Anyone who keeps up with current affairs knows that the print media is having a very difficult time. The Rocky Mountain News has closed its doors and Philadelphia newspapers have filed for bankruptcy protection. Even before the current the economic downturn, newspapers were having financial woes — both subscriptions and advertising were down. For anyone who loves keeping up with current affairs and wants a variety of perspectives about them, the current crisis is a tragedy. Interestingly, one of the targets of the print media is blogs. They believe that blogs that comment on news stories are siphoning away readers and profiting from others’ hard work [“Copyright Challenge for Sites That Excerpt,” New York Times, by Brian Steltor, 1 March 2009]. Although the big concern seems to be about blogs that are being written for profit, the debate affects a lot of blogs including this one. As Steltor writes:
“Generally, the excerpts have been considered legal, and for years they have been welcomed by major media companies, which were happy to receive links and pass-along traffic from the swarm of Web sites that regurgitate their news and information. But some media executives are growing concerned that the increasingly popular curators of the Web that are taking large pieces of the original work — a practice sometimes called scraping — are shaving away potential readers and profiting from the content. With the Web’s advertising engine stalling just as newspapers are under pressure, some publishers are second-guessing their liberal attitude toward free content.”
I have written my posts believing that I was operating under fair use practices. I accept no advertising on my site and believe that I have added value and insight to the articles I have used and I always provide a link to the article if one is available. I certainly want to stay on the right side of the law, however, and will change how I write posts in the future. I’ve always felt that commenting directly on the words of an article’s author not only gave the author his own voice but reduced the chances that I could be accused of misinterpreting what the author was saying. However, according to Steltor, lawsuits for copyright infringement are on the rise and I don’t intend to become the target of such action.
“Copyright infringement lawsuits directed at bloggers and other online publishers seem to be on the rise. David Ardia, the director of the Citizen Media Law Project, said his colleagues kept track of 16 such suits in 2007. In 2004 and 2005, it monitored three such suits each year. And newspapers sometimes send cease-and-desist orders to sites that they believe have crossed the line.”
As a big fan of the printed word, I don’t want to be perceived as contributing to downward spiral of newspapers and magazines. The legal questions, according to Steltor, are not clear cut. He writes:
“The legal disputes are emblematic of a larger question that has emerged from the Internet’s link economy. The editors of many Web sites, including ones operated by the Times Company, post excerpts from competitors’ content from time to time. At what point does excerpting from an article become illegal copying? Courts have not provided much of an answer. In the United States, the copyright law provides a four-point definition of fair use, which takes into consideration the purpose (commercial vs. educational) and the substantiality of the excerpt.”
I have tried to make clear that this blog is not primarily for commercial purposes. I began the blog because I wanted to establish a voice for resiliency, innovation, and development. I wanted to provide some thought leadership and bring attention to areas that I find interesting. I have appreciated numerous comments I have received over the years thanking me for the educational and informational value it has provided. One reader told me that reading the blog was like getting a free master’s degree.
I can understand how the news media can take issue with blogs that are really ad-supported businesses that use their content as the meat for making a profit. I regret that blogs like this one must suffer as a result. I intend to continue commenting on current events and articles that deal with topics of interest, but will do more “excerpting” and less “scraping.” I will do my best to represent fairly the articles that I paraphrase so that when I take issue with something that has been written I can’t be accused of setting up a straw man or attacking points that were actually never made. I will also continue to provide a link to articles whenever one is available so that readers can peruse the articles themselves. Newspapers and news magazines, whether in print or on-line, need our continued support. If you don’t subscribe to a newspaper or news magazine, I encourage you to do so.