Here’s the deal, Mr Murdoch: If you stop lifting my content, I’ll pay for yours

Earlier this week, I gave Fairfax something a kicking for nicking videos from their original source.

They quickly responded with a return to what sounds to me like a much fairer policy.

So it’s amusing to see that News Ltd seems to be straying into the same kind of territory – only this one is a bit more personal.  

On Wednesday night, I pulled a late one. I spent seven or eight hours reading through all of the recent rulings by the Advertising Standards Board. I’ve still not caught up on my sleep properly.

But it was worth it. There was some good stuff:

karalee_keyboard_cat_tweetThen this afternoon, I spotted a tweet: “Gotta love News.com.au’s rehash of @mumbrella’s Keyboard cat complaint story!”

And a similar comment on Mumbrella.

Sure enough, they had a story that went up about two hours ago as I write: “Keyboard Cat rubs animal lover the wrong way

news_keyboard_cat_mumbrellaIt’s already picking up a few comments – not surpisingly as it’s currently occupying much of their home page..

Of course, it could all be just of a coincidence. But I suspect otherwise.

You see, I’d fallen behind on checking the Advertising Standards Board site as they’d changed the way they displayed their determinations and I’d overlooked them. That ruling was actually made just over a month ago. But until today, nobody had written about it.

It seems a big coincidence that news.com.au’s journalist – bylined as Helen Davidson – would stumble upon the story independently at precisely the same moment as me.

Particularly as it was one of several dozen rulings. You’d think she’d have picked another ruling rather than this relatively trivial one.

Even if Mumbrella was the source, legally of course, it’s fine. The copy’s not been lifted. She’s even taken it on a little by getting a quote from the ASB. No copyright has been breached.

But of course, this is precisely the problem that newspapers face in trying to protect their content behind paywalls. How do they protect the hours of research that went into their story and stop somebody from simply repeating the key fact minutes later? Rewriting the story once it’s been dug out is the easy part.

In my case reading every single bloody case to find the interesting story was the bit that took time and effort.

The major newspaper groups have been arguing that they need precisely this sort of protection from people like me.

By a funny coincidence, it’s one year this week since John Hartigan , the chairman of News Ltd, turned his fire on Mumbrella during a keynote speech:

“Then there are the news commentary sites, like The Huffington Post, Newser and the Daily Beast and in Australia sites like Crikey and Mumbrella.  Most of the content on these sites is commentary and opinion on media coverage produced by the major outlets.  These sites are covered in links to wire stories or mainstream mastheads. Typically, less than 10% of their content is original reporting.

“Almost anyone can start one of these sites, with very little capital, no training or qualifications.  Then there are the bloggers. In return for their free content, we pretty much get what we’ve paid for – something of such limited intellectual value as to be barely discernible from massive ignorance.  Like Keating’s famous “all tip and no iceberg”, it could be said that the blogosphere is all eyeballs and no insight.”

(I put my case in return here.)

By the way, many News Ltd journos take a different approach. I can think of a Daily Telegraph reporter who has used a Mumbrella story as a source more than once and always been diligent in citing us. The SMH’s print journos have generally given us a fair ride too.

Ironically, it doesn’t take much to keep us online folk happy. A link to the original piece at the end of the story is all it takes (you can still do it with this story if you like, Helen).

And as the tweet above demonstrates, if you do lift without attribution, you get found out in minutes.

Yet there is still something about the culture of journalism (and I do count myself in that) which makes us resist admitting to our readers that a story is not original. Even though there’s no good reason for not doing so.

But it does make it kind of hard for Rupert Murdoch to argue that original reporting should get additional legal protection.

The Times pay wall was turned on a few hours ago. Good luck with that.

Tim Burrowes


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