The benefit of copyright protection

A print newspaper’s copyright protections might not follow it online.

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I am not a lawyer. This post does not contain legal advice. It does take a stab at a legal issue. (If you’re a lawyer and think I’m wrong, please make comment.)

In the United States, the traditional daily newspaper’s exclusive right to its news content can be protected by our federal copyright laws, which are well understood.

It’s not that copyright violations don’t occur; they do. But the print-only newspaper is usually able to capture every dollar of advertising and circulation revenue generated by each edition.

That’s not so true in the online world.

An online newspaper is covered by copyright law, too, but the online audience has a different attitude toward the content found there.

“It is a widely held misconception that works on the Internet are not covered by copyright and thus can be used freely,” says the Digital Media Law Project. “This is not true.”

And now, we all have the ability to copy and paste.

“In the digital era, ‘fair use’  has become a battleground,” the Law Project notes. “No one challenges the original principles, but instant reproduction and worldwide distribution of any digital work is within everyone’s reach.”

Nevertheless, everyone is not the problem.

“Newspapers’ concern in this area is not the personal use of newspaper-generated content but rather its use by businesses that benefit financially through the unlicensed monetization of that content,” wrote Caroline Little in 2014, then president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). “By taking newspaper content without paying for it, these companies undercut the fundamental economic model that supports journalism that is so important to our communities.”

Little gave an example. In 2013, The Associated Press sued Meltwater News. As Little put it, the for-profit service “scraped Associated Press articles from the Internet and resold verbatim excerpts to subscribers.”

The AP won (see AP wins copyright infringement suit against Meltwater News). Shortly thereafter, both sides in the case announced they would work together.

Traditional print dailies don’t have to worry about copyright-infringing aggregators that siphon off ad and subscription revenue.

Online, though, it’s a different story.