There is a long list of people who Teri Buhl, self-proclaimed investigative journalist, says she’s going to sue. It looks like she’ll have to add one more to the list. The problem started when her public twitter profile stated that her twits were not for publication. It headed south from there.
Mark Bennett started the ball rolling after Gideon engaged Buhl on twitter to find out what the heck she thought she was doing by claiming her twits were “protected.” Tim Cushing picked it up at Techdirt, which angered Buhl sufficiently that she demanded a retort, including an absurd smack at Bennett for using the story on his blog “to promote his business,” because, you know, why else would a lawyer blog?.
But Cushing wasn’t prompt enough to satisfy Buhl, so he asked Jim Romenesko to publish it instead. Mike Masnick at Techdirt then ripped her a new one, after which Buhl let everyone know, including Romenesko who did her a solid, that they were all getting sued.
The reaction to Buhl has not been kind. Rather than hum a few bars of Mrs. Robinson, pretty much everybody has responded that she’s utterly nuts, and her efforts to salvage her shredded dignity have only gotten her into deeper trouble. She’s posted various comments to other people’s posts, regaling about her greatness as an investigative “jurno” and how she’s beloved by her fans. The fans have yet to appear to back her up, but they’re probably too busy rereading her old articles from when she had a job to waste their time.
All this is a preface to the reason why I hop aboard this out-of-control train. As others took note of the wreck, they included the initial screen shot of Teri Buhl’s twitter bio, the one that she created and put on twitter for her adoring fans to know who she was and what they could do with her twits. It included an image of the “jurno” herself as part the bio.
See that sweet yet professional picture of a woman above the name Teri Buhl? Buhl says you’re not allowed. At least not here, because it’s her picture and she hasn’t given me permission to public it. You see, according to the Buhl doctrine of copyright, it’s her picture and nobody can use it. Kinda like her twits, but different.
That it’s part of the subject at issue means nothing. Fair use doesn’t exist under the Buhl Doctrine. Ironically, she is apparently unaware that Antonin Pribetic has copyrighted the letter “B,” and is no doubt preparing a complaint as I type. She did not get his permission to use it, like I did.
Which finally brings me to the point of this post. The Knight Center for Journalism in America at the University of Texas, Austin, posted about this hotmess, including initially the screenshot above. And then came Buhl’s copyright complaint:
Update 02/07/13: Freelance reporter Teri Buhl contacted the Knight Center and requested the pictures in her Twitter profile be removed from the story, stating that the images are copyrighted and the Knight Center – along with the journalism websites Poynter.org and JimRomenesko.com – do not have permission to publish them. The Knight Center has removed the photos from the screenshot from her Twitter account per her request.
Fade to black. This is the lesson for budding journalists in Austin. Capitulate. Somebody complains? Screams “copyright”! Fade to black. Don’t say no. Don’t react with a chuckle and passing mention of fair use. Don’t teach students that a “jurno” doesn’t succumb to threats, no matter how absurd and contrary to the law. Nope. Fade to black. It’s so much easier and less risky. Journalists wouldn’t want to take any risks, after all.
Buhl offers a laundry list of absurd explanations for her bizarre actions, which have given rise to no shortage of hilarity. But the treatment received at the hands of the Knight School isn’t funny. In fairness, they aren’t the only ones to wimp out, with Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman showing a similar lack of spine. But then, he’s not charged with teaching the next generation of journalists why they’re deserving of First Amendment protection.
While all of this might well strike us, as lawyers, as utterly ridiculous, given that we would expect those engaged in journalism to have at least a working knowledge of the law as it applies to them, it apparently isn’t the case for those who teach it. Are they clueless? Do they not use “fair use” in Austin?
Maybe they just offer professional courtesy to Buhl, as one of the tribe, even though they realize that there is no legal impediment whatsoever to the screenshot of her twitter bio, as the core of the story about her insane claim of unpublishable twits. But if so, then the message to students is be bold when it comes to revealing the awful truth about others, but when it comes to one of our own, fade to black? This would be too cynical even for me to believe,
So if it’s not hypocritical circling the wagons as a courtesy to one of their own (whether with or without free donuts), then it’s just plain old capitulation. Not a good lesson for the next generation of a group upon whom we depend for our information, knowledge and understanding of what is happening in our world. All the news that’s fit to print, unless someone tells them not to and threatens them with a lawsuit. Then, fade to black.