Posts about links

The right to remember, damnit

A reporter asked me for reaction to news that Google has put up a form to meet a European court’s insane and dangerous ruling and allow people to demand that links to content they don’t like about themselves be taken down. Here’s what I said:

This is a most troubling event for speech, the web, and Europe.

The court has trampled the free-speech rights not only of Google but of the sites — and speakers — to which it links.

The court has undertaken to control knowledge — to erase what is already known — which in concept is offensive to an open and modern society and in history is a device used by tyrannies; one would have hoped that European jurists of all people would have recognized the danger of that precedent.

The court has undermined the very structure of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention, the link — the underpinning of the web itself — by making now Google (and next perhaps any of us) liable just for linking to information. Will newspapers be forced to erase what they link to or quote? Will libraries be forced to take metaphoric cards out of their catalogs?

The court has, ironically, made Google only more powerful, making it the adjudicator of what information should and should not be found. The court has also given Google ludicrous parameters — e.g., having to decide what is relevant to what; relevant to whom; relevant in what context?

We don’t know how this order will be implemented by the various search engines. One question is what right of notice and appeal a delinked site will have.

If this process is public, as it should be, then doesn’t that have the potential to bring even more attention to the information in dispute? Another question is whether content will be made invisible in Europe but will still be visible — as I hope it will be — in the rest of the world, where the European court has no authority. Will this then allow others to compare search results and make the banned information only more visible? In the end, has the court assured a Streisand effect — or, as the comedian John Oliver said on his HBO show, the one thing that is known about the Spaniard who brought this case is the thing that he does not want known.

Further, what of search engines and sites that have no European offices and thus the court has no authority over them? If they refuse to delink on demand will the court ban these sites for European view?

Finally, I am concerned about the additive effect of this ruling on Europe’s reputation as technophobic or anti-American. Add to this especially various actions in Germany — government officials demanding a “Verpixelungsrecht” (a right to be pixelated) in Google Street View despite the fact that these are images taken of public views in public places; German publishers ganging up on Google to strongarm politicians into passing a law limiting the quoting of snippets of content and now threatening to break up Google — in addition to similarly head-scratching moves in France, Italy, and elsewhere. Is Europe a place where any technology company or investor will choose to work?

You ask about Eric Schmidt and David Drummond cochairing the advisory committee. That is a clear indication of how profound and dangerous this situation is in Google’s view. It so happens I was in Mountain View two weeks ago speaking to the all-hands meeting of Google’s privacy teams and I can tell you they were shocked at the ruling. I also said much of what I’ve said to you there. I am appalled by this ruling. [As a matter of disclosure, Google paid my travel expenses but I have no business relationship with Google.]

Links are good

One of the best things Pro Publica does – besides reporting – is link to the best of what it calls accountability journalism because that helps support that reporting (take note, link-dumb, web-killer Gatehouse). Now they’re smartly using a bookmark tag “pplinks.”

A danger to journalism

The more I think about it, the angrier I get at Gatehouse for its dangerous and hypocritical crusade against links.

Links are the bloodstream of the web, carrying its oxygen. Links are how original journalism will get audience, traffic, branding, attention, credit, and monetization. Links are a gift and a courtesy. Links are the means to better-informed communities. Links tie people together with each other and the information they need. Links are necessary. Links are good.

But Gatehouse (like the AP before it and the French often) is fighting links from Boston.com. That’s a case of cutting off its nose to spite its face: Gatehouse is turning away traffic and audience. Suicide. But it’s also attempted murder: If on the very slight chance that an equally clueless judge lets this suit proceed, it could put a chill on linking just when we need it most. That’s what’s dangerous. That is irresponsible on Gatehouse’s part.

Indeed, we need more links to more journalism at its source, as I proposed to the Associated Press in the midst of its aborted antilink crusade. Links are also the key to specialization and efficiency; they will allow a local publication to do local well and link to other stories rather than rewriting them: Do what you do best, link to the rest.

