Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Big surprise: Big media wants to make bigger profits from the Internet

How fitting: the copyright-obsessed Associated Press has written a story about News Corporation's plans to charge for access to its websites:
Visitors to the Web sites of newspapers owned by News Corp. will have to start coughing up fees to read the news within the next year, Chairman Rupert Murdoch said.

It's risky for the company because a pay barrier could drive away Web traffic - and with it, advertising revenue.

"You don't want to be the first guy to put up a big pay wall when all other roads to content are open," said Ken Doctor, a media analyst with Outsell Inc.

Yet it is a move many news outlets will closely watch as they, too, consider charging users as the decline in print ad revenue far outpaces the growth of online ad dollars.
Good luck with that plan, Rupert. TimesSelect worked out so well for those other guys, didn't it? Let's hope they put subscription gates on the Fox Noise website so that its traffic will decrease.

There's nothing that Murdoch's News Corporation publishes that is really worth reading, except perhaps the business coverage in the Wall Street Journal, but there are alternatives even to that, like Bloomberg.

Here's a hint to media execs: Especially in this economy, expecting that people are going to willingly pony up cash to visit ad-infested news websites that sport mediocre content is not a smart assumption.

Rather, it's a great way to drive away users who will end up at other sites, bolstering their readership and subsequently the ad revenue too.

The Internet is an open medium; the barrier to entry is low. People have other choices besides traditional media for their news.

Hyperlocal neighborhood blogs are a fine example. Then there are social networks, a way for people to freely exchange information. Twitter and Facebook may run more ads in the future, but they won't charge for access.

As for the Associated Press, they arrogantly seem to think that there is no such thing as fair use. They have announced the introduction of a new scheme that they think will make it possible for them to find out who is using their content and where (and not just entire articles, mind you, but keywords and snippets) so that they can demand payment for it. They already have a website set up to collect voluntary payment from unwitting Americans who don't understand their fair use rights. This website will gladly charge you a fee for any sentence or phrase you put in it.

If all of this sounds pretty stupid, that's because it is.

The great minds who run the Associated Press seem to think their scheme is going to be enforced by a special "microformat". From their announcement:
The microformat will essentially encapsulate AP and member content in an informational “wrapper” that includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online and which also supplies the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage.
Whoever wrote this announcement for the Associated Press has no idea how the Internet works and probably couldn't explain what HTML stands for if they were asked. It's actually rather hilarious.

That's because what is described in that paragraph above - a "digital permissions framework" for news - is impossible to implement. Text published on the Internet cannot be forcibly contained in some mythical "wrapper" that contains a web beacon or tracking code. Any text that can be seen can be copied and pasted by a user to their heart's content, sans "wrapper".

But here's where things get really funny: the technology the Associated Press claims it will be using to "wrap" its content is actually just an open standard that's in development which allows content creators to put copyleft tags on their content!
hNews is funded by major foundations, and all of its tools and specs will be released as open-source software.

In what way does this scheme "wrap" and "protect" the news? It doesn't; it simply marks it up, and adding tags expressing a content creator's wishes on reuse has no bearing on someone's rights under US copyright law. What it does do is provide organizations that use hNews a way to release more rights than are granted under copyright—in essence, a sort of "Creative Commons" news license. In fact, hNews' "rights field" uses ccREL, the Creative Commons Rights Expression Language.
Incidentally, because I copied and pasted a few paragraphs above, the AP apparently believes that NPI owes them money. They have a history of making such threats to online publishers. Well, they won't be getting a dime from us. United States copyright law allows excerpting of their articles under its fair use provisions. The Associated Press is sorely mistaken if they think they can obviate United States copyright law with their own silly edicts.

Fortunately, not all big media companies are copyright and profit obsessed: Thomson Reuters Vice President for Media, Chris Ahearn had the good sense on Tuesday to urge the Associated Press to "stop whining." Well, now we know there's at least one executive out there who gets the Internet.


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