Friday, April 3, 2009

What We Call the News

Are Google & Yahoo thieves for using their search abilities to create news-feeds aggregated from all the news sites? Rupert Murdoch thinks so. The Wired story I just linked to is nothing new -- we've talked about this before if you remember. That time, it was in relation to the Wall Street Journal (owned by Murdoch's News Corp) raising objections to other news sites quoting them so extensively that they were essentially re-publishing the articles from WSJ. Now Murdoch is expanding his complaint to include the search engines that display the top stories of the day from various partners and unaffiliated news sites, operating (so it is thought) within the "Fair Use" provisions of US copyright law (Title 17 USC). Because - as ever - our laws are lagging behind our cultural and technological advances this entire area is in the phantom zone. The idea that news should be a solely for-profit enterprise is certainly not a new one (far from it) but it does make you wonder what the future holds. He's not wrong. When Murdoch says that others are profiting (through their ads) from his content (which should be profiting his advertisers), he's not wrong. But the search engines are not wrong either. Collating information and presenting it in its original format and with correct attribution (and linkback) to the originators has been how the internet has operated since it's inception. That's the nature of grey areas, I suppose. So what now? I'm all for forcing people to pay for news about Michelle Obama touching the queen. Or Bill O'Reilly freaking out on some hapless intern because he doesn't understand what Sting is about to do. But not for actual news. Is "Your time is up, please deposit another $.75 to hear about the impending biochemical terrorist attack?" what's really next? Rupert seems to think it is...
"People reading news for free on the web, that's got to change..." ~ Rupert Murdoch (qtd. in Wired Magazine)
The press may be free, but the news never has been. Newspapers charge per copy as well as renting your viewing time to their advertisers (much the same way websites do), and television news programs have sponsors out the yin-yang. But access was free. Access to news has never been curtailed in this nation or restricted to those who can pay. The funny thing about this is that even if Mr. Murdoch has his way and the Wall Street Journal and Fox News stop appearing on the Google and Yahoo homepages, it won't restrict the free flow of information one iota. Information is and shall remaind free for all who seek it. Murdoch doesn't own the news (though if wishing made it so...) news is about the presentation of the "Facts as we know them". All Fox and the WSJ can lay actual claim to is the way in which they present the news. The only thing Murdoch actually can corner is the news the way his minions write it and the opinions of his staff. My personal feelings about Mr. Murdoch's journalistic ethics aside, what he's planning to charge us for access to isn't the news. Without Fox and the WSJ the internet won't starve for facts... it will simply lack content from the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Who really loses out in that equation, I ask you?

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).