One northern Vermont newspaper has accused another of stealing a news wire password subscription and fraudulently inflating its subscription numbers.
In a suit filed in federal court, The Caledonian-Record has accused the Newport Daily Express, its parent company Horizon Publications, and former editor and publisher Ken Wells of stealing the Record's Associated Press subscription password. The newspaper alleges that Caledonian-Record's password was used by the Newport Daily Express in order to illegally download hundreds of Associated Press photos for its own use.
The lawsuit alleges that the Newport Daily Express downloaded 680 photos using The Caledonian-Record subscription between 2012 and 2016. In the suit, The Caledonian-Record say they pay $45,000 per year to the Associated Press, $20,000 more than a subscription without photographs.
The suit also alleges that the Newport Daily Express misrepresented its circulation number to advertisers as 4,500 when its actual circulation was 1,500. The Caledonian-Record says it has printed the newspaper for the Express on several occasions.
The lawsuit was brought under federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) laws.
"It's the statute you usually use and were created to be used primarily against organized crime, against Mafia. So it's an interesting application of RICO but I could see where maybe it's an organization that is allegedly participating in or doing illegal activity. There's a pattern of that activity because they're alleging that this happened over a period of years. And so it could apply," said Traci Griffith, Associate Professor of Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts at St. Michael's College.
The Caledonian-Record has asked for a permanent injunction prohibiting the Newport Daily Express from accessing their Associated Press account, as well as reimbursement for the cost of the subscriptions and legal fees.
Griffith said those financial penalties could be a big hit for such a small newspaper.
"They're looking at having to compensate the other publication for the material that was taken from them. That could be pretty hefty depending on how much they are alleged to have used or taken," she said. "And there's always fines that are associated with kind of taking material that doesn't belong to you and for a small publication to be hit with some pretty hefty fines that could be pretty detrimental."
Ken Wells left the Newport Daily Express in 2016.