Thursday, May 26, 2011

Paying for news online - what's the AC connection?

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times do it.  Does that mean it can work for the Victoria Times-Colonist and the Montreal Gazette?

Following the Times' lead, the two Postmedia-owned papers are testing the idea that maybe people will not be able to go on getting their news free, according to the Halifax Chronicle-Herald.  After a certain number of online reads a month, users will be asked to pay for online access to the two papers' sites.

It's hard to deny the rationality of that.   Reporting news costs money, and who should carry the freight but the users? The internet is free as in speech, not necessarily free as in beer. The question for the Gazette and the Times-Colonist is, not to put too fine a point on it, will people pay for lousy newspapers?

The Gazette has long been in class-action litigation with Montreal writers whom it would not pay for online uses of their work. Many leading Montreal freelance journalists will not work for the Gazette.  Something similar recently happened at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald: several of its leading columnists have been forced out for refusing to surrender their rights to their own work.  (Follow that story at HoweNow.)  In effect, newspapers are attempting to collect for online copyrights even as they deny the same rights to the writers who provide used to provide the lively local content and opinion that makes a local paper worth reading.

The newspaper industry's campaign to undermine copyright is a creator-copyright issue, obviously.  If we had a creator-centred copyright collective in Canada, the folly of the newspaper industry in attempting simultaneously to defend copyright (theirs) and making war on copyright (creators') would be an important news story in itself.

But at Access Copyright, publishers, including newspaper publishers, hold half the board seats, and so Access Copyright cannot and will not defend copyright when it is creators who hold copyright and publishers who threaten it.  Who speaks for creators?  Why cannot creators spend their own money to defend their copyright interests?

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