Friday, 11 September 2009

Is big media targeting bloggers in its search for culprits for its economic woes? Going by comments from APN News & Media Ltd chief executive Brendan Hopkins today at the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers' Association (PANPA) conference held in Sydney’s Masonic Centre, the answer may be ‘yes’.

Of course, Hopkins also targeted search engines, saying, according to The Brisbane Times:

"To use an analogy, I see search engines as breaking into our homes, itemising the contents, walking out and listing everything for everyone to see. And they get money out of that process," he said.

"The only problem is, I don't see any revenue being paid directly from Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft in our company profit and loss accounts."

His attack grows out of James Murdoch’s. Murdoch, News Ltd’s Europe and Asia boss, last month delivered a spray at state-sponsored media outlets in a speech in Edinburgh. It was widely publicised. He said government-sponsored media, such as the BBC, had a “chilling” effect on the news.

But Hopkins takes the generalised aggression currently visible among media bosses further, intimating that changes to fair dealing laws might be sought, by attacking bloggers:

"As an industry we must strive to protect our content from those who contribute nothing to its creation and are happy to run on its coat tails.

"Our value is diminished by other media companies, both online and in print, with limited resources, who feed off our newspapers, by those who take the ideas of the newspapers, rewrite our journalists' words to be miraculously their own words, and then put it on a blog or a broadcast piece and call that journalism."

Bloggers beware. Or not?

In Australian fair dealing law, you can quote from a published work. Section 41 says “A fair dealing ... does not constitute an infringement of the copyright in the work if it is for the purpose of criticism or review, whether of that work or of another work, and a sufficient acknowledgement of the work is made.”

And section 42 says, further, that “A fair dealing ... does not constitute an infringement of the copyright in the work if it is for the purpose of, or is associated with, the reporting of news ... [and] a sufficient acknowledgement of the work is made”.

Under S 41, fair dealing with a news story would be for the purposes of criticising or reviewing the news story.

Under S 42, fair dealing would apply also, I assume, for the purposes of reporting the news. It doesn’t say anything about blogs, but includes “a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical” as publications that can use extracts. It doesn’t mention reporting reports but, rather, the reporting of “a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, or with an adaptation of a literary, dramatic or musical work”.

Under S 41 of the Copyright Act 1968 the use of quotes (or a blockquote) around extracts of news reports found on this blog are definitely inside the legal boundaries. Under S 42 they are probably not breached as S 42 only refers to literary works, which however could be understood to subsume a news report.

But Hopkins is seeking more protection than this, because he specifically identifies rewriting and publishing the rewritten words as abuse of privilege.

Google has also come in for criticism, not least from Rupert Murdoch in May this year who accused the search engine of “shameless promiscuity”, inviting Hopkins’ housebreaking analogy. Murdoch later announced that News Ltd websites would set up ‘pay walls’ limiting access.

In the US the industry is getting to grips with a problem that has caused more disruption than it has here. In response to a request from the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) for information about payment systems, Google released a response detailing its capabilities in terms of online transactions for news publishers.

The response describes micropayments and subscription billing, including bundling of multiple offerings under a single subscription. The response makes much of the ‘single sign-on’ used with a Google solution. This would be great news for hard-core web users, many of whom already use Google for emailing and blogging. Google highlights the fact that it has already been successfully using an online payment engine for years. ‘Google Checkout’ is, however, currently “in production”, which means that it is not yet ready to use.

As a user of Google for advertising, I can attest to the ease of paying by credit card with Google for small amounts logged daily but paid periodically, and to a daily limit. Google says in the position paper that it judges an individual’s ability to pay on past performance, and sets the daily limit accordingly.

The NAA also asked other companies to respond, including The Wall Street Journal, which “declined to submit an RFI because their solution will be focused on larger media companies”. In other words, News Ltd will use the WSJ’s solution when they go paid-only.

Hopkins also chairs an industry group, The Newspaper Works. The entity is “seeking talks” with Google over remuneration for use of proprietary works. Google is clearly getting ready. According to a similar story in The Australian:

APN publishes 14 daily newspapers and over 75 community publications across Australia and has newspaper assets in New Zealand.

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