Monday, January 10, 2005

Times for Enforcing Copyright

Glenn Reynolds (a.k.a. "Instapundit") reports that the New York Times may start requiring readers of its website to pay for that privilege. I've got not objection to that as a general matter; I'm no copyright commie. But I'm not sure I'd welcome the probable consequences.

Prof. Reynolds predicts, "the Times would lose a lot of influence if it made this move, since it would only be talking to the true believers." Perhaps so. I'd have to see some figures about how much of the Times' readership reaches it only via the web before I'd put money on that prediction.

I will risk this prediction, however: The Times would start wielding copyright law against pesky bloggers. In the past, the Times has published editorials and stories somewhat sympathetic to copyright reform. Consider, though, what would happen if it started charging for access to its website.

Even if the move to "cyber$space" would ultimately reduce the Times' influence, as Prof. Reynolds predicts, it would not do so overnight. Many bloggers would thus continue to regard the online Times as an important resource. Yet only a fraction of them would agree to pay for online access to the Times.

Those few bloggers who do agree to pay for access would thereby face a great temptation to republish great chunks of the Times' text, since doing so would bring them the one thing bloggers love most: readers. Under the Times' new business model, however, each of those readers would represent a lost potential customer. Why sign up to read the Times' site if you can get the best bits via your favorite blog?

The Times would thus have a powerful financial incentive to start cracking down on the unauthorized reproduction of its online stories. And, given that it will have many defendants to choose from, it will probably favor going after those that not only copy but criticize it. Granted, bloggers who quote the Times in the course of commenting on it will have triable fair use defenses. But how many will want to put that defense to the test in court? Most will quickly cave under the superior firepower of the Times' attorneys.

Some stalwart bloggers will of course resist the newly proprietary Times. Some of those will even beat it. That, however, will simply convince the Times that it must fight unauthorized copying not only in court, but also in Congress. The Times, which has long smiled on relaxing copyright's grip on the flow of information, might thus become an ardent proponent of stronger, broader, and meaner copyright laws.

[Crossposted at Tech Liberation Front.]


Anonymous said...

Interesting prediction...
But I can't imagine that blogs will be smacked down with pyracy and copyright violation lawsuits as it did for music file swapping like napster. But I guess present loose copyright laws might become more defined and strict as the news media clearly see revenue bleeding out; as we also saw happen with music pyracy.

But I don't know how circulations like NY Times will crack down effectively on blogs. Blogs generally pull from variety of sources on the web and includes personal thoughts and commentary, so I don't know how NY Times or any other media can *prove* that poplular blog X deprived NY Times from making money directly. Perhaps indirectly, but that seems like a weak arugment to me. With music file swapping there is no grey area, you download music for free which directly affects artists and the music industry. Blogs, although it links to these news sources, has a distinct author flavor to them with commentary and a variety of stories. I guess it'll be easier to go after the ginormous blogs that make quite a bit of money from use of online sources. I guess they can also look at stats for certain days that NY times article was referenced, but even that can be if-y. How can you quantify or dilineate where the revunue loss came from, for all we know, that could have resulted from a number of different factors.
Maybe someone can illucidate me with more info.

And NY times making the argument that the "Times would more than make up for lost ad dollars by boosting circulation revenue from print subscriptions paid for by people who read now for free..." That is some backwards thinking. Paper subscription has gone down dramatically the past few years. What makes them think that the readers who read online will go paper now? Somebody needs to get fired.

Even Bill Gates is touting that blogs are very important and is probably going to get it on it. They have incentive to, they're after google for search engine technology, I see why not blogging.


Anonymous said...

I'm discovering reading an article in boingboing, maybe Bill Gates wants in on facilitating reforms and restrictions in intellectual property rights. He calls the free culture advocates "modern day commies."


Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey said...

The Economist has gone the other direction, opening up free access to all their online content in exchange for sitting through some advertising.