NowPublic – Were Intellectual Property Rights ignored?

NowPublic was a an Emmy nominated crowd-sourced citizen journalism site based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, founded by Michael Tippett, Leonard Brody and Michael E. Meyers in 2005.

In addition to its contributors, NowPublic also had a content-sharing agreement with the Associated Press. The crowd-sourced site was so successful that Time Magazine called NowPublic one of the 50 Best Websites of 2007.

NowPublic was a successful crowd sourced media site.

NowPublic was a successful crowd sourced media site.

Mainstream media types may gripe about the absence of safeguards ensuring the validity of news reported by the blogosphere, but nowhere are the merits of citizen journalism more apparent than at NowPublic. At this “participatory news network,” a.k.a. bastion of “crowd-powered media,” anyone can write a story, or upload images, audio or video.

Whatever gets the most votes from the reading masses—the site gets about 1 million unique visitors per month—ends up as the lead story. (NowPublic has “guest editors,” “wranglers” and an “actual news guy” who keep an eye on things, giving advice to contributing reporters and shepherding the best, most timely stuff through, but nobody on staff makes actual editing changes to the content.)

NowPublic now counts nearly 97,000 contributing reporters in more than 140 countries around the world. During Hurricane Katrina, NowPublic was there; eight contributors filed on-the-scene reports from London’s Heathrow Airport during the August 2006 terrorism lockdown—while the regular press was forced to wait outside. On June 6 NowPublic’s coverage of a storm in Oman made it to the top of the AOL and Yahoo news sites.

In September 2009 NowPublic was acquired by Clarity Digital Group. Clarity is solely owned by the Anschutz company, an investment company located in Denver, Colorado. According to reports, Leonard Brody assumed the position of President of the Clarity Digital Group and Michael Tippet became the CEO of NowPublic after the sale.

In December 2013 Clarity closed the NowPublic site and redirected it to www.examiner.com.

On 27 December 2013, Clarity Digital Group took NowPublic, a successful crowd-sourced citizen journalism site, off the web and failed to give notice to contributors to permit them to recover their intellectual property. While Clarity is within their right to remove any of its sites off the web, NowPublic contributors maintain that they should have received notice in order to recover their intellectual property.

NowPublic’s Terms of Service stated in part:

“Unless otherwise stated for specific Services, You will retain ownership and all related rights in any original information or other content that you publish on the Site or through the Services. In the event of any inconsistency between the provisions of these Terms of Service and the applicable license terms, these Terms of Service shall prevail to the extent of such inconsistency and such license terms shall be deemed to have been modified, in writing, by NowPublic and You.”

However, unlike other crowd-sourced sites, Clarity claims that it has no obligation to permit access to the NowPublic content. In a reply to Rhonda Mangus, a former NowPublic Advisory Council Member/Producer, Clarity Digital Group stated through its attorney, Deborah Shinbein:

Although we understand that the shut-down of NowPublic.com may have come as a surprise to you, we are baffled by your assertion that NowPublic or its parent company may owe you (or any other contributor to the site) any sort of reports, opportunity to access content, or anything else with regard to the site.

You have not been under a contract through which you were eligible to receive payments for your contributions since 2010, and any reporting obligations NowPublic previously had with regard to your contributions (if any) would have ended at the time your status as a paid contributor to NowPublic.com was terminated. We did provide notice to the individuals who were current (or recent) paid contributors to NowPublic.com, however you were clearly not among that group of individuals.

Attorney Shinbein’s response speaks for itself and, among other matters, clearly raises the question as to why intellectual property rights were ignored by Clarity Digital Group.  Additionally, none of the major NowPublic contributors we contacted were notified of NowPublic’s intention to go off-line.

According to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, intellectual property is defined as follows:

Intellectual property (IP) refers to the creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, as well as symbols, names, pictures, designs and models used in business. Patents, trade-marks, copyright, industrial designs, integrated circuit topographies and plant breeders’ rights are referred to as “IP rights.” Just as rights are acquired when a building or land is purchased, IP rights are “property” in the sense that they are based on the legal right to exclude others from using the property. Ownership of the rights can also be transferred.

Source: Intellectual Property Office

It should not come as a surprise to Clarity Digital Group that those who contributed to NowPublic would want to recover the content they contributed.

Current Industry Practice

It has been common industry practice for crowd-sourced sites to give notification to contributors and archive contributed material. As an example one can highlight Vizify’s notification to its contributors which, unlike NowPublic, warned its contributors of its purchase by Yahoo and its impending closure.

While Vizify gave its contributors an opportunity to recover their material, no such notification was given to NowPublic contributors, nor was a sunset period granted to retrieve their intellectual property as was highlighted in the NowPublic Terms of Service.

