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CENSORED: Click not here, says Becky O’Malley

In an email dated May 12, 2009 to our editor, Über-free speech advocate, Becky O’Malley, threatened a lawsuit if we do not immediately remove emails that she had sent us (see the sub-page for the email chain).  She claims that she is an experienced writer and that therefore her emails are protected under copyright law. 

My, my, my, such an experienced writer.  Perhaps she and we should join forces and publish our five years of emails.  The royalties earned might keep the Berkeley Daily Planet afloat for years to come, and as for us, well who wouldn’t want a little spare change in these hard times.  Since she is the one who is so experienced, we would gladly give her better than a 50/50 split on the royalties.

She also claims to be an attorney, who studied copyright law.  She must certainly have an outstanding legal mind, since no sooner did we receive a threat on May 12 than the May 14 issue of the Berkeley Daily Planet hit the stands and, lo and behold, in her weekly editorial O’Malley liberally quoted an email exchange between two people, and she wasn’t even one of them.  The subtle legal reasoning as to why she can do this, but we cannot, should earn her a seat on the Supreme Court.  But then Berkeley would be bereft of one of its finest writers (see Why Does She Do It?).

Having now summarized O’Malley’s email (due to her threats of litigation, we dare not quote it), we now reprint our editor’s response of May 12:


I have received your demand that we remove your several emails to me from   I have to say that I never understood copyright law to protect a short email exchange, especially since neither of us had placed a copyright notice on the emails or even marked those emails “Confidential.”  It would also seem that quoting such a short exchange in an online news service dedicated to the public good, such as ours, would constitute “fair usage.”  Moreover, since I am the author of half of the exchange, it would seem logical that I have as much claim to the exchange as you. 

Because, as you say, you are a lawyer and an expert in copyright law, can I ask you to provide us with the case law that might govern such an email exchange (I regret that I am not an attorney but merely a humble journalist)?

Looking at the bright side, at least you are now reading  As you know, I have repeatedly asked that you review the site and point out any errors.  I even sent you a PDF of the entire site before we launched it for that very purpose.  You responded with a one line curt response calling the site “screwy.”  Now that we have your attention, may I encourage you to regularly look at the “What’s New” section.  If we err, it is unintentional, and we will always be delighted to fix mistakes.

Returning to the matter at hand, in the interest of being as fair as possible to you, and pending a review of the case law that you will provide, we will remove your writings, and instead replace them with our reasonable summary.  I am out of the office tomorrow, except very briefly in the morning, but I will try to get this done by the end of the day, Thursday.

Finally, what’s with the Dear Mr. Gertz?  After years of correspondence I thought we were on a first name basis.  In fact, as always, I am delighted to take you to lunch.


You can follow this link to the revised webpage with O’Malley’s censored emails replaced by honest summaries.

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