WDL publisher threatens Ellis County Citizen with legal action

WAXAHACHIE — The publisher of the Waxahachie Daily Light (WDL), Scott Brooks, sent the Ellis County Citizen a Cease and Desist Letter on Tuesday claiming copyright infringement after the Ellis County Citizen published letters from readers criticizing Brooks.

"This entire situation saddens me," Ellis County Citizen publisher Dave Vance said. "This all began when Brooks started chastizing residents and berating them for being civically engaged in their community. We, as media, could not stand idly by and allow a new publisher, coming in from out of state, of the largest newspaper in Ellis County berate residents. I will put my neck and reputation on the line to defend the voice of all residents even if it means combating a local Waxahachie newspaper owned by a large conglomerate based out of New York."

Brooks' letter wasn't sent by an attorney representing WDL nor was it sent by an attorney representing GateHouse Media, WDL's parent company.

The letter was written by Brooks and signed by WDL editor Neil White with GateHouse Media Senior Group Publisher Rick Rogers and WDL Admin Assistant Beverly Harris copied on the letter. Brooks makes issue of the Ellis County Citizen using quotes from Ellis County Judge Carol Bush in a column she wrote herself in the WDL regarding the proposed county budget.

"The most recent example, is from a post found on The Ellis County Citizen site regarding a column written by Judge Carol Bush exclusively for the Waxahachie Daily Light. The post was made on Monday, August 17 and includes quotes lifted from the exclusive column," Brooks wrote.

Brooks also accused the Ellis County Citizen of lifting quotes and republishing entire WDL articles.

"There have been other instances where quotes and stories have been used on your site without any approval from WNI. Using any WNI content without prior approval is copyright infringement and in no way acceptable or permissible by law," Brooks wrote.

Brooks went on to threaten, "In the event it continues, we will not hesitate to take all necessary legal action to make sure it stops.

Click here to read the full letter sent by Brooks.

Click here to read the August 17 Ellis County Citizen article Brooks referred to that used quotes from Bush.

Vance responded thoroughly, copying every individual the original email was sent to, and demanded contact information for WDL's attorney.

Vance responded:

"According to the U.S. Copyright Office, a newspaper does not own material unless it is work-for-hire. Unless you paid Ellis County Judge Carol Bush for her column, you, nor Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. owns the copyright to it.

Was Judge Bush paid for her column?

Standing on the assumption she was not paid for her column, Judge Bush is an elected official. Therefore, what she produces as part of her job as County Judge in relation to her job as County Judge is fair-use material.

My third point is that I mentioned in my article these were quotes from her own column in another newspaper. Considering she owns her own copyright for the material she produces (except as part of her job in relation to her job duties), I gave her credit for the quotes. You cannot claim copyright on material you do not own nor can you send a cease and desist letter for material you do not own.

If you can confirm Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. paid Judge Bush for her column (which then WNI would own the copyright), I will gladly update my article to provide WNI credit as well.

You also make some very bold claims that the Ellis County Citizen used quotes and stories from WNI yet you do not provide further examples.

My news website has NEVER used any WNI story. We have in the past quoted you from one of your columns berating a portion of the Ellis County population. We cited you as a reference to those quotes. We included your quotes in a news editorial that was in direct relation to you berating residents. Ever heard of fair-use?

Would you care to elaborate on your vague accusations?

I also noticed this cease and desist letter was written and signed by you. It was not sent by an attorney representing WNI.

I will not tolerate harassment or direct threats from someone who is not an attorney. It will be met with civil action of my own if it continues. Therefore, do not send me another threatening letter unless it is from a WNI attorney, at which time I'll have an attorney respond accordingly.

By the way, what is the WNI's attorney's contact information so I can deal directly with them regarding this going forward? I need to deal with someone who understands the law and journalism, because obviously you understand neither.

Have a wonderful day."

Brooks responded briefly. He wrote:

"Mr. Vance, the letter is clear enough that I nor anyone else, at this point, needs to explain it to you. It's not rocket science but rather a basic journalism principle. Do not use any WNI content without my or Neal's prior approval.

It's pretty simple."

Vance kept his response even shorter. He wrote:

"What is the WNI's attorney's contact information so I can deal directly with them?"

Brooks has not responded as of press time.

It seems to be that Brooks is upset of the criticism he has received following direct written attacks he launched against the general public in his written columns. He also appears to be upset that the Ellis County Citizen quoted Bush in what he calls an exclusive column to the WDL written by Bush. Bush rarely sends press releases or columns to the other three local media outlets. The Ellis County Citizen, Ellis County Press and Ennis Daily News have published negative articles about Bush in the past and have been excluded from information Bush releases that should be of high interest to county residents.

