Ramblings

by Mike Masnick




How Dare You Make My Content More Valuable!

from the it's-not-so-tricky dept

Perhaps it's not that surprising, but it's a bit upsetting to still see so many people having difficulty with the idea that having others increase the value of your content is a good thing. There are the obvious cases, such as the entertainment industry lawsuits against sites and services that help promote their content. Or, publishers and authors suing Google over their book scanning project that basically will create a tremendous card catalog for books that is already helping to drive more sales. Earlier this year, in looking at some of these cases, it seemed that the only way to make sense of them was to chalk it up to jealousy. These other services were generally making some money themselves, but they were doing so by making others' content more valuable. That should be a win-win for everyone. After all, they weren't charging the original content owner to make his or her content more valuable, but just doing so on their own -- and therefore there should be nothing at all wrong with them monetizing that value for themselves. The payout to the content owner is increased anyway.

However, something started to become clear last week, when we wrote about the similar misunderstanding from News.com editor Charles Cooper, in that he claimed that Google was making money and giving nothing back. Specifically, Cooper was upset about the lack of a monetary payout, even though the content he produced is available for anyone to read free online. The problem was that Cooper had difficulty realizing that Google was paying. It was paying by driving additional traffic to News.com (and plenty of other sites) by providing a service that people enjoy using to find news. This weekend, a very similar situation played itself out. Jason Calacanis, the founder of Weblogs Inc., which is now owned by AOL, threatened to sue any RSS aggregator that placed ads next to any Weblogs Inc. RSS feed, and reiterated his claim that their full content (with ads, mind you) RSS feeds are for "individual and non-commercial use only." Almost two years ago, we had a discussion about how exactly this issue concerning RSS feeds was destined to be a messy situation.

How do you define individual and non-commercial use in this context? As we wrote at the time, if an investor reads something and makes a trade on it, is that non-commercial use, or does the trader owe Calacanis or AOL some money? What if someone views the feed in their Gmail account that has ads down the side? Is that a violation? How about the old Opera browser that had ads showing across the top? Someone in the comments to Calacanis' post notes that he paid for his RSS aggregator software and now uses it to read Weblogs Inc. feeds. Does Calacanis deserve some of the money that was used to pay for the aggregator? With Techdirt's InfoAdvisor product, we build information portfolios for customers that include (among other things) RSS feeds that they should read, where we manage the feeds (setting it up so when they login they see what they're subscribed to without having to bother figuring out how to subscribe and how to unsubscribe from stuff). Companies pay us for this. If we recommend a Weblogs Inc. feed, is that against their terms? Just to be safe, I've instructed our analyst staff to no longer include any Weblogs Inc. feeds for our customers. This is a shame, because sites like Engadget provide excellent content. Instead, we'll need to replace them with other gadget blogs to remain on the safe side.

Again, it's a situation where it appears that one side is oblivious to the value provided by the other. Calacanis complains in the comments to his post that it's a case of "let us make money off your backs and do nothing for you in return." Except, that's not true at all. We provide value by helping get people at various companies reading the content on his blogs. Newsgator and any other RSS aggregator does a ton in return for Weblogs Inc., in getting a lot more people regularly reading their content, pointing to it, commenting on it, writing about it on their own blogs and much, much more. In all of these cases, from Cooper to Calacanis to book publishers to the entertainment industry, they ignore the value these services provide back to them in increasing their traffic, giving them lots more attention and generally helping them get more viewers/buyers/customers... and they're doing it all for free. As with Cooper, where I suggested Google send him a bill, Newsgator should consider sending Calacanis a bill for all those years of freely delivering Weblogs' Inc. content to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of readers who probably wouldn't bother to visit his sites otherwise.

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  1. icon
    Mike (profile), 26 Oct 2006 @ 10:11am

    Re: Re: Techdirt is missing the point

    Mike, This is a pure strawman argument. Of course you cannot technically restrict the type of person to whom your content is published, but you sure as heck can restrict others from republishing that content. I don't think you're accurately describing Jason's point. The non-commercial caveat goes to 'uses' not 'users'. I'm sure that the underlying logic behind the 'non-commercial' restriction is republishing. After all, if the commercial outfit merely consumed and didn't reuse the content, the issue disappears.

    Ok, so explain this. If I put a notice on my website that said "this website is purely for non-commercial use" and you viewed it in a browser that included ads and you visited it in your browser from work, you've now violated my terms of service. How is that any different? It's the same thing.

    Newsgator is simply a browser of RSS feeds instead of HTML. Yet, no one thinks that you could put a license forbidding how HTML is read. Why do you then think it's okay to put a license up forbidding how RSS is read.

    Newsgator is not "republishing" anything. They're simply displaying the content for a single user who asked for it, the same as your browser displays Techdirt of you when you ask for it.

    Of course, and this fact is cranked into the CPM/CPI rates. I don't see how it's germane to this issue, though.

    Nice of you to take the argument out of context. The original was responding to a claim that readers who don't read ads are useless. Now you're saying they're useful. I agree.

    In theory, maybe. But I doubt you'd disagree that ads (including sponsorships) and subscriptions comprise the vast bulk of the business.

    Again out of context. The point was that he claimed that if there was no ad model then it would have to be subscriptions. My point was that that's not necessarily true. The fact that those two models are popular right now is unrelated to that. If ads disappeared, you'd see a lot of other business models crop up pretty fast.

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