BY ERIN L. NISSLEY
Published: Thursday, November 06, 2008
Updated: Thursday, November 6, 2008 4:19 AM EST
The Times-Tribune sued the Wilkes-Barre Publishing Co. and The Times Leader on Wednesday, claiming the Wilkes-Barre paper plagiarized more than 50 obituaries written and published in The Times-Tribune starting in late October.
The suit, filed in Lackawanna County Court, lists seven claims, including misappropriation, unfair competition, fraud, breach of contract and unjust enrichment.
The Times-Tribune is asking a judge to award damages in excess of $210,000 for lost profits, lost customers, loss of good will and damage to existing business relationships. The suit also asks that The Times Leader be barred from copying Times-Tribune obituaries or any other content from its newspapers or Web site.
Starting on Oct. 27, The Times Leader “simply copied obituaries from The Times-Tribune, The Sunday Times and/or The Scranton Times’ Web site” and published them in the Wilkes-Barre paper’s Scranton edition, the suit claims.
Attached to the lawsuit are examples of 50 obituaries that ran in The Times-Tribune through Oct. 31 and the same obituaries — down to punctuation, structure and style — that ran in The Times Leader a day or more later.
“It’s disturbing,” said Times-Tribune Managing Editor Lawrence K. Beaupre. “I’ve never seen such a vast and blatant example of plagiarism in my 40 years of journalism. They just took our work and presented it to their readers as if it were their own.”
Staffers at The Times-Tribune spoke to funeral directors involved with the 50-plus obituaries in question. The directors indicated they did not send any obituary information to The Times Leader and did not request that the obituaries be published in that paper, according to the lawsuit.
Publishing obituaries taken directly from The Times-Tribune constitutes unfair competition, the lawsuit says, and falsely conveys to the public and funeral homes in Lackawanna County that certain funeral homes are doing business with The Times Leader.
On Oct. 27, Times-Tribune attorney J. Timothy Hinton Jr. contacted Times Leader Publisher Richard Connor and told him The Times Leader was publishing obituaries copied directly from The Times-Tribune and The Sunday Times. Mr. Connor said he would look into the situation, according to the lawsuit.
A day later, Times-Tribune obituaries were still being published in The Times Leader, the suit says. Mr. Hinton faxed a letter to Mr. Connor requesting that his newspaper stop publishing obituaries taken from The Times-Tribune. The Wilkes-Barre paper did not stop, however, which led to the lawsuit.
Times Leader lawyer Ralph Kates had not seen the lawsuit Wednesday evening but said he had several discussions with Mr. Hinton prior to the suit being filed.
“I know of no law The Times Leader has violated in printing these obituaries,” Mr. Kates said.
He said both newspapers participate in a Web site called Legacy.com, a searchable database of obituaries from around the country, which he says permits “any participant to copy and publish any obituary from that Web site.”
“This isn’t about dollars and cents, it’s about right versus wrong,” Mr. Hinton said. “They might as well be photocopying our classified ads and selling them on the street corner.”
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