The Mast-Head: Money for Nothing

In the world of print, if one publication copies another’s original content, and reruns it with its own advertising, it is considered intellectual property theft

    One of the biggest hurdles in running a newspaper these days comes from online searches and social media, sources that many in the industry should view as more of a threat than a ally.

    In the world of print, if one publication copies another’s original content, and reruns it with its own advertising, it is considered intellectual property theft. But when Google, Facebook, and other big websites do it, wrapping pieces of others’ stories with their own ads, the old media companies, which paid to create the content in the first place, are expected to be thankful for the traffic.

    In my opinion, this is upside down. It seems to me that the poaching sites should share some of the money they get by selling ads next to and above fragments of what others produce with those who produce it. Without the writers, editors, and publishers of the world, Google and the rest might well be selling nothing more than access to inane commentary, corporate pitches, and the work of unhinged bloggers.

    Making matters all the more inequitable, if a content producer signs up with Google’s Ad words program, which sends some of its advertising to others, or one of its rivals, the content producer can enjoy the ignominy of its own potential advertising accounts getting equal exposure for far less money than they would if they bought advertising on the originating site directly. 

    This has the additional effect of making ad rates for the web artificially low — and why not, since Google, for one, does not have to pay anyone to provide content for it. It is little wonder that these giant aggregation and social network sites have so much cash on hand; they are selling advertising contracts to material they bore no expense in creating.

    I am hardly alone in looking dimly on the digital age’s freeloaders. Broadcasters arguing in the Su­preme Court on Tuesday in the case of Aereo, a low-cost cable television alternative, said Aereo’s business model was “premised on massive and unauthorized commercial exploitation of copyrighted works.”

    Aereo is a little different than Google and the like in that it allows subscribers to view entire programs while side-stepping expensive monthly cable fees. Yet the concept is the same: It should compensate those who actually create the work it resells.

    Make no mistake, website traffic is important. The Star website’s top referrer is Google, followed by Facebook. But that still does not make what these companies do right or ethical. If these firms are making billions selling access to our content in the aggregate, the least they can do is kick a few pennies our way. It’s only fair. Without those who actually do the work, they would have very, very little left to sell.