More fair use conflict over the superdistribution of content

by Jason Preston on March 3, 2009

The New York Times had a story yesterday morning in the paper that, actually, had a completely different headline for the online version, which is why I couldn’t find it until today.

The story is here, and does a good job of describing the fundamental tension between wanting creative work to spread and wanting to actually, you know, make money from the work.

The article says, of excerpting blocks of online content:

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.

I don’t think that this tension is going to be resolved anytime soon. As has been pointed out to me several times, content is actually more valuable to consumers when they have the ability to share it – so putting things behind a wall, or restricting their sharability otherwise, actually makes your product less valuable.

I think there are really two components to the way this is headed:

  1. News companies need to realize that they are no longer selling news. Their product must be different, because you can’t sell news anymore. You can sell brand, you can sell community, you can sell immediacy, you can sell accuracy, but you can’t. sell. news.
  2. Widgetized content is the answer to controlled sharing. Think YouTube. Text will forever be free, and people will copy it, and that’s fine – just let it go. Your advanced graphical and database content should act like a YouTube video. If people want to share it, let them embed it. But then you get an open channel onto everyone else’s portal, where you can pump whatever you want – ads, new content, related content, surveys, whatever. Everybody wins.

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