One of my biggest complaints about the way some old school journalism folks view "the news business," is that they still have trouble recognizing they're in the community business. They're so focused on delivering the "news," they forget the bigger issue. The news business has always been a community business. It was a way of bringing together a community of people with something in common (usually locality), and then selling their attention to advertisers. The big problem facing the industry today is that there are many more ways for communities to form. They used to be one of the few games in town. These days, however, there are many, many more places for communities -- and most of them treat the communities much better, and provide a lot more value. And yet, too often we hear newspaper folks talk down to and insult the idea that they should ever be expected to actually rub virtual shoulders with their community. They don't like using comments. They don't want to talk to fans or critics alike. They just want to report the news and move on.
Obviously, there are many, many exceptions to this. And the number of exceptions are growing and that's a good thing, because eventually they won't be exceptions at all. For now, though, it's nice to highlight stories of journalists recognizing the importance of actually communicating with their community. Pickle Monger points us to a piece by a long-time BBC reporter, Paul Reynolds, talking about his experience embracing the community rather than shunning it, and recognizing that this involvement of the public really is "the future of news." He admits it wasn't always pleasant, and it did require establishing something of a thick skin, but he seems to feel that it's worth it.
When you go around preaching the concept that ideas can be "owned," you're just asking for a lawsuit when you then ask people to voluntarily submit their own ideas. At some point, the Travel Channel put up a website, asking viewers for ideas for new shows. I'm sort of surprised they would do this, seeing as they must have known what would happen next. Some guy submitted an idea that probably a dozen or more people submitted: do a reality show on a family driving around the country in an RV. And, when the Travel Channel, along with NBC and the BBC announced a show called "The Great American Road Trip," the guy Christopher Cardillo insisted it was his idea that was being taken unfairly. So he sued for both copyright infringement and racketeering.
Of course, you can't copyright ideas and Cardillo had never actually registered the copyright on the proposal itself anyway, so there was no copyright claim. And, now the court has also tossed out the ridiculous racketeering charge. The idea that setting up a website to solicit show ideas is akin racketeering seems to be a bigger stretch than even some of the most ridiculous lawsuits we see on a daily basis.
While it's good that the court dismissed this, I'm amazed at a few things. First, on the copyright issue, the court notes "plaintiffs' failure to register their idea is fatal to their copyright claim." But, um, shouldn't the court know that you can't copyright an idea? While it gets the results right, the reasoning is weird.
Similarly, on the racketeering issue, the court spends a lot of time focusing on how there's no pattern of racketeering from a single incident, but it's not clear that there was even a single incident that is in any way illegal. The idea of doing a reality show of people traveling in RVs around the country is hardly unique, and the actual show is quite different than what Cardillo proposed anyway (his involved just his family driving from the US to South America -- the real show involves a bunch of families around the country involved in a contest).
Still, in the end, it's surprising that in a TV industry made up of folks who keep insisting that ideas can be "owned," that anyone would ever bother to put up a website asking for show ideas, and not expect to get sued.
The incredibly popular UK BBC TV show Top Gear has been involved in a legal fight with publisher HarperCollins over the plans to publish a book revealing the identity of "The Stig," the always secretive test driver who appears in the show unidentified in a racing suit and helmet. The BBC spent its (publicly-funded) money to try to prevent such a revelation, but the UK courts have pointed out the basic free speech rights involved, and allowed racecar driver Ben Collins to admit that he's The Stig and have his autobiography published. Of course, in watching this battle unfold, I was confused as to why the BBC was going after HarperCollins, rather than targeting Ben Collins directly (and, by the way, I'm assuming the "Collins" in both names is a coincidence). Either way, as HarperCollins notes, this does appear to be a victory for free speech. In the meantime, if the BBC is really so upset that "the mystery" is gone, why not just get a new once-again secret Stig? In fact, the BBC has actually done exactly that in the past, dumping Perry McCarthy as the original Stig after his identity was revealed.
THREsq has an interesting story about how the guy, Louie Psihoyos, who won an Oscar for best documentary this year for The Cove, apparently has a pretty quick legal trigger finger against anyone using a photograph he took 15 years ago. He's sued a bunch of companies over the years, and the latest is the BBC and CBS. He claims that it cost him $100,000 to create the photograph, which can be seen here:
And, yes, THREsq is showing the photo as well. In these two cases, it seems like clear fair use, since we're both reporting on the photo itself. However, where the BBC potentially got into trouble is in using the same photo to illustrate an article about Intel betting on TV and video content. What's odd, however, is that the reason CBS is being sued is "that CBS Marketing appropriated it for commercial display at the 2009 Intel Developers Forum." This makes me wonder if CBS Marketing used the image at the event that the BBC was reporting on, leading the BBC to believe it had the ability to use that image. That could make the legal fight a bit more interesting.
However, the article also notes that Psihoyos has sued a bunch of times in the past over this photo as well. For example, a year ago, he sued Apple for the second time over this photo. While that lawsuit was eventually settled, the details suggest that Psihoyos was barking up the wrong tree on that lawsuit. It wasn't a case of Apple using the image, but a random iPhone app developer. You would think that Apple would have a clear DMCA safe harbor response, which would protect it from such a lawsuit, so I'm a bit surprised they ended up settling.
