On Wednesday afternoon, IndieWire film critic and deputy editor Kate Erbland was surprised to discover that she's also a writer for the Bellingham-based newspaper Cascadia Weekly.
Erbland, who has been at IndieWire for four years, discovered her other gig through a Google Alert for her name, which informed her that her recent IndieWire review of Hustlers had been posted on Cascadia Weekly's website.
Surprised, Erbland started searching the paper's website and realized that not only had Cascadia Weekly been duplicating her reviews online, it also looked like they'd printed them in their paper edition.
The paper occasionally made small changes—a few cuts here and there, as well as updating the reviews to their own house style—but Erbland claims all of this was done without her or IndieWire's permission or compensation. And it turns out, this was no one-off mistake.
Erbland and others say they found stolen reviews from film critics stretching back almost a decade, including, possibly, a 2017 review of The Last Jedi that was written by former Minneapolis Star Tribune film critic Colin Covert and which Cascadia Weekly actually used as a cover story. (Ironically, Covert resigned from the Star Tribune in 2018 after allegations of plagiarism. The paper did not immediately respond to a request for comment on any re-publishing aggreement they have with Cascadia Weekly.)
After Erbland posted her findings on Twitter, the paper quickly started deleting the reviews and editing PDFs (the entire film section has now been taken offline), but she has receipts.
Another update: The PDF of this week's issue has been altered to now show a blank half page where my HUSTLERS review once lived. Yes, I have the original. Compare! https://t.co/r5zFTUngDe pic.twitter.com/qpvu0GLM3v
— Kate Erbland (@katerbland) September 12, 2019
Cascadia Weekly has not responded to Erbland's allegations directly to her, but in an email, editor Tim Johnson told The Stranger, "Cascadia Weekly has published feature film reviews without permission of their authors. The responsibility for this rests with me, the publisher, and I apologize and am available to those authors for cure. To authors and their representatives who request or demand reasonable remedy, we will of course respond promptly and appropriately to each request."
Stealing film reviews is a clear ethical transgression, but is it illegal? Turns out, yes. It's not plagiarism because they didn't try to pass the work off under someone else's byline, but it is a violation of copyright law, and that could be a very expensive error on Cascadia Weekly's part, says Zahr Said, a professor of copyright law at the University of Washington School of Law.
Depending on whether or not the stolen work was registered under copyright, IndieWire and other outlets may be entitled to statutory damages, which, under federal law, range from $750 to $30,000 per violation. And if the paper is shown to have willfully stolen this work, they could be held liable for up to $150,000 per work.
"Let's put it this way," Said said, "If I were [Cascadia Weekly], I would be kind of shaking in my boots."
The paper plans to address this in their print edition next week. Let's hope it's an original statement and not taken from somebody else.