Dallas Morning News files lawsuit against website for stealing stories
UPDATE 8-20-2021: The Dallas Morning News settled its lawsuit against Holly Starks. The lawsuit was "dismissed with prejudice," and a statement said that "Defendants have now agreed to remove all copies of Dallas Morning News content from their websites, and to not reproduce or distribute Dallas Morning News content in the future without a license."
The Dallas Morning News is going after a website creator for stealing its articles.
The newspaper filed a lawsuit against Holly Starks, a website creator and "SEO queen" for copyright infringement, and asks for injunctive relief and damages.
Starks, who is based in Wisconsin, runs a business providing search engine optimization (SEO) services and internet marketing.
She makes money by setting up websites under the umbrella of "Holly's News Network," including city-themed news sites such as dailydallasnews.com, dailychicagonews.com, dailyphoenixnews.com, and dailyneworleansnews.com.
Her sites lift stories from other sources, including CultureMap, but the stories get altered slightly via the use of online translation software, which changes a word here or there to avoid detection.
In a February 2021 interview on YouTube, she says she found a list of the top 100 cities in the U.S. and made a site for each. "I don't even write the content, it's all pulled in — I don't even log into these sites anymore," she says.
Part of what rankles the newspaper in the lawsuit is her disregard for their overtures and her bragging about her techniques:
"Plaintiff has repeatedly notified Starks that she is infringing on Plaintiff's copyrights, but Defendants continue to willfully and knowingly misappropriate and infringe on Plaintiff's copyrights in its content. Plaintiff has submitted numerous takedown requests pursuant to the DMCA, requesting that Plaintiff's content be removed from the Infringing Sites. But rather than complying with these requests, Defendants have knowingly and willfully disregarded Plaintiff's copyright claims."
Instead of complying, Starks moved the websites to hosting services that ignore rules established by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The lawsuit even includes a screenshot of a March 6 post from Starks' Facebook page:
March 6 ·
This one company keeps sending me DMCA. I have moved the one site now 5x to different hosting. Now I’m pissed. Just picked up Offshore hosting and DMCA ignored hosting. And now I just submitted 30 more news sites in his city. That’s what you get when you troll me.
It's kind of funny that she's "pissed" about getting caught stealing, almost as if she doesn't understand that what she's doing is theft? In her interview, she states outright that she's rewriting others' stories.
"Who's writing your content?" asks interviewer Chase Reiner.
"It's RSS feed," she says.
"What? You're just feeding other people's content into them?" Reiner says.
"We're rewriting it through plug-ins and then posting it," she says.
"So you're spinning up the content and posting it," Reiner says.
"Let's say the article is 500 words, we're only spinning like 20 words," she says.
She then seems to acknowledge the DMN's objections.
"But one newspaper in Texas does not like me pulling their feed," she says. "I forward that page to a different interface and my hosting was fine with that, I didn't get in any trouble."
The Dallas Morning News is no stranger to cough cough finding inspiration for its stories from other sites, a recent example being its June 29 story on hammerhead worms. But cutting and pasting words verbatim is next level, and gloating about it will not be tolerated.
The lawsuit may have already had an effect. On July 1, while Starks' other city sites such as dailyneworleansnews.com were still online, dailydallasnews.com was down with an "Error 521" displayed.