New copyright lawsuit involves Creative Commons

GateHouse Media, Inc. v. That’s Great News, LLC, No. 10-50164 (N.D. Ill. filed 6/30/2010)

A lawsuit filed this past week in the Northern District of Illinois includes a claim that the defendant violated the terms of a Creative Commons license covering the plaintiff’s copyrighted works. GateHouse Media publishes a slew of local newspapers, including the Rockford Register Star in Rockford, Illinois. The Register Star provides premium online content to its subscribers, and makes that content available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.

GateHouse sued a company that sells reprints of articles — including articles from the Register Star — on fancy plaques to the people who are featured in those articles. Since GateHouse has its own reprint business, it views the defendant’s work as a competitive threat.

The complaint has all the claims you’d expect under these facts — copyright infringement, trademark infringement and various claims under Illinois unfair competition law. It also has a breach of contract claim, in which GateHouse invokes the terms of the Creative Commons license, going after the defendant’s commercial use of the licensed material.

Ponder if you will why GateHouse chose to pursue a violation of the Creative Commons license as a breach of contract claim and not as copyright infringement. The license terms are written as conditions and not covenants. So it seems like the defendant’s alleged use would be outside the scope of the license and therefore infringement. Any ideas why plaintiff is proceeding this way?

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  1. This isn't the first time that GateHouse Media has sued for violations of its Creative Commons license.… Eric.

  2. Prima Facia, there's an interesting claim on whether fair use (if claimed by the defendant) could supersede contract, as it could be considered a right under the first amendment, and therefore agreements could not breach it.

  3. Jonathan, whether fair use supersedes contract wouldn't be an issue in this case as all Creative Commons licenses explicitly say that nothing in the license affects "rights arising from limitations or exceptions that are provided for in connection with the copyright protection," which would include fair use. (See Section 2 of any Unported license, e.g.….

  4. What is the basis for determining that the CC license terms are written as conditions, not covenants? Is there some talismanic language in the license that renders all the "You must" and "You may not" restrictions in the license conditions as opposed to covenants?

  5. It sounds like That's Great News is more of a framing company than looking to be a competitive threat. They're not writing news at all.

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