Professor Says News Should Get Special 24 Hour Protections So No Aggregator Can Link To It

from the um.-what? dept

We've seen all sorts of really bizarre and downright dangerous plans to change copyright law to favor newspapers, but a new one, posted at Henry Blodget's Business Insider may be the most ridiculous of all. It starts off with a bunch of really bad assumptions, and then suggests special copyright protections for publications against aggregators, including that no one could repost (even fair use reposting) any content from a daily publication for 24-hours or a week for weekly publications:
A first suggestion would be to provide newspaper and other journalistic content special protection, so that no part of any story from any daily periodical could be reposted in an online aggregator, or used online for any use other than commentary on the article, for 24 hours; similarly, no part of any story from any weekly publication could be reposted in an online aggregator or for any use purpose other than commentary, for one week.
This comes from a Wharton operations professor, Eric Clemons, and a lawyer, Nehal Madhani. There are all sorts of problems with this, starting that the whole assumption that "aggregators" are somehow the problem. We're still trying to figure out what's wrong with aggregators. Clemons and Madhani insist that Google is somehow a problem:
Using aggregators like Google and others, I can access essentially in real time the lead paragraphs of almost any story from the New York Times, the Washington Post, or indeed any other major news service.
Okay, that leaves out some rather important details. First, those newspapers can very easily block Google News via the magic of robots.txt. Second, if the only value you, as a publisher, provide, is the lead paragraph, then you're not providing much value and you deserve to go out of business. Third, and most importantly, the whole point of this is that Google News sends those sites tons of traffic. This is why "search engine optimization" is such a huge field today -- because most sites want that traffic. To argue that the same traffic is somehow damaging is ridiculous.

But Clemons and Madhani ignore all of that. Instead, they claim that Google News and similar aggregators are why "print media publications are dying." Except they provide no evidence for that statement, because there is none. Revenue from those publications has been in decline for many years -- well before Google and the internet existed. The biggest problem many of the bigger publications faced was taking on ridiculous debt loads. On top of that, most of them failed to provide value to their community, as competitors stepped in to serve those communities. That's not about aggregators.

The proposal also makes a few other whoppers:
The net is a pretty robust institution by now, and if we were suddenly not able to access articles from the Post (Washington or New York) until they were 24 hours old the net would, indeed, survive. In contrast, big city newspapers are dying from the east coast to the west, and without that change to reuse of newspapers' content, it actually is not clear that investigative journalism as we know it will survive much longer.
This is hogwash, frankly. There is plenty of new investigative journalism going on, done by institutions who are putting in place smarter business models. Telling aggregators they can't point people to news for 24 hours (or a week in some cases) is just ridiculous and would do a hell of a lot more harm by effectively hiding stories.

Of course, the most ironic of all of this is that this little bit of pure linkbait is published on BusinessInsider, which is famous for republishing huge chunks of articles from other sources with no commentary whatsoever, and just a link back to the original.

Filed Under: copyright, eric clemons, hot news, journalism, nehal madhani


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  1. identicon
    Danny, 19 Aug 2010 @ 6:06am

    But Clemons and Madhani ignore all of that. Instead, they claim that Google News and similar aggregators are why "print media publications are dying.

    What they fail to understand (or refuse to acknowledge) is that print media is dying because it can no longer compete with other means of spreading the news. 15 years ago the internet was not a real viable way of getting the news to people faster than print media because the internet was not as readily available as it is now. But that the tentacles of the net reach far and wide print media is going to lose out.

    The only markets where print media stand a chance against the net will be in rural areas where local events more than likely will never be mentioned on the net. But for big news (like political events, major disasters, major serious crimes) the delay of print media is more than enough time for the word to get out on the net a whole lot faster.

    In fact considering that these folks want to impose a 24hr protection period they are literally trying to recreate that old delay. Even when news outlets make a web precence for themselves they know that on even a playing field they stand a chance of not being the one that gets the news to people first. And that scares them. This is not much different from how record studio execs have fought tooth and nail against digital distribution. They know that now that techonology has leveled the paying field they don't have the advantages they once had and it scares them.

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