities in the new field of Internet publishing law, was one of the key speakers at the July 31 to Aug. 2 "Editorial Issues on the Web" conference held at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers. The conference was sponsored by Editor & Publisher Co., the American Press Institute, Associated Press Managing Editors and FACS.

Struggle to Develop Internet Brand Recognition

"If the TotalNEWS case means anything," said the attorney and partner at Holland & Knight LLP in Tampe, Fla., "it is that big media companies don't really know if they are going to make any money out of the Internet, but they do know one thing: If they are going to make money, it will be because they developed Internet brands that mean something on a large scale."

The TotalNEWS case, which was filed in February and settled in June, pitted six large media companies against a small Arizona company offering a directory of links to more than a thousand news Web sites. But that directory didn't just let visitors click to the listed Web sites. Instead, it presented the individual news site within its own surrounding frame filled with banner ads of its own advertisers. …

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