This week, for some reason, Gawker is suddenly Public Enemy #1 to the online media world. It seems to be because they’re doing pretty well when it comes to online revenue and they do it largely by blogging about the news researched by other sources.
The reason it’s suddenly a big deal is that a writer at the Washington Post, Ian Shapira, finally decided to throw a (well-written) snit about Gawker blogging about one of their pieces. Shapira charges that Gawker infringed on the copyright of his work because so much of their post was derived from his story.
Gawker’s post quoted heavily from the source’s quotes in the Post story in fact, slightly more than half of their very short post was from the WaPo story. The Nieman Journalism Lab took a look at what was used and asked it’s readers if they thought Gawker violated Fair Use or fell well within its guidelines. The comments are well worth a full read, as they really put the heart of the debate right out there:
1. The Gawker post clearly qualifies as Fair Use. Commenter Justin reminds us that the code states that content use “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” Comment and criticism – what else is Gawker if not that?
2. Despite Shapira’s claims to the contrary, the Post did get credit. Sure, Gawker could have said it came from the post before the end – but they gave them something far more valuable. They linked to the original story – several times in fact. As commenter (and excellent young blogger) Cody Brown says, in the online world, that’s the best credit you can get.
3. Was the Post damaged by it? Hardly. Shapira noted that Gawker was the #2 referrer on the web to his story and likely contributed quite a few new readers to an otherwise mundane story that may not have had a lot of legs online otherwise.
4. Who owns the quotes from the source anyway? If Gawker should cut the post a check for quoting their piece and selling ads around it (which the WaPo writer suggests in jest), what does the Post owe their original source for selling ads around her quotes? (And furthermore, does reporting count as aggregation, too?)
5. Would the Post be complaining if it wasn’t Gawker? That’s debatable. As the commenter notes (and I say all of the time) other newspapers, broadcast and wire services do this quite a bit too – why isn’t there any more outrage about that?
I really question why Shapira’s editor even let him write that follow-up charging that Gawker stole from his work. Does Shapira really have a background that makes him knowledgeable enough about these sticky issues of fair use and media law that he can make claims that even experienced media lawyers aren’t altogether clear on? Also, how many of the Post’s online readers even care about this issue? You know who cares to hear about how much work Shapira put into this everyday story only to have it “ripped off” by big, bad blogs? Journalists. That’s about it.
How much of this whole debate – not just the WaPo v. Gawker, but the whole blogs/aggregators vs. old media – is based in old-fashioned jealousy? Chris Krewson, editor of the Philadelphia Enquirer, said this to me on Twitter: “Aren’t we at least a little annoyed that Gawker and the aggies are faring well, ad-wise?”
Yes, I think we are. Gawker’s media sales have shot up this year. Ad revenues are up 45% year-over-year for the first six months of 2009 – and their production costs fall way below that of a newspaper. But isn’t that just good competition?
Maybe we just need to be better.
Here are more related posts about the whole Gawker debate you may find interesting:
- Journalism’s Problem Isn’t Gawker. It’s Advertising. – The Atlantic Politics Channel – Atlantic’s followup analysis to the Nieman Lab post. Gawker isn’t the issue here, they insist, online advertising is the real issue – so maybe all of these people wringing their hands about Gawker and the like should focus on the task at hand. (amen)
- Gawker’s Link Etiquette (or Lack Thereof) : CJR – An interesting look at Gawker’s linking habits. As the CJR notes, what they do falls within existing Fair Use guidelines and they DO link to the original piece – just way, way down in the story. I don’t agree with the practice, but I also don’t think we need a law that makes Gawker link to the original higher in the story.