We've already covered how Rupert Murdoch has flip flopped
his position on free online news, but his recent foray into blaming search engines and aggregators
is really reaching the height of hypocrisy. We've already looked into the issue of aggregators and found there's no problem
there at all. Most aggregators either direct traffic to the original sites or are too small to matter. There's no evidence they actually siphon any traffic away at all... but it seems that the old newspaper guys need an enemy, and these days it's those evil "aggregators."
Following on the lead of his boss, News Corp. General Counsel Lawrence Jacobs made some interesting statements, claiming that aggregators are a big problem
"Aggregators and Google News are, to us, the worst offenders," general counsel Lawrence Jacobs said today at a luncheon talk at Brooklyn Law School. "They make money by living off the sweat of our brow."
This isn't just ridiculous and wrong, it's hypocrisy of the worst kind. As Gabe Rivera points out
, just a few years ago, News Corp was happily hyping up its own aggregator
, and even today it appears to run a number of different aggregators, with a Wall Street Journal editor proudly talking about how useful the aggregator is. Fox News has its own news aggregator
, the WSJ's tech page has Popular Technology Stories from Around the Web
and AllThingsD has its "Voices"
section -- all of which aggregate content from elsewhere with no payment.
So, according to News Corp., News Corp., is one of the worst offenders, right?
And, of course, things get even worse, the more you look at what Jacobs has to say. As one of our readers pointed out
earlier this week, not only doesn't Fox News use robots.txt to block Google and other aggregators, it specifically tells Google News where to find its news
. So as its execs and lawyers are whining about how evil Google News is to index its site, its tech people are putting up a big glowing sign that says "Hey! Google News! Over here! Come and get it!" Hypocrites. By the way, Weston Kosova, over at Newsweek even wrote up a nice little column based on our reader's comment
. According to News Corp. and Jacobs, Newsweek just made money "off the sweat of our brow" (or technically, our readers). But, frankly, I think it's pretty awesome that someone from Newsweek isn't just reading Techdirt, but getting value out of our community as well.
Oh, and why stop there? Seeing as Lawrence Jacobs is general counsel of News Corp., one has to assume that he's a lawyer with a real law degree and such. And thus, you would think that he was familiar with copyright doctrines in the US, and would choose his language carefully. It's then especially odd that he chose the phrase "sweat of our brow" in describing his complaint, given that in Feist, the US explicitly rejected "sweat of the brow" as a reason to grant copyright
. Since Jacobs appears unfamiliar with the ruling in Feist
, here's a quote for him:
It may seem unfair that much of the fruit of the compiler's labor may be used by others without compensation. As Justice Brennan has correctly observed, however, this is not "some unforeseen byproduct of a statutory scheme." Harper & Row, 471 U.S., at 589 (dissenting opinion). It is, rather, "the essence of copyright," ibid., and a constitutional requirement. The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors, but "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.... The "sweat of the brow" doctrine had numerous flaws....
So, let's sum up. While Murdoch and Jacobs are out trashing aggregators for making money based on the sweat of their brow, News. Corp. itself gleefully offers up at least three aggregators itself, which its writers and editors happily promote. The tech staff uses its robots.txt file to point aggregators to exactly where they should go, explicitly calling out some aggregators (the "worst" according to Jacobs) by name. And, oh yeah, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the "sweat of the brow" argument is meaningless when it comes to copyright law.
Time for a rethink, perhaps?