Other Views: Strong copyright law supports journalism, informed communities

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Caroline Little
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Every day, reporters at local newspapers distill meetings into cogent stories that inform readers about how elected officials spend their tax dollars. Sports reporters document successes of high school teams. Investigative reporters dig through thick documents to expose government corruption, waste or ineffectiveness.

This journalism plays a vital role in local communities and our nation’s democracy. But it also costs money: newspapers invest more than $5 billion a year in journalism, far more than any other medium in the United States. Newspapers deliver news and information when and where readers want it, in print, digital and mobile platforms.

Copyright laws must enable newspapers to receive fair compensation in support of this journalism.

This year, the House Judiciary Committee, the Commerce Department, the Copyright Office and others are looking at potential changes to the Copyright Act. The newspaper industry applauds efforts to ensure that copyright law is best suited for the digital age. We hope any changes to the Copyright Act will continue to ensure that content creators—including those who invest in journalism—receive fair compensation.

This protection is important because some companies exist solely to aggregate content from the websites of original publishers and resell it to business users at considerable profits.

Newspapers’ concern isn’t the personal use of newspaper-generated content but rather its use by businesses that benefit through the unlicensed monetization of that content. By taking newspaper content without paying, these companies undercut the economic model that supports the journalism so important to our communities.

Consider a case last year that a federal judge in New York decided. It involved Meltwater, a for-profit service, which scraped Associated Press articles from the Internet and resold verbatim excerpts to subscribers.

The AP sued the news service for copyright infringement. The court properly found that Meltwater’s customers viewed the service as a substitute for reading the original articles. The court found that re-publication of these articles wasn’t “fair use,” a defense that provides a limited exception from the general rule that content users must receive permission from copyright holders to use their content. This case demonstrates that the Copyright Act’s fair use test is flexible enough to allow courts to reach the right decision.

While targeted enforcement focusing on business ventures that take and resell our content might still be necessary, the newspaper industry is also determined to find business solutions rather than legal remedies. Ultimately, the best approach for fairly compensating newspapers and other publishers is through licensing of news content for business purposes.

The most convenient way to request permission to copy and distribute material is by contacting the publisher. In addition, clearinghouses such as Copyright Clearance Center and Burrelles Luce’s Compliance Article Program provide easy ways for business users of content to obtain redistribution rights.

Since our nation’s founding, newspapers have played a central role in sustaining a well-informed public and healthy democracy. We’re confident that licensing arrangements and fair and strong copyright protection will ensure our ability to keep playing this role for centuries to come.

Caroline Little is president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, 4401 Wilson Blvd., Ste 900, Arlington, VA 22203; phone 571-366-1000.

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