As a consequence, references are gone, bios disappeared and personal footage and videos are unavailable and the tens-of-thousands of back-links to NowPublic content placed on sites over the World Wide Web.

nowpublic

Maireid Sullivan, a former NowPublic economics guest editor, noted that the Vizify notification to its supporters and contributors should be held up as an example of how to do business in the digital age.

To that, Edmund Jenks former NowPublic feature manager related:

When I first woke up and read the attached notice I thought to myself “Who the heck is Vizify?” than I realized that it was forwarded as a minimum example on how to close down an ongoing News Media web and portal.

Yes! This should be held up as an appropriate and civil way on a way a company treats those they provided a service for and had a relationship with.

NowPublic did not provide this opportunity to its contributors, nor was there ever any appreciation for the contributed material and its contribution to the success of the company. Those contributors, who have moved on to other sites, can no longer use the links to their articles, nor do they have the ability to republish them elsewhere. Nowpublic’s blog syndication caused thousands of ‘dead links’ as Nowpublic linked each key word and a link to the story back to their personal sites. This action was beneficial as long as the links were live. Now that those links are ‘dead’, Google ranks such stories lower in search engines.

Aside from any legal considerations, Clarity Digital Group should do the right thing and make the material available to its former contributors.

Says Mangus:

“It’s unfortunate that Clarity Digital Group has taken such a position. It should serve as a warning to present writers for Examiner that they could find themselves in the same situation if the Examiner decides to ‘go dark’ in the future.”

Politisite is interested in what you think: Should writers own their content featured on another platform?

 

Rhonda Mangus (The Discourse Daily), Susan Kovalinsky (Senior Writer/Press Agent, Metro Media Consulting Group), Maireid Sullivan, Edmund Jenks  and Albert N. Milliron contributed to this article.

Related:

Clarity Digital Group (Examiner/NowPublic) and it’s uncivil corporate culture

About the Author

Karl Gotthardt - Politisite Managing Editor Maj. Gotthardt is a Retired Military Officer with 35 years service in the Canadian Armed Forces. He spent most of his time in the Military in Infantry Battalions. Karl took part in training for Afghanistan as an Operator Analyst with the Canadian Maneouvre Training Centre. Karl is a qualified military parachutist and military free fall parachutist. He earned his U.S. Master Jump Wings in Fort Benning, Georgia. Karl enjoys working with horses for the last 24 year. He owns six. He has experience in breeding, training and of course riding.Karl was born in Germany and is fluent in both English and German and he speaks enough French to "get in trouble". Karl has written or writes at NowPublic, All Voices, Tek Journalism and many others.

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15 Comments

  1. BTW, the 12 comments you are not seeing (folks are asking me about them) are other sites that are referring to this article. I am working to have those ping backs appear.

  2. The above is an article that notes an earthquake of a different nature (LA was just hit with a 4.4 earthquake which jolted this author out of bed) and it exposes the corporate culture of a journalistic enterprise run by J-School graduates over the closure of a New Media hallmark after its purchase and mismanagement through to its process of “Going Dark”.

    The issue centers on the process of how Clarity Digital Group (Examiner) out of Denver, CO decided to cease the operations of NowPublic – Crowd-Powered News at the end of 2013 and the defense of the process they employed.

    To be direct, the corporate culture at Examiner is at the very least, uncivil … and at its worst, vindictive. It is as if Examiner was being dragged into New Media against the wishes of the J-School trained management that conceptually implements and runs the joint.

    If one were able to compare the internet savvy tools offered between the two sites – NowPublic versus Examiner – even though Examiner has improved over the years since 2009 through the purchase of NowPublic … the publishing portal and contributing community the site was constructed to serve at NowPublic would still outshine anything offered up by Examiner, Clarity Digital Group, LLC.

    Of Note: Edmund Jenks served as a Feature Page Manager and Editor/Contributor to NowPublic through to the time the site was shut down at the end of 2013. He was continually in the top 20 (most often in the top 10 before appointment to Feature Page Manager – Motorsports) of a cast tens of thousands of contributors and his work was seen by about 1.75 Million viewers.

    (I should have noted my viewers as 17.5 million ’cause who would know after how the site was shut down and re-directed … okay, 175 million … and so on, and so on, and so on …)

  3. Great job on this Karl – Thanks to Rhonda Mangus (The Discourse Daily), Susan Kovalinsky (Senior Writer/Press Agent, Metro Media Consulting Group), Edmund Jenks for contributing to this article. Anyone who writes on a third-party platform, especially Clarity Digital Media properties (Examiner) needs to be aware of what could happen to years of content when the company for which they write decides to go ‘Dark’

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