Let me say at the outset, I have been a lifetime subscriber to C.onsumer R.eports (CR) and will
continue to be, despite what I see as this unjustified/unethical bullying. They provide a very
valuable service and, I'm slaved to their recommendations in areas where I have no way to
personally assess a product or purchase. In such areas, I base my opinions on their opinions so,
my opinions are their opinions. I'm just not allowed to tell you that anymore.
This is a classic case of using the threat of a frivolous lawsuit as an economic bludgeon to force
their will on individuals who can't afford to defend their rights. I will show below that
my practices are completely within my rights and the law but, keep in mind as you read this that
whether I'm within my rights is completely immaterial. Whether I should, or shouldn't be doing
what I'm doing, the outcome will be the same. It has nothing to do with right or wrong or the
law, it has to do with extortion -- literally, "an offer I can't refuse." I must do anything and
everything CR would like me to do. I cannot afford not to.
In about January of '98, I put up a picture (copy) of one chart from one CR article. Ms Wendy
Wintman from CR emailed me, saying I was violating their copyright. I immediately removed the
offending item. I tell you this to show I'm not recalcitrant about the issue. If I had thought I was
violating the copyright law I would have stopped immediately.
Sprinkled through my website at the time of the above incident, and since then, have been a
handful, or so, of remarks about CR's ratings. They were similar to what you'd see in newspaper
articles, school papers, books or magazine articles, where small excerpts from various publications
are quoted and sources/references given. Pick up any nonfiction book and, you will probably find
such footnoted references. I feel funny having to defend doing what every child does when
writing a term paper. This kind of thing is permitted by common practice, common sense and the
fair-use exception written into the U.S. Copyright Statute. In my case, I didn't even use
verbatim quotes. I paraphrased the information and, often, integrated it into sentences and
paragraphs combined with information from other sources. I thought of it as giving CR credit, while at the
same time telling the reader the source of the data so they could have an idea of how much
confidence they should put in the information. My use also clearly and
completely complied with CR's own use
policy which they sent me in one of their demand e-mails.
About a year later CR's Ms Wintman started emailing me, insisting I make no reference
whatsoever to their ratings. I replied, explaining I wasn't violating any aspect of their published
policy on the use of their material and, asked for clarification of specifically what they were
concerned about -- no response. Instead, came another demand message. I then asked how they
thought the copyright law's fair-use exception applied to them -- to give me an example of
something -- anything -- they thought I was allowed to say about the content of their magazine.
They stonewalled. They refused to engage in any discussion -- they just kept sending unilateral
e-mails containing the blunt demand that I stop referring to CR -- with steadily
Of course, the fair-use law does apply to them just like everybody else. Hence, because they refused to discuss it and, because there is no indication Ms Wintman has any legal training, I didn't know what to do; so, I just hung tight. I was hoping they would finally be forced to give me some explanation or legal basis for what appears to be a preposterous claim that the Federal fair-use exception simply doesn't apply to CR.
So, They Attacked the Bystander
In September '99 they turned to my ISP (www.ghg.net) and began threatening them. I'd been
worried they'd do this. CR knows, rights-or-no-rights, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) doesn't
want any trouble and, won't take any risk for
a single customer -- they just want rid of the trouble
or, legal hassle. Sure enough, the GHG manager called and summarily issued an ultimatum that I
had 48 hours to remove all references to CR or, he'd throw me off the service. During a brief
exchange, the character of which would take pages to describe, he made it clear he didn't care
about me, my website or my rights but, changed his ultimatum from 2 to 3 1/2 working days, for
me to try get CR to agree to something other than a total ban. He indicated he would not discuss
it with me again. He'd talk to CR at the end of my time to see if they were happy -- if they
weren't, he'd boot me off with no further contact.
My attempts to contact Ms Wintman were unsuccessful -- CR stonewalled as usual. But, I couldn't see any hope for getting a dialog in 3 days that I hadn't been able to get in 8 months, anyway. So, I removed my references to CR. Even so, CR might still not have been totally pleased with the way I did it and, in that case, GHG would have dumped me without further notice/contact. I didn't want the site to suddenly disappear with no link so, to satisfy GHG, I've moved it.
Catch 22 Is Alive and Well
Money making uses of copyrighted material are frowned on by the fair-use law. So; the paradox
is, if I made money from my website, I might not meet the fair-use standard but, I could use the
money to defend my questionable use. Because I make no money* from my website, I'm probably
perfectly legal but, have no money to defend my rights. -- jim evans