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Copyright rules in the Digital Single Market
The traditional way of using a newspaper was that it was purchased, read, and then thrown away. News were its primary contents, although usually combined with debate, and both news and debate contributions were considered to be of interest for a short time only. Factual material could also be included, about cultural matters for example, but this did not affect the overall view of the newspaper as an ephemeral object. The paper-and-print technology for newspapers was based on this assumption while also reinforcing it.
In this article I shall first discuss how this pattern of use is being changed by the impact of Internet technology, and how the contents of newsmedia tend to become a persistent resource rather than a throw-away commodity. This has already happened to some extent, but I shall argue that more of the same can be forthcoming. This is a very beneficial development from society's point of view since it increases the availability of reliable information, as an antidote against 'fake news' for example.
One essential aspect of this development is that newspaper articles are increasingly being treated as individual entities, and not as part of a 'subscription'. They can be cited and used without regard to the other contents of the newsmedia where they have been published.
There is a problem, however: we will be unable to use these opportunities if some of the rules in the forthcoming Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market are realized in the restrictive way that is now being proposed. The idea of extending 'intellectual property rights' so that they also apply to Internet links (URL) is at the heart of this proposal, and must be rejected. The proposed Directive is being put forward as a way of protecting quality newsmedia, but I shall argue that there are other and better ways of achieving that goal, without impeding innovation in the way that the present proposal is bound to do.
A demo system for management of a newsarticle library
My arguments in these respects are based on my experience from five years of work on a web-based database and debate site called 'Arguments and Facts' . It is dedicated to the topic of 'multiculturalism' in the sense of a condition where a state has its own laws and national values, but where it also harbors important groups of an ethnic or religious character whose values differ from those of the host society, and maybe their sense of laws as well. This is an issue that gets a lot of attention in all European countries at present, and an issue where the public opinion is diverse and volatile.
In order to address this issue in a systematic way, I thought it was important to have a solid grasp of what arguments and facts have already been put forward in the public debate in our society, including both conventional media and alternative ones (in the sense of blogposts and free websites, but not including social media). I therefore made it a practice that whenever I saw a relevant article, I stored the Internet link (URL) of the article in my database. Here 'relevant' included both articles containing useful fact statements, or viable arguments that I agreed with, or carefully expressed arguments that I disagreed with. At present this database contains more than 7000 items, mostly for articles in Swedish and in English, but some in German or French, or in other Scandinavian languages.
A selection of these articles is displayed as a structured bibliography in the 'cliplib' (clipping library) section of my website. It is organized as a hierarchical structure of topics and sub-topics, containing the metadata of each article (title, author, venue, and date of publication), a link to the article with its original publisher, and sometimes a short comment of my own.
While doing this, I was surprised by the number and the availability of articles from earlier years. The statistics of selected articles per year can be seen in this page. I was also agreeably surprised by the ease with which this collection of articles could integrate contributions from newsmedia with contributions from the scientific or popular-science literature.
One significant aspect of this collection was that with very few exceptions, it should contain articles that are available over the Internet, either freely available, or available on a pay-per-view basis and at a reasonable price. Articles that were only available to subscribers have been excluded, except for two major Swedish newspapers where I had to compromise. This policy is essential for the usefulness of the newsarticle library.
Intended users, and the importance of on-line links
The characteristic property of the on-line newsarticle library that was described above, is that it makes articles from many sources available on a topic-by-topic basis. Some ordinary newspapers may also provide a list of articles on a specific topic, especially in their on-line editions, but in such cases they only link to other articles of their own. By comparison, the newsarticle library provides a service where the user can look up the topic of her choice, obtain a list of selected articles on that topic but from all kinds of sources, and see each of those articles merely by clicking.
I propose that this demo system is only one example of a strong on-going trend where individual newspaper articles are treated as individual publications in their own right. This has been the view of scientific articles for a very long time, and it is only natural that it is extended to articles in newsmedia.
The present demo system is not yet ready for widespread use, but the experience with it shows that one can foresee two major types of users for on-line services of its kind. First, they should be of use for the critical newspaper reader that wishes to check background information for articles that she reads, maybe for checking that statements in the article are correct, but otherwise simply for broadening the reader's own perspective. The need for fact-checking may occur when one reads an article that itself has a factual character, but it can be even greater when one is reading a debate article.
We also foresee another type of user, namely the person who is writing an article without himself being employed as a journalist. Maybe he will submit the article to a newspaper that welcomes such contributions, or maybe he will publish it on a website of his own, or the website of an association. In any case, the quality of his article will depend on his ability to access previously published articles for essential facts, and for referring to earlier debate. Moreover, the credibility and trust-worthiness of the article will be much higher if he can include links to the articles that served as his sources. The newsarticle library is a natural source for such links.
