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L.A. Times cracks down on framers

The newspaper is fighting three sites that it says are using its material without permission.

The Los Angeles Times is making sure that no other sites on the Net, no matter how big or how small, are using its material without permission.

The L.A. Times has embarked on a mission to make sure that sites that use the its material have received permission to do so. So far, Lycos, WebTV, and Free Republic have been identified as engaging in what the Times says is questionable appropriation of content.

The practice known as "framing" involves one site (site No. 1) linking to another site's content (site No. 2) so that it appears in a window that is embedded into site No. 1. Although site No. 1 may give credit to site No. 2, it is sometimes confusing to the reader where the content originated. Questions then arise as to which site is getting the page view (and therefore can charge more for advertising, thus generating more revenue) and which site's advertising banner will be seen by readers of the material.

According to Jeff Cannon, new media marketing manager for the online version of the newspaper, the Times has no problem with other sites linking to or using its material, as long as it asks for and receives permission.

"They appear to be taking Los Angeles Times stories and using our content to drive traffic to their site," Cannon said.

The paper plans to start sending out "cease and desist" letters to the three companies in question.

While Lycos and WebTV both engage in what Cannon deemed "confusing" use of L.A. Times material, the Free Republic actually "frames" L.A. Times content on its site, albeit with a Times byline. This practice has caused the Times to single the site out as the most flagrant of the three in terms of copyright violation.

The Free Republic, which is a one-person operation, aggregates right-wing news links and articles, such as links to Paula Jones's defense fund. According to the site's mission statement, it aims to "bring you news of the nation not only from the mainstream media, but also from lesser-known sources--small papers, newsletters, talk shows, government publications, online Web sites, and, gasp, even from conspiracy theorists (sometimes there really are fires beneath all that smoke)."

Cannon concedes that the framing technology itself may be the cause of some of the confusion, but asserts that it is really a clear-cut case of copyright violation. "It goes back to pre-Web copyright laws," he said.

Jim Robinson, who runs the site, said he has not been contacted by the L.A. Times, but he has no problem discontinuing his links to what he calls "a government propaganda site."