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Cambodian newspaper sues Radio Free Asia

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A small Cambodian newspaper has sued Radio Free Asia for purported copyright violations, charging that the station routinely copied and distributed issues to its staff in Washington and Bangkok and posted some of the paper's work without permission on the Internet.

"I don't object to being quoted or paraphrased in other media," said Bernard Krisher, owner and publisher of the Phnom Penh-based Cambodia Daily. "I do object, however, to the wholesale scanning or transmitting the full content of the Cambodia Daily electronically without requesting permission."

Officials at Radio Free Asia (RFA), a private, nonprofit broadcaster funded by the U.S. government, said they are aware of the lawsuit, but "vigorously reject" the charges in the filing and are prepared to "decisively refute [them] in court."

The Cambodia Daily, also a nonprofit operation, was set up in 1993 and publishes six days a week. In an attempt to reduce the risk of other press outlets using its material, the paper only posts a few selected feature pieces online.

Mr. Krisher, a former Asian correspondent for Newsweek magazine, said his paper writes for the people in Cambodia and sees no need to post its stories on the Internet.

The paper hires both Cambodian and foreign reporters but, because it is a nonprofit, the pay is very low.

"All our reporters are allowed to sell their stories after publication to supplement their income, but they can't do that if the stories are already online," Mr. Krisher said.

Deborah Krisher Steele, Mr. Krisher's daughter and a former manager of RFA's Asian offices, testified that she saw an RFA employee in Thailand copying articles from an edition of the Cambodia Daily back in 1999. The copy had been faxed from RFA's Phnom Penh office.

Mr. Krisher told Cambodian prosecutors last month that he contacted Kem Sos, director of the RFA's Khmer-language service.

Mr. Krisher said RFA agreed that it was in violation of the copyright law and had told its Phnom Penh office to stop the practice. RFA initially offered a small fee — $5,000, according to Mr. Krisher — for the use of the paper as a source.

RFA officials deny using the newspaper's work without attribution, and say they considered the citation of excerpts from Cambodian Daily articles covered under the legal concept of "fair use."

An RFA spokeswoman in Washington said the settlement money was offered "in the interest of resuming our former good relationship with the Cambodia Daily, and because RFA thought it best to offer a reasonable sum rather than encouraging the extensive costs of a lawsuit."

Mr. Krisher countered with "an amount we thought excessive," she said.

"No one has been ripping off the Cambodia Daily. We treat them as we do any other media outlet and if we use their stuff we attribute it to them," the RFA spokeswoman said.

David Moore, a patent lawyer for the Washington-based Staas & Halsey LLP, said that the newspaper could have a case if the material in question had been changed from print to electronic copies and also if the paper has been widely distributed among RFA employees.

"Many confuse copyright with plagiarism, but [it] has far more depth," Mr. Moore said. "... Changing a medium from print to electronic would be in violation of copyright laws."

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