At the same time, it is clear that a service of this kind is absolutely dependent on the possibility to use Internet links freely, just like it has been the case until now. If the author in our second user type would have to pay for the right to include links in his manuscript, then he will just omit them, and his readers will lose the possibility of verifying what he writes. And if the person or group that maintains the newsarticle library would have to pay for each link that they include in their library, then their voluntary work for the common good will just not be possible.
In view of this discussion about intended users and intended usage, one may ask whether the same ends can be achieved by other means, both in this demo system and in other uses of the full literature of articles in newsmedia. Could not the news reader and the free-lance author use a search engine such as Google for retrieving the articles that are relevant for her purpose? I have tried this with some of the material in my library, and the answer is that Google is nowhere near to finding the information that you can obtain from a well-organized library. (In addition, there may be other strong reasons for not being dependent on a dominant service such as Google for this purpose).
Another possible objection may be that the implementation and marketing of newsarticle libraries should be left to commercial actors, rather than relying on volunteer efforts. However, libraries of this kind require a lot of work, and they will be needed for many topic areas, many of which will not be commercially viable. The wikipedia is an obvious example of a service that can exist exactly because it is volunteer-based. The community effort towards the reconstruction of people's ancestor trees is another example.
The payment model for articles in newsmedia
The contemporary and forthcoming usage of news articles that I have described here does in fact require an alternative to the present payment model. It is still usually the case that users pay for on-line access to the entire collection of articles in a particular newspaper, usually through an annual subscription. More and more newspapers nowadays require subscriptions in order to access their on-line contents. This is already a threat to the type of usage that I have described, and in fact an obstacle to the widespread use of the entire literature of newspaper articles.
The proposed Directive apparently assumes that this payment model will continue to apply in the future. If this happens, together with an increase in the number of newspapers that require a subscription for accessing their on-line material, then the development that I have described here is just not going to happen. This would be a missed opportunity for society as a whole.
It would be much better if payment for access could be done in another way than through subscriptions. There may be a system where the user pays a small fee for each article she accesses, or there could be system of universal subscriptions along the lines of Spotify for the area of music. We must hope that the newspress industry understands the importance of going to such forward-looking solutions, instead of clinging to solutions that try to conserve the old-fashioned subscription model.
The free use of quotations
Looking inside my own articles that I have posted on my website, they use of course links that I obtain from the newsarticle library. However, they also contain short excerpts from several of the cited articles, since this is often the best way of conveying the opinion or the conclusion that has been expressed there. Such excerpts are certainly not made in order to usurp the contribution of the article at hand, but rather to indicate its key points concisely and correctly. The ability to quote essential content is standard practice for ordinary, printed material, and there is no reason why the same rule should not apply for on-line material. There is every reason to believe that frequent citation of this kind from a newspaper will benefit its reputation, and therefore its balance sheet.
I discussed initially the difference between using newsmedia on a read-and-discard basis or for persistent use, and my point here is that the persistent use will become more and more important as opinion-formers recognize and begin to use the on-line archives of major and not-so-major newspapers. This will also mean that some of the concerns that are at the basis of the proposed Directive may not be as pressing as otherwise thought. For example, the report from the European Parliament mentions the "economic incentives to mass-exploit press publications" in the following words:
More content attracts more users, and more users mean higher advertising revenues or even subscription fees. ... The easiest way to gather attractive content, of course, is to take it from other websites ... There are numerous examples of platforms based on the aggregation of (third party) press content.
These may be realistic concerns for read-and-discard media, but they do not apply in the context that is discussed here. If a user-writer cites an article in order to support her own arguments, or in order to argue against the position of that other article, then obviously she must refer to it using a link to that article itself. It would be pointless to link to a pirated copy of the article.
Based on the arguments above, I propose that the detailed writing of Articles 11 and 13 in the 'Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market' should be done in such a way that it remains possible to carry out activities such as the ones I have described here. In particular, Internet links should continue to be freely usable, and they should not be considered as the property of the resource being linked to. Also, newspaper publishers should be encouraged to embrace new systems of payment for access, instead of clinging to the outdated subscription model.
A related article
New Publication Patterns and Public Discourse
The site 'Arguments and Facts'
Links to web pages on my site illustrating how it is organized:
Inv-60: EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market
The concepts of nation and nationalism, and the conditions of nations
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