After hoax exposed, Inquisitr attorney demands removal of source material

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A screen capture shows a tweet published by John Albrecht, Jr. after his story was pulled from Inquisitr.com on Sunday.

A lawyer representing the website The Inquisitr has filed numerous copyright infringement notices with various online services regarding source material that accompanied a story about the news service published Monday on The Desk.

Daniel Ilkay, a New York state-based trademark attorney, has submitted three separate notices of copyright infringement to the social media service Twitter and the media repositories Scribd and the Internet Archive over a pair of documents that contain information about Inquisitr’s hiring and editorial practices.

The documents are referenced in a lengthy exposé published Monday concerning the Inquisitr and one of the site’s former writers, John Albrecht, Jr. Albrecht, a freelance reporter from Arizona who submitted a false story to Inquisitr and another web site claiming the retail giant Costco had removed a perceived-satanic birthday cake design from its online ordering systems following a complaint from an Arizona woman.

Costco has no such ordering system for birthday cakes in the United States, and a manager for the local store referenced in Albrecht’s piece said they had no records of a customer complaining about a satanic cake design.

Further investigation by The Desk found that the customer at the center of Albrecht’s story was his girlfriend — a fact that the reporter did not disclose in his piece — and that much of his story was based on one submitted last year to Examiner.com, a website that competes with Inquisitr.

On Monday, The Desk described at length the editorial and hiring process as a highly-plausible reason why Albrecht’s story slipped by his editors, made it onto the website and was re-worked by various popular aggregates online before it was debunked. The operational handbook published by The Desk — first on Scribd, then on the Internet Archive — explained how freelance writers for Inquisitr are expected to use buzzy keywords and multiple sources to lend their stories legitimacy. The editorial contract between freelance reporters and Inquisitr explained how writers were forbidden from sourcing their own works on other websites.

Albrecht’s story raised numerous red flags because it contained no outward sources and was based entirely on a report he authored for a competing website, both of which are against Inquisitr’s terms and conditions for freelance writers.

The story was pulled from Inquisitr after The Desk raised concerns over the accuracy of Albrecht’s reporting with Daniel Treisman, the website’s editor-in-chief. On Monday, Inquisitr issued a full retraction, saying the story “did not meet the Inquisitr’s standards on multiple fronts, including accuracy and disclosure.” A number of aggregate publications, including Raw Story and the Independent Review, updated or withdrew their own version of Albrecht’s story after being contacted by The Desk.

In seeking comment from Treisman, The Desk informed him that Inquisitr’s editorial contract and operational handbook would both be published as source material for the story. Treisman repeatedly asked The Desk not to make the story about Inquisitr itself and threatened to send “DMCA to the publication for a complete removal of anything that you consider fair use but we argue to be proprietary.”

On Monday, Ilkay filed notices of copyright infringement with Scribd and Twitter alleging the material sourced by The Desk was Inquisitr’s intellectual property and that the publication of the material on those services violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a federal law that regulates the protection of copyrighted works published on the Internet. The attorney filed a similar notice with the San Francisco-based Internet Archive on Tuesday.

In his letter to the Internet Archive, which was made available to The Desk as part of a dispute resolution process, Ilkay said the source material had been “obtained…under false pretenses.”

The editorial handbook, which Ilkay contends in his letter is an “internal company document,” is publicly available on the Internet. The Desk chose not to link to the webpage because the document contains a username and a password for a third party service used by Inquisitr’s editorial staff (the credentials were redacted in the version of the document published by The Desk).

The contract is a standard agreement between Inquisitr and its freelance employees that is distributed to every potential hire as part of the interview process. Freelance employees are required to sign it as part of their work agreement with the site, according to Inquisitr editor Jake Lampner.

Ilkay did not return an e-mail from The Desk seeking comment for this story.

Following the attorney’s copyright infringement letters, Scribd and Twitter both removed the material in question from their websites, each promising to restore it upon completion of a dispute resolution process or litigation. The Internet Archive continues to make the source material available online.

Copyrighted source material used by news organizations typically falls under a provision of federal law known as the “fair use doctrine.” The law allows for the reproduction of copyrighted works for a number of purposes, including news reporting.

The Desk contends that the publication of the source material falls under the federal provision of fair use and has filed copyright counter-notifications with Scribd and Twitter seeking the restoration of the material on those websites.