By Wendy Davis of The Daily Online Examiner
Columnist Connie Schultz at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has added her voice to those calling for new laws that would prevent Web sites from summarizing news stories that originate elsewhere.
Schultz joins figures such as influential judge Richard Posner and newspaper industry lawyers Bruce Sanford and Bruce Brown in claiming that this massive rewrite of copyright law is necessary to “save” journalism.
All are proposing some form of new copyright laws to make it harder for publications to rewrite news scoops that first appear elsewhere. Schultz endorses a specific proposal to ban any publishers from summarizing others’ reports for at least 24 hours.
Recommendations of this sort should frighten anyone who cares about a free press. But one would think that journalists would be especially suspicious of any proposals to give someone ownership — even if temporary — over information.
Certainly, it wouldn’t serve readers’ interests to prevent one publication from rewriting and/or linking to another’s articles. If the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on something of national importance, isn’t it a good thing that readers in, say, New York, who might not think to visit the Plain Dealer Web site, are able to learn of that story via Google News? And if the Cleveland Plain Dealer honestly believes the answer to that question is no, the paper has the ability to keep its pages out of Google’s results. Or it could refrain from putting them online altogether.
Schultz has special contempt for “aggregators” that, she claims, make newspapers redundant. “Parasitic aggregators reprint or rewrite newspaper stories, making the originator redundant and drawing ad revenue away from newspapers at rates the publishers can’t match.” she complains. “The inevitable consequence: diminished revenue and staff cuts.”
That aggregators also send traffic — and potential ad eyeballs — back to news sites seems to have escaped her.
Besides, some former advertisers have stopped spending as much on newspapers for reasons having nothing to do with aggregators. Newspapers’ classifieds revenue dropped from around $20 billion in 2000 to $10 billion last year as listings migrated to the free Craigslist — a site that no one would accuse of aggregating news.
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