In the comments on my post yesterday, Brian Cubbison (of Syracuse.com) pointed out the irony – make that hypocrisy – of Gatehouse’s link policy, as – just like Boston.com – it started a hyperlocal blog in Batavia – where, unlike the Globe, it has no paper – and it links to papers owned by other companies. See this post on the blog’s very first day. I’d say what it does is far worse for both readers and the competition: It summarizes stories (arguably making it unnecessary to click through; Boston.com instead quotes ledes that should entice readers to read more) and it links only to the home page and not directly to the stories (which is downright rude and inconvenient to readers who then would have go do digging for the content). This is closer to stealing content and journalistic value than what Boston.com does. See also this Batavia post today, which summarizes and quotes a competitor’s story – more than Boston.com has done – and links to it. And look at this post from a blog at Gatehouse’s Wicked Local – the alleged victim of Boston.com’s linking – which quotes news from Boston.com and doesn’t link to it. I’d say that is theft.

So what should happen here? Should Gannett sue Gatehouse? Should we all just sue each other for lnking to each other – for doing what the web is all about? As Mark Potts says:

This sort of nonsense really has to stop. Companies like GateHouse need to understand the medium they’re playing in, and how best to play in it, rather than trying to turn back the clock to some sort of imaginary time when they could keep their garden walls tall and stout.

If you can’t stand the links, Gatehouse, get off the web.

Gatehouse’s market cap is a measly $2.1 million. Why don’t we put together a fund to buy it and put it out of its misery and get rid of this ridiculous suit. Or let’s all appeal to Michael E. Reed, CEO of the embattled Gatehouse: Stop this dangerous and destructive suit.

: MORE: Henry Blodget mocks Gatehouse: “We hereby give the New York Times permission to aggregate any or all of our headlines and ledes anytime they feel like it. We’ll even give GateHouse Media the same permission. We can’t wait to welcome their readers to our sites.”

Journalistopia says:

If GateHouse were to have its way with its deep link argument, it would create a legal precedent that makes the act of linking to a copyrighted article illegal. It could mean a crippling of sites such as Romenesko and the Drudge Report, which can bring in enormous amounts of readers while being primarily built upon links to someone else’s expensive-to-create content. But, if enforced, it would also cut off the voluminous flow of readers who arrive to news sites via search engines and aggregators. That, too, has an effect on the bottom line.

In the end, we could see a long list of media companies flinging short-sighted lawsuits at each other, while suicidally pushing their content into black holes guarded by copyright law.

[Disclosures: I have an interest in the link economy as a partner at Daylife and a board member at Publish2 and an advisor to Outside.in. I am involved with those companies because I believe links are the foundation of news in the future.]

: LATER: Matthew Ingram has a v good response to the dustup:

With David Carr’s argument that newspapers should ignore the Web only a few days old — not to mention Joel Brinkley’s suggestion that anti-trust violations are a viable business model — I thought the market for stupid newspaper-related activity was pretty well saturated. But apparently I was wrong….

GateHouse apparently doesn’t like the way the Internet works. That puts the company in the same category as the World Newspaper Association and forward-thinking types like Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell, who have repeatedly criticized Google for linking to news stories from its Google News search engine, or the Belgian newspapers that sued Google over similar tactics. All of these groups are trying to turn back time, to play King Canute with the rolling wave that is the Web, instead of trying to find ways of using that wave to their mutual advantage….

The crowdsourced life

I happened to tweet this morning about two crowdsourcing moments — student tries to crowdsource his tuition; Michael Arrington crowdsources his rats/ship/flee list for Yahoo — when Mark Comerford tweeted back with a link to the crowdsourced job interview:

Joanna Geary, a young journalist trying for a job at the Birmingham Post, told her readers about the task she had to perform for the interview: “I have to outline a training course that would convert traditional print journalists into ‘fully-equipped and knowledgeable multi-media, multi-platform journalists’ in just five days.” So she decided to ask for her readers’ help. I said in the comments that that act alone should get her hired. It shows she thinks in the new way: open, networked, relying on and trusting the gift economy and respecting her readers and what they know.

