Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Publishers seek ad block on copyright abusers

Alarmed by what they believe to be widespread piracy of their copyrighted material on the web, some publishers want to force companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to stop serving ads at sites carrying unauthorized newspaper content.

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.”


Blogger Unknown said...

This won't solve the newspaper industry's core problem of inept management, lack of innovation and devastatingly high costs.

The newspaper exec's want to become gatekeepers again... sorry they missed that boat.

Sites like Huffington, Digg, etc don't need to rely on AP or Newspapers.. there are too many online alternatives.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I also want to add that the fact that this meeting happened in secret and needed an attorney present should raise all sorts of red flags.

Increased transparency will improve the the public’s confidence in Newspapers again, not secret closed door meetings that reek of racketeering.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You see, Alan, here's why it won't work. To "copyright" news, it will take the collusion of all the information distributors whining about losing their monopoly: newspapers, television, radio, magazines, etc.

Such a collaborative effort to control news will require the force of law. And once law is involved, then government by extension becomes the arbiter of what is and isn't news - and its distribution.

It just isn't going to happen.

And by the way, any newspaper out there that wants to charge for access is free to do so at any time. But if they do, they need to be prepared to learn if what they print is worth very much.

Walter Abbott

5:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck. While you're at it, convince the local radio stations that reading the headlines from the local newspaper does not constitute reporting and make them pay for the right to broadcast that content.

5:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right, sure, adding tags to the text is going to stop content theft. Guess what ? It can always be stripped down to plain text before being re-posted.

There's the basic dilemma. If you're uptight about copyright, the best approach is not to put the content on-line in the first place. But if the news industry doesn't have an on-line presence...

5:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So instead of fighting the internet like the music industry, wouldn't it be smarter for Newspapers to make an end run around google, and give there content away for free to sites, and sell the ads on those sites, just like google is doing, and split the money with the publisher?

6:08 AM  
Blogger WuduPlz said...

Good overview of copyright. I would like to add one obvious point for the record because it is often overlooked: Under fair use, it is thought if one reproduces copyrighted material and does not profit from it, they are seen as not having violated copyright rules.

That's not the only factor, however.

As was said clearly here, the law is not clear. But, I think the publishers have a good foundation to stand now. The law now says copying copyrighted material depends on:
1. the purpose and character of the use;
2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
3. the amount and "substantiality" of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The last point is one publishers need to look at carefully. I would take the position that if an ad-free professional consultant's blog, for example, posts an entire article on a topic and from this Google drives traffic to his site when people search on this topic, thus enhancing his "brand" on this topic, it is not only deriving real value from the work of others (#1), but there is a reasonable potential of that posting costing the initial producer income from advertising and re-sell (#4). I'd add that the primary business model driving the web today makes this obvious (#2). (And, I will not even mention Google's ads on Google search results that pointed readers to the free blog.)

Those on the "information wants to be free" side of the copyright issue will say that you are not stealing when you make a copy. They have a silly song that says copying is copying, so if there are two when there was one, it cannot be stealing. Cute, but often not right.

7:04 AM  
Anonymous Emunst said...

I am sorry, but this is just one more example of how far out of touch with reality the industry is right now. Their solution is to go after the companies that have figured out a way to generate income on the net.

I can just imagine a publisher at the 'secret meeting' standing up "Hey, I think my company is in some sort of consortium with Yahoo, is there any way we can have that tagging you're talking about exclude cause I think they share some of their revenue with us."

If they're so worried about their content being reproduced on Bloggers sites why don't they do what Corbis and the other image houses do and go after the offenders. Trust me, try posting an copyright protected image on your site. Do so and at some point you'll get a letter from the image hosues lay firm asking you for a couple thousand $'s in damages.

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog, Mr. Mutter, unlike most others that focus on the media.... It's too bad most of the critics haven't been buying select media stocks lately. Perhaps they wouldn't be so unhappy and bitter. My Gannett and Media General shares, for example, are well on their way to triples. Thanks to all of you for helping to bring these stocks down to laughable entry points. Cheerio!

3:26 PM  
Blogger John Fensterwald said...

Contrary to Bill, the issue goes beyond content produced by AP and newspapers. What's at stake is the right of creators of original content on the Internet to make money from their efforts. Don't turn newspaper publishers into straw figures (however incompetent they may be). Curbing intellectual theft is important to me as a newspaper writer who wants my publisher to make money online so I can keep my job.
If bloggers or Internet sites want to quote more than a few paragraphs from something I write (whatever is reasonably defined as fair use), they would pay for it (or get explicit permission to use it) or should link to original site, so that my newspaper gets more eyeballs on its ads.
Sure, there will be ways to beat the tracking technology if a blogger insists on ripping off a story or editorial. So the host of that site should be given a take-down notice, enforced by law. Government has the obligation to protect copyright, which was established in the first place to create incentives to promote vigorous expression.

1:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:08 has the right idea. Don't fight it. Make money from it. I suspect that most of those publishers will gladly take a revenue split, especially if it pays them even slightly more than the pennies that they are getting from AdSense. The trick will be finding advertisers that want that audience.

6:06 AM  
Anonymous Mike ODonnell said...

Our independent research shows that the solution to maximizing revenue and minimizing piracy of news and information content is to make the content MORE accessible, not less. Unfortunately, many publishers have wrought the damage that has been done to them by the way they deploy their article tools and copyright notice. They invited this mess. The data and the proposed solution is detailed in this white paper:

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

AP's kind of approach's success depends on how it's used. If it's used like RIAA used it, to sue people instead of continuing to build their content well, their revenues and rep will do about as well as RIAA's did (major tumble). Especially when, like RIAA, they discover they can't get much in the way of legally useful evidence. It has to be used to make deals and only threaten a bit. To give AP credit, they've said nothing about lawsuits yet.

But, AP does have a problem; they're staffed for the world where their service took tons of copyboys and journalists and provided many services and had major barriers to copy. And now, the only hard-to-do service they provide is news judgement, a much easier thing to compete with, and much cheaper to do from scratch instead of having to be in AP's fat shoes.

Curbing intellectual theft is important to me as a newspaper writer

Are you saying your newspaper has a right to copy stories and the Web doesn't? Isn't that a tad hypocritical?

10:13 AM  

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