Publishers seek ad block on copyright abusers
The movement to target the pocketbooks of content poachers emerged this week at a private meeting of top industry executives that coincided with the annual convention of the Newspaper Association of America in San Diego.
The private meeting, which originally was revealed here, was called to address the ways the newspaper industry might respond to the increasingly fierce online competition that has contributed to the 23% decline in advertising sales since the industry booked a record $49.4 billion in revenues in 2005.
While many of the senior executives attending the meeting increasingly are focused on ways to charge for the expensively produced content most of them give away for free on their websites, another top concern galvanizing the participants is what they see as the unfettered use of copyright-protected newspaper stories on websites, blogs and other online venues.
“If a newspaper runs a 26-paragraph investigation and a blogger publishes the entire story on his site, that is not fair use,” said one publisher who participated in the meeting. “Although Google will not argue that publishing all 26 paragraphs is fair use, Google and the other online ad services benefit by selling ads on that blog. The ad services are profiting from the improper use of our copyrighted material. We’ve got to put a stop to this.”
Fair use refers to the exception to the copyright law that permits someone to publish an excerpt of protected content in such cases as a quote in a news story or a video clip accompanying a movie review. The problem with fair use is that publishers and fair users often differ on how much content is fair to use.
The issued was summed up succintly by Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, in a speech to publishers on Tuesday. “Lawyers go to different schools,” said Schmidt. “If you went to School A, you were told one thing [about fair use]. If you went to School B, you were told something else. All the lawyers who work at Google went to School B. All those on the other side went to School A.”
What this means in practice is that allegations of fair-use violations can only be resolved in court on an after-the-fact, case-by-case basis – and only when a publisher is sufficiently aggrieved to devote the time and expense necessary to sue the party accused of publishing the disputed content.
But publishers don’t want to expend their increasingly precious resources scouring the web for content poachers and then hauling them into court.
Instead, a number of them want to begin adding a bit of computer code to every copyrighted story and telling such online ad services as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Value Click not to serve ads to any page containing a story carrying a copyright tag. After putting the ad services on notice, the publishers presumably would watch for infractions and, if necessary, challenge the deep-pocketed companies in court.
Tagging technology already is used to track Associated Press stories to see where they go on the web. Evidence of the widespread misappropriation of AP stories is why publishers have become sufficiently alarmed to consider seeking similar protections for their own articles, images and videos.
In addition to the technology solution, the publishers also discussed a separate but parallel initiative to lobby Congress for changes to strengthen copyright protections in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. “The law was passed in the days of Prodigy and CompuServe,” said a publisher. “It’s way out of date today.”
The other hot topic among newspaper publishers this week was whether and how to begin charging for at least some of the content on their websites.
Participants in the private meeting, which was attended by an attorney to ensure the talks didn’t stray into inappropriate territory, said that publishers do not appear to be inclined to adopt a common, industry-wide protocol for charging for content. “There is a general feeling that newspapers cannot get together” on charging for content, said the participant, citing the group’s fear of being accused of engaging in anti-competitive conduct.
“There also is still a lot of confusion and trepidation about charging for content,” said the publisher. “If you take a 180-degree turn in the road, it is not easy.”