This entire controversy between Brooks, the public and Ellis County Citizen began when Brooks, who became editor of the WDL less than one year ago, launched a tirade in printed WDL columns against residents who were questioning Waxahachie Independent School District (WISD) Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Glenn regarding his treatment of Global High School and the recently passed bond package.

Brooks' first column berated a 16-year-old student for addressing his grievances to the WISD School Board during a school board meeting.

Click here to read Brooks' July 11 column.

In Brooks' most recent column, he wrote "bite me" to people questioning the expenditures on new logo designs and equipment purchases for the WISD football program.

Specifically, he wrote, "It’s remarkable how much energy is spent by those living in a constant mode of carping and bellyaching. It’s obnoxious, too, whether it comes from a man, a woman, a student or an angry little mob. Matter of fact, those who sit behind a computer and spew out all sorts of incongruent verbal toxicity can, well, bite me. I rarely see these folks in person at any kind of event or function nor do any of them engage in reasonable discussion."

This is despite many of these same people attending every school board meeting with at least one person meeting with Brooks in-person.

Ignoring the fact that taxpayers fund local schools, Brooks appears to believe that a high-profile new football coach's expenditures shouldn't be questioned by taxpayers and students.

He wrote, "As for the paranoid argument about football helmets of all things, if Jon Kitna wants the football team to have new helmets and uniforms, more power to him. He is the coach, after all, and shouldn’t give a rat’s tail about cacophonous ramblings."

Click here to read Brooks' August 15 article.

Brooks also made it a point to make it public about a Waxahachie resident who contacted a local business stating he would boycotting the business as long as they advertised with the WDL. The resident's action was unknown to the Ellis County Citizen beforehand and Vance publicly disagreed with the resident's decision.

Click here to read Brooks' July 24 article.

Ellis County Citizen published an editorial in response to Brooks' first and second tirades. Vance didn't mince words in his open letter on July 29, which was also sent to Brooks directly. Vance wants to see the WDL succeed but believes Brooks needs to be removed from the paper.

Click here to read the Ellis County Citizen editorial.

Brooks responded to Vance's email and concluded his response with, "stay tuned."

Brooks published a column on August 1 threatening retaliation against residents complaining about the Waxahachie Daily Light.

"As for the aforementioned firing squad of coarse and contemptible shots, those pulling the trigger will sooner or later run out. They just will. Until then, if I could offer them any advice, it would be to keep an eye on the ricochets," Brooks wrote. "They sting."

Click here to read Brooks' August 1 column.

Ellis County Citizen recently published a letter to the editor by a Global High School student following Brooks' July 11 tirade.

Click here to read the August 16 letter from Maddie Littlejohn.

A local businessman also had words to say against Brooks in a letter to the Ellis County Citizen editor following Brooks' latest meltdown telling residents to "bite me."

Click here to read the August 17 letter from Rodney Ramsey.

Vance is not happy with the battle between the two media outlets but he states he will not relent as long as this nonsense continues.

"Brooks called the Ellis County Citizen a blog masquerading as a news website. I'm okay with that. He can call it whatever he wants," Vance said. "However, no matter what someone wants to describe the Ellis County Citizen as, we, nor should the WDL be wasting our time fighting between the two of us. We're not fighting with the Ellis County Press or the Ennis Daily News. That's because they aren't berating residents of this county or violating their integrity as newspapers."

Vance went on to say, "The Ellis County Citizen has over 6,500 Facebook subscribers, the second largest media outlet in Ellis County, and we may lose readers over this battle and we may risk losing potential advertisers, but my priority and the priority of my volunteers is to be a voice of the residents of Ellis County. I chose the name Ellis County Citizen for a reason. We want to be a voice for Ellis County residents and we won't tolerate another media outlet using the heal of their boot to shove their faces in the mud no matter how large of a corporation their parent company is."

"This is all absolute nonsense," Vance said. "Absolute nonsense."

Vance predicts this childish behavior can end a few different ways.

"If this childish nonsense were to stop, WDL clean up its act and focus on reporting real news rather than berating residents, I believe we both can run our separate businesses in harmony," Vance said. "However, if it continues, I believe it could end up being the demise of both the Waxahachie Daily Light and the Ellis County Citizen, leaving the Ellis County Press and Ennis Daily News to cover the void in our absence. Residents will tolerate fighting between two newspapers for only so long before they wash their hands of both."