Hyperlocal Websites: Are Your Efforts Up for Grabs?
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If you’re reading this, you probably know that it is rare that I go off topic at this blog. It takes something pretty unusual, unexpected, or unfair to prompt me to do so. But I encountered just such a thing earlier this week, when my good friend and neighbor was the victim of what I will graciously call “severe borrowing.”
The friend is Polly Kresiman, a long-time journalist and former television news reporter, who worked long and hard, and invested a significant sum of money, to start a local, community-based, interactive website called the Loop, formerly the Larchmont Loop. The site can be viewed at www.getinloop.com.
At about the time Polly was considering expanding what she was doing on the site to other communities in our county (Westchester, NY), an old college friend who now lives in Scarsdale, Joanne Wallenstein, expressed great interest in collaborating with Polly to create a Scarsdale-based site. The plan was, in essence, go into business together for their mutual benefit. Except it did not quite work out that way. Once Polly and her staff programmed and designed the website for Ms. Wallenstein, and showed her how to use it, Ms. Wallenstein severed all ties, and went online with a new site, www.Scarsdale10583.com. Even the briefest comparison of the two shows that the Scarsdale site is no more than a copy of the Loop.
This was done without permission, without compensation to Ms. Kreisman, without even so much as an acknowledgment in the Scarsdale site of the time, effort and expense put in by the Loop and its staff. Shabby? You be the judge after looking at the two side by side.
But this is where it gets interesting. After firing off several missives to the editor of the site, her lawyer contacted me, and as you can see from her letter, threatened to sue me. I have attached it below:
Dear Mr. Barovick:
Your response makes very clear that you do not have an understanding of copyright law or the facts related to the creation of Ms. Wallenstein’s website or her dealings with Polly Kreisman.
For that reason, we request that you rethink the threat in your email that you “will continue to spread the word, using the web, the newspapers, and any other available means about [our] client’s theft.” Statements that Ms. Wallenstein is a “thief” or “stole something of value” are false, constitute libel per se and would cause substantial harm to Ms. Wallenstein and her business. Be assured that Ms. Wallenstein will take all actions available to her to protect her reputation and to recover damages from you in the event that you violate her rights.
Nothing contained herein should be construed as a waiver of any of our client’s rights or remedies in this, or any other matter.
Very truly yours,
Maura J. Wogan | Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz PC
488 Madison Avenue | New York, New York 10022
t: 212.826.5523 | f: 347.438.2121 | mwogan@fkks.
Now, I have to agree with Ms. Wogan. I don’t know much about copyright law. But I do know the facts of the case better than her client, who comes to the table having already taken something of value that was clearly not hers. Those kinds of actions reflect on one’s credibility, and the reflection of Ms. Wallenstein is not very flattering. Moreover, it strikes me as ironic, to say the least, that the person who brazenly copied another’s website has gone to the trouble of sicing her legal attack dog on me, in a perverse attempt to muzzle my criticism. What was that Shakespearean line about “protesting too much”? Come now, ladies. That’s just un-American. And it reeks of guilt.
Let us hope that Ms. Wallenstein and her attorney come to their senses, and start to show a little more class, and a lot more awareness of the difference between right and wrong. In the meantime, just in case they need further motivation, take a moment to go to the Scarsdale site, and leave a comment asking that Ms. Wallenstein do the right thing. Because this kind of behavior is unacceptable, and should not be tolerated.