Thursday, July 9, 2009

Revive INS v. AP to Save Newspapers?

From an Op-Ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"If the copyright law doesn't open the way for originators of news to stop the free-riding, newspapers will die," he said. "No exceptions."

The Marburgers propose a change in federal law that would allow originators of news to exploit the commercial value of their product. Ideally, news originators' stories would be available only on their Web sites for the first 24 hours.

There is precedent for this change, David Marburger says. In 1918, the Associated Press sued International News Service for essentially the same problem now posed to newspapers by Web aggregators. INS was copying or rewriting AP stories and transmitting them by telegraph and telephone to papers in western U.S. time zones.

The Supreme Court ruled that INS engaged in unfair competition that ultimately would drive AP out of business. It enjoined INS from reproducing the AP stories, but only for a brief period while AP's dispatches had commercial value.

The court decision was diluted over time. In 1976, Congress further weakened the ruling with a new section in the copyright bill that didn't anticipate future problems of the Internet.

The Marburgers recommend amending the federal Copyright Act to provide two remedies for unjust enrichment:

• Aggregators would reimburse newspapers for ad revenues associated with their news reports.

• Injunctions would bar aggregators' profiting from newspapers' content for the first 24 hours after stories are posted.

Ben Barros

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