Following on the US FCC's decision to let Hollywood add some DRM to movies it broadcasts to television, it looks like UK regulators Ofcom have gone even further in allowing the BBC to similarly use a form of DRM to try to stop copying of HD programming. Not surprisingly, this also came at the request of the entertainment industry. But, again, this seems to be about breaking what your technology allows, just so that the entertainment industry can have the illusion of control. The reports all say things like "This will allow broadcasters to stop piracy of shows," but that's patently ridiculous. There are always ways around these blocks for those who really want to get there -- and those shows will still end up online just as quickly (or maybe a few seconds later). And at that point, the locks are meaningless... except to folks who didn't want to have to buy an expensive locked down settop box that is required to view this kind of content. It's an incredibly anti-consumer move that has little to no benefit to the entertainment industry, other than in their minds.
Back in February, we noted that UK newspapers (the same ones who are blocking aggregators and putting up paywalls) were getting angry that the BBC was going to release an iPhone app. Their complaint was that it was somehow unfair, since the BBC is publicly funded, even though all it was really doing was taking its website and formating it better for the iPhone. Unfortunately, it looks like the BBC has agreed to put the whole thing on hold while it explores the issue. This is really unfortunate. At the same time that UK newspapers are locking up their content, they're trying to force others to do the same as well. Of course, they don't seem to realize that this won't help them any. It certainly won't help their business model. As for the BBC... well, it'll be a bit more annoying, but I imagine most folks who want their BBC content will quickly open a browser and go straight to the website. But they won't suddenly agree to pay Rupert Murdoch to access his news.
We're so used to websites whose "link policies" are about what they want you to do to link to them, combined with the tendency for traditional media players to hate the external link, as if it were some sign of failure, that when someone anonymously submitted a link to the BBC News' "link policies," you'll have to forgive me for expecting the worst. Instead, the link policies were a bit of a revelation. They're all about how to link more to other sources. It all starts with a goal of sending more traffic elsewhere:
The BBC Strategy Review [1.40MB PDF] recently unveiled by director general Mark Thompson set as one of its goals a major increase in outbound links from the BBC website - a doubling of the number of "click-throughs" to external sites from 10 million to 20 million a month by 2013.
It then goes into a list of specific policies, which pretty much all focus on adding lots of external links to stories. Of course, given how UK newspapers are suddenly working hard to block links from others, you have to wonder if those same papers are going to start blocking the BBC as well...
It's really amazing sometimes to see the entitlement mentality of newspapers -- who for years built business models on the fact that there was a scarcity of news sources out there. Now that they're finally facing real competition, rather than adapt, many seem to whine and ask the government to step in for them. Over in the UK, news publications have long been upset about the BBC, since its funded by the public, and they've been known to complain about competition from the BBC for years. So it's no surprise that they're demanding the BBC's new iPhone app be blocked. They claim that the app "will undermine the commercial sector's ability to establish an economic model in an emerging but potentially important market ... This, over the long term, will reduce members' ability to invest in quality journalism."
Really? So the newspapers are basically admitting they're too clueless to compete in the marketplace? Sure, the BBC is publicly funded, but it's just one publication out there. Certainly newspapers can create their own services that attract an audience that competes with what the BBC is offering (or is focused on areas the BBC won't do). This is basically newspapers admitting they're too lazy to compete. Technically, the newspapers are complaining that this is a "new service" that needs approval, but the BBC correctly points out that all it did was create an app out of its existing web content.
Over the last few months we've been hearing all these claims about how various "aggregators" and internet sites that simply rewrite articles from "mainstream" publications are somehow "parasites." But, of course, that ignores the fact that many of those mainstream publications do the exact same thing themselves. So, for example, earlier this week, there was a cute AP article getting passed around about a girl by the name of Kelly Hildebrandt who was bored one night and looked on Facebook for anyone else with her name, and found that the only other one was actually a guy. One thing led to another, and now they're getting married to each other (awwwww.) Anyway, not long after that, I saw that the BBC appears to have a very similar article, and it's quite clear that all they did was rewrite the AP's article. At one point, they do credit the AP, but the article is almost a direct paraphrase of the AP's. So does the AP start calling the BBC a parasite, too? Or does it finally realize that no one owns the news, and lots of publications often rewrite the news and have for ages?
It had seemed like perhaps The Guardian newspaper in the UK understood how the internet worked. After all, execs there had been saying that they hoped the NYTimes would start charging, since it would just drive a lot more traffic their way. However, it seems like not everyone at The Guardian is on the same page. Similar to Feargal Sharkey's call demand that the UK government investigate Google for not giving the recording industry money, The Guardian is now asking the UK government to investigate Google over its Google News product, specifically claiming that Google gets too much benefit from its content. Of course, there's a simple solution to this: take your news off of Google News (or take it offline altogether). But The Guardian doesn't want to do that.
The reasoning is a bit convoluted, but, basically The Guardian says that since the online ad market is tough right now, it can't make enough money on the traffic that Google sends it. So stop accepting traffic from Google, right? No, it can't do that, because then competitors like the BBC would sweep up all of the traffic.
Is it just me, or does this reasoning suggest that The Guardian should be asking the government not to investigate Google News, but the BBC for representing unfair competition? The Guardian's reasoning here is a bit tortured. It seems to be saying it can't compete with other sources due to Google News... even though those other sources have the exact same issue (getting traffic from Google News). It's only real complaint is that the BBC offers its content for free online -- and (though it doesn't appear to explicitly call this out), the BBC is publicly funded and doesn't have to focus on ad revenue like The Guardian does. So why isn't the complaint against the BBC instead of Google News?
The Guardian always struck me as a pretty good paper, but the logic here is hard to understand. If it doesn't want the traffic, fine, don't take it (though, most people recognize that would be a mistake). If the problem is that it can't monetize the content effectively, then that's a business model problem for The Guardian -- not Google News. Finally, if the problem is (as it appears) competition from the BBC, then take it up with the BBC or those who fund it, but don't misplace the blame on Google News.