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Media Organizations Build “Blogger-Intimidation” Consortium

We’ve learned today that broadcast media outlets want to evade campaign finance disclosure rules. Not to be outdone, print media has decided to collude to intimidate bloggers into paying them. Since I’m sure to get on their radar screen anyway, might as well excerpt:

The Associated Press and 28 news organizations, including The New York Times Co. and The Washington Post Co., are launching a company that will measure the unpaid online use of their original reporting and seek to convert unauthorized websites, blogs and other newsgathering services into paying customers.

The company, called NewsRight, brings together efforts started by the AP and its partners in October 2010 to track the use of stories on websites, blogs and other Internet forums through what it calls the News Registry […]

NewsRight encodes original stories with hidden data that includes the writer’s name and when it was published. The encoded stories send back reports to the registry that describe where a story is being used and who is reading it. The technology can even locate stories that have been cut and pasted in whole or in part.

What I just did there has been called “Fair Use” in the courts. It includes a link and an excerpt, usually just a few paragraphs. The link is provided so people who want more information can go to the source for further reading. There’s a limitation on how fair use can be applied, and a fine line between fair use and copyright infringement. But in general, what I just did above falls under the auspices of fair use.

But now, we’re told, copying and pasting anything from a story will also suck up metadata that NewsRight can use to gauge, like a meter reader, how much news online writers have excerpted. For now, NewsRight says they will use that information for “ensuring those who republish content do so with integrity.” Reading further, this means pushing aggregators into content agreements with the media outlets, where NewsRight gets a fee for the content creators and the aggregators can keep excerpting. But it’s a small step from that to taking anyone who excerpts an article from AP or WaPo to court for copyright infringement.

I’m wondering if any venture capitalists are interested in creating BlogRight, a monitoring service that scans the wire services and major papers for stories that they clearly ripped off from blogs without attribution or compensation, particularly those stories where the origins are described as “a blog first reported the news.” Considering the frequency with which this happens, and the possibility for major embarrassment among the media gatekeepers if that information were recognized widely, I would consider the BlogRight business model to be quite lucrative.

As for the rest, often I will read news articles and can pinpoint the press releases where the bulk of the news came from. If a press conference is held at the Pentagon, and we all saw it in public, and the New York Times transcribes a quote from it, and I want to use the quote, how in the world is that “infringement”? Bloggers use media articles sometimes, but they also provide another level of analysis. If there are actual copyright infringers, there are existing laws to deal with them. This NewsRight model, essentially tagging articles with metadata, strikes me as obscene. But in a country where Internet censorship bills could get passed by Congress, I cannot say I’m all that surprised.

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David Dayen

David Dayen