Protecting AAN Members’ Ad Content on the Web, a Web site that promises classified advertisers they can “reach millions of people in minutes for free,” lists a number papers belonging to the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies as “affiliates” and seems to be copying classified advertising from some members.

This kind of bold taking of copyrighted material is one of the risks AAN papers encounter when they publish their ad content on their Web sites, but protection “with teeth” is available if you register your newspaper with the U.S. Copyright Office. In the meantime, AAN will follow up with to demand that it cease copying from members and cease its unfair competition with AAN CAN, the association’s classified advertising network.

AAN recommends that you register your newspaper whether or not you are one of Ouii’s “victims.” Without registration, federal courts will dismiss any copyright infringement claim, and without registration within three months of first publication, you can’t collect statutory damages or attorney’s fees if you do sue an infringer and win.

Registration is NOT a condition of copyright protection, but without the ability to get remedies for infringement, copyright protection has “no teeth.”

Section 411 says that no lawsuit for the infringement of the copyright in any U.S. work can be “instituted” until registered. (Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction for copyright claims.) Section 412 says that if the alleged infringement takes place before the effective date of registration, the plaintiff cannot collect statutory damages or attorney’s fees, UNLESS the registration was done within three months of first publication. So, registration is not a task that can be put off for very long.

Statutory damages may be the only way to recover any serious amounts of money. It can be hard to prove “actual damage” to the copyright owner or “additional profits” to the infringer, two elements of statutory damages. But the plaintiff can decide to take a statutory award of no less than $750 nor higher than $30,000. If the court decides the infringement was “willful,” statutory damages can go as high as $150,000. Registration will also give the successful plaintiff a chance at reimbursement of attorneys’ fees.

Weekly newspaper publishers have fairly easy Group Registration procedures. Newspapers published at least twice a week use Form G/DN to register all issues monthly and pay $55 each time for a total of $660, assuming publication in all 12 months. Weekly newspapers (published at intervals of one week or longer) use Form SE Group, pay $15 per issue and can register four times a year for a total of $780 (assuming publication is in all 52 weeks of the year). There are instructions and forms on the Copyright Office Web site:

To search for content reprinted without permission, go to and hit “enter.” At the bottom of that page, hit “Advertise.” On the next page, under the heading “Classifieds by City,” scroll down to your city name, click on the name and see whether any of the advertising that appears is yours. Here’s an example of an ad reprinted from the Austin Chronicle:

BACK PAGE THE PLACE TO SEE AND BE SEEN…. Turn to the Chronicle’s Back Page! Advertisers…if you want premium exposure to 240,000 readers, you can reach these readers on the BACK PAGE for as little as $21 per week. Call 454-5767 for info.

Please let Richard Karpel, AAN’s executive director, know whether you see any activity at this Web site that concerns your newspaper or any other sites that appear to be engaging in similar kinds of copying.

&copy Alice Neff Lucan 2004

Alice Neff Lucan provides confidential advice on newsroom issues through Newslaw&trade, a hotline provided by AAN exclusively for its members.