Copyright and the Demise of Newspapers

    by David Ardia
    May 8, 2008

    Neil Netanel, a highly regarded legal scholar, has an interesting post on Balkinization entitled “The Demise of Newspapers: Economics, Copyright, Free Speech.”
    Netanel, who has written extensively on copyright issues, posits that
    part of the reason for the decline in newspapers stems from Internet
    competitors that build on the content and value that newspapers create.
    He suggests that imposing a statutory license or levy on commercial
    Internet service providers and news aggregators might be a workable
    solution for ensuring that newspapers receive compensation for their
    investment in quality reporting.

    While I think he gives too little credit to citizen journalists/media,
    equating them all with bloggers and asserting that they are largely
    “parasitic,” his central points are mostly valid:


    [N]ews and opinion blogs are largely (but
    certainly not entirely) parasitic on the institutional press. They
    copy, quote from, discuss, and criticize stories reported in the press
    far more than engaging in original reporting or linking to other blogs.
    And just like peer-to-peer traders of music and movie files, online
    readers copy and distribute stories from newspaper Web sites to their
    friends via email and social network sites. Especially for the young,
    trading copies of newspaper stories often substitutes for visiting the
    paper’s Web site

    As Netanel correctly notes, news organizations (be they old media or
    new media) that do original reporting suffer from the classic public
    good problem: while they invest in investigating, reporting, editing,
    and fact checking their work, their competitors can simply use the
    finished product without making a similar investment in original
    reporting. One remedy to this problem proposed by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism involves having news providers create a consortia to “charge
    Internet providers and aggregators licensing fees for content.”


    But this raises a host of concerns, which Netanel points out at the end of his piece:

    To my mind, giving news
    providers a proprietary veto over online news aggregators’, Internet
    providers’, and bloggers’ referencing of news stories would impose an
    unacceptable burden on speech. I argue in Copyright’s Paradox that,
    all in all, holding such referencing to be fair use or otherwise
    noninfringing of copyright is the best solution. But I can see
    advantages to imposing some sort of statutory license or levy on
    commercial Internet service providers and news aggregators who profit
    from news providers’ investment. Newspapers should not have a veto over
    who references their stories or how. But ensuring that they receive
    some compensation for their investment in quality reporting might be
    our only hope for maintaining that investment and the vital fourth
    estate benefits that flow from it.

    You can read the entire post here. I also recommend reviewing the comments to his post, which has, as you would expect, elicited some good discussion.

    Tagged: business models cmlp copyright licensing

    3 responses to “Copyright and the Demise of Newspapers”

    1. Brad King says:

      I think the analysis misses a much bigger point, one that media companies — and others — fail to see: we need to stop looking to template old business models on to the new medium and instead look for ways to innovate with the modern tools.

      Stories are dead in terms of the long-term future. They are nice, but they aren’t the way to engage the readership.

      Local papers need to build databases and tools that encourage citizen engagement — and then they need to hire community managers/editors to seed and work with the community to build destinations that can’t be had anywhere else.

      Any company can get generalized local news, but the web offers local outlets the opportunity to create something that AP, Reuters, Google, blogs or any other source could never create.

      I don’t want to pimp too much, but we’re having a discussion about those tools (I’ve worked in the media for 14 years) and how they should be deployed at my site and the social network that goes with it.

      There are easy solutions – clamping down has never been a successful ploy online.

    2. Brad:

      Great comment. Engagement is, I also believe, the holy grail of what ought to be goal.

      In times past, the franchise of the local newspaper was reflected in its advertising support. The strength and value of the newspaper franchise in most communities is falling with the decline in advertising.

      Today, engagement is to the community news franchise what attendance is to a professional baseball or football team. When a team is unable to fill the seats consistently, the likelihood of the franchise failing (or moving) is increased.

      Engagement of the public through the Web 2.0 tools is the way to reinvigorate the franchise. The greater the engagement, the greater the value of the franchise.

      It really isn’t rocket science.

    3. I think some of the comments are missing the mark. Engagement if find and good. There’s a need for that. But Web 2.0 and Uncle Harry will not go sniffing around meetings for the water commission or school board. Your neighbor will not dig through arrest logs or other open records just to see what might be of interest.

      That tool, while drear and drudging at times, is the role of the traditional journalist. What happens when that function disappears?

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