Department of Bad Ideas: Let’s Ban Links to Save Print!

A U.S. Appeals Court judge, Richard Posner, blogs about the non-future of newspapers this week and floats the idea that — get this — banning links and paraphrasing copyrighted material might be necessary.

From the blog post:

Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.

Valleywag notes support for the idea from Cleveland Plain-Dealer columnist Connie Schultz, who also advocates, in Valleywag’s words, “the idea of giving newspapers a 24-hour injunction on news they post, during which time it’s all theirs, and can’t be aggregated by others online.”

Both ideas are being roundly criticized. John Temple, the former editor of the Rocky Mountain News, calls the ideas “misdirected.” Mixed Media says changing copyright laws won’t save newspapers, saying the scenario Posner imagines would be “an incoherent mess, totally out of step with the pace of the Information Age.” And what if news broke on blogs (which happens!):

As Jeff Jarvis points out, TMZ would have had a 24-hour exclusive on the news of Michael Jackson’s death. That’s just unimaginable.


What did Tony Soprano say? “You can’t put shit back on the donkey.” Once news is out, it’s out. And such attempts to restrict linking to and citing news are absolutely absurd.

Valleywag’s Hamilton Nolan rebuts thusly, casting this as another narrow idea tossed out to preserve “the newspaper” instead of moving the medium into the 21st century:

What would it mean, in practice, to make it illegal to paraphrase a copyrighted news story? Summing up, for example, political events, or a sports controversy, or even a fashion trend, could be interpreted as paraphrasing copyrighted material. So let’s ban talking about anything. And banning links will help us make our references even more obscure, by making it impossible for anyone to refer to source materials! Good idea, Posner. This gross oversimplification makes you look none too freedom-loving!

We all know journalism happens only at newspapers. Better to protect them at all costs than to invest in the murky “future.”

When will newspapers and big thinkers abandon hopeless efforts to preserve a dying medium and start innovating?


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