J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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Archive for July 6th, 2009

Boiled Down Response to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer Inanity

Posted by chanders on July 6, 2009

… and also a response to Connie Schultz, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reader rep, and the estimable Judge Richard Posner:

  • Pure content theft (an example of which can be found here, and here) is already illegal under existing copyright law. No further legal change is needed. Sue away.
  • Connie Schultz is so deliberately vague about what laws she would actually change (she wants to be able to “sue Web aggregators who post such significant rewrites or summaries that readers to their sites lose any interest in reading the original stories”) that, given that laws to prevent the theft of online material already exist, one can only assume she wants to be able to selectively sue people who discuss, add value to, comment on or link to other news stories. Indeed, its arguable that Josh Marshall and TPM regularly do what Schultz decries — “post significant rewrites or summaries” of news stories. The fact that he is beloved by the chattering classes and would never be sued demonstrates the perils of selective enforcement.
  • In short, Schultz, Posner, and others want to dramatically narrow the definition of fair use.
  • The reporting of news, insofar as it serves a public function, has a higher standard of acceptable fair use than non-public content (like music, or art.) News is only “publicly valuable” insofar as it becomes part of the stream of actions, debates, and discussions that are necessary for democracy to function. Therefore …
  • The standards governing the fair use of news content should, if anything, be broader than they are now, not narrower. But its perfectly fine for them to remain just as they are. Original reporting should not be built on the back of stifling conversation.
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