Yet another “academic” call has been made to change U.S. copyright law to provide special protection for mainstream news sources – and again, these academics ignore the very basics of what it means to aggregate news online.
This time, the nonsense comes out of the Wharton School, who one would think knows a thing or two about business.
The entire essay is based on the assertion that newspapers and print media are in trouble because one can access the first paragraphs of those outlets’ stories on sites like Google News. For reasons that are not clearly explained, but rather assumed, the essayists insist:
This suggests tighter restrictions on the re-use of the intellectual property of others. Fair use doctrine was never intended to protect nearly instantaneous re-posting or re-broadcast.
Aside: Since when is showing the first paragraph of a news story and providing a link to the original site re-posting or re-broadcasting?I get the impression the authors don’t distinguish between those who literally steal news stories in full and those who merely aggregate.
Their solution? Bar the aggregation of daily news stories for 24 hours after publication (in other words, after they’ve outlived their usefulness) and bar aggregation of weekly news for one week.
This alleged problem and proposed solution have numerous flaws.
1. If your first paragraph is all your story has to offer that’s worth reading, you have bigger problems than web traffic. Did everyone forget how writing works? If you write a good story with a solid lede, people will want to read more than is available on Google. It really is that simple. Better writing = more click-throughs. More click-throughs = more online ad revenue.
2. And furthermore, most news sites actually write those summarizing ledes and super basic headlines because they actively are working to be listed high in web searches. Yes, they want Google to use their stories for reason #2. You can’t beg Google to take your content and then complain when they do.
3. Somehow the academics also seem to gloss over the fact that the Googles of the world are the #1 source of incoming traffic to news websites. They lament the declining online ad revenue, but fail to mention that what ad revenue news sites get is largely due to traffic from aggregators.
4. The essayists close with:
We believe that copyright law needs to be revised, and made both shorter and more draconian if journalism is to survive and (2) we believe that the hot news doctrine may offer some relief to traditional media, but not in its current, 90 year old form.
Why does traditional media require special protection or relief? The essay never addresses this. Some media outlets have developed new business models and techniques to adapt to the ever-changing web. Why should our laws be changed merely to protect those businesses that refused to do so? We in the media are quick to decry these kind of industry favors when they go to other industries – but we’re begging to get one for ourselves? That’s hypocritical, anti-capitalistic and frankly, kind of insulting to the readers we serve.
(OK, I’m done ranting. Back to your work day. )