This is reflex for me now. I come to my friends on the blog — you — to ask help all the time, especially with my book. I’m working on another project that has to stay secret right now — not mine; I’m helping someone else — and it’s killing me that I can’t tap the wisdom of all of you.

What this really means: Your friends are, indeed, your greatest asset and when you can tap them for help you exploit their value to you. The internet now enables you to do that anytime with anyone. If you don’t have friends, you can’t do that. Newspapers, magazines, companies of all sorts need to realize that is why they need friends.

We are in a relationship-based economy. (Which is another way to look at the link economy of media, Associated Press, and why turning friends into enemies is just bad business.)

Ununderstanding the link economy

David Ardia reports on the fundamental misunderstanding of the link economy of media at the Carnegie-Knight Conference on the Future of Journalism. I got the quote from Jay Rosen’s tweet; he and I aren’t there (why? not sure; could be because our journalism schools aren’t part of the club or it could be because we’re not). Ardia blogs at the Citizen Media Law Project complaining about the one-way panel structure of such conferences:

For example, one attendee asked this morning’s panel on Working Journalists and the Changing News Environment whether news organizations should start charging a penny or two to everyone who links to newspaper content. Aside from the complete lack of any legal justification for such a licensing scheme (see the CMLP legal guide’s discussion of linking), the idea is preposterous and ignores the essential structure of the link architecture of the web. This should have sparked vigorous discussion of how the Internet has fundamentally changed the creation and distribution of news, but it didn’t.

I’d like to know who said it and who didn’t argue so we can spark that conversation. This is vital — vital — to the future of journalism. But I don’t find any evidence of streaming, live-blogging, or other blogging from the event. Too bad.

The link economy v. the content economy

In media, we are moving from a content economy to a link economy.

The AP Affair is the best illustration of the clash between these two worldviews.

Let’s turn the discussion on its head. Let’s say that the real value in this equation is not content and information — both of which are now quickly commodified — but links, which are the new currency of media. Links can be exploited and monetized; get links and you can grab audience and show ads and make money. Content is becoming a cost burden, what you have to have to get the links, but in and of itself, content can’t draw value without an audience, without links.

So now let’s turn this fight on its head. The AP should not be asking for payment for its content. The bloggers should be asking for payment for their links. That is where the value is in this economy.

Step away from that ‘comment’ link. I am not seriously suggesting that bloggers should demand or accept payment for links. Indeed, that would be quite unethical — very PayPerPosty: selling out and devaluing our credibility. That’s why we don’t do it. Our link ethic would not allow it.

Still, there is value in our links and the AP, if it understood this new economy would understand that it is a gift economy and links are presents that can be given or earned but not bought. But the AP is still operating in the content economy, which values control instead. That age has passed.

Hey, Saul

I can’t not respond to Saul Hansell’s nanny nattering at me and other bloggers over the AP Affair.

What the AP and The New York Times’ Hansell don’t seem to realize is how hostile an act it is to send lawyer letters to individuals. They have armies of attorneys. We bloggers don’t. The mere act of sending us a letter can cost us money out of our own pockets. Sending a lawyer letter is an assault.

Saul tweaks me about having a conversation first: “Mr. Jarvis, in particular, often talks about blogging as a conversation. It seems like the A.P. wants to talk, and many bloggers would prefer a temper tantrum to a discussion.” Saul, I don’t think you’re cut out for a career as a playground monitor for you don’t have the most basic skill of the job: recognizing who started it. The AP sent its lawyer letters. It declared war.

And so, Saul, I’d say you should pose this to the AP: Why didn’t it start a conversation — an open conversation — before starting war?

I would have appreciated it very much if Saul had noticed my efforts at conversation namely this post in which I tried to explain to the AP our ethic of the link and suggest that they try it on. The AP’s Jim Kennedy called it constructive.

I think Saul misses an important point made in the blogosphere: that it’s not up to the AP to set the definition of fair use. They can’t rewrite the law. You may say that they are trying to create safe harbor by setting their own rules. From our view, they are trying to put up a fence where it cannot legally exist. All they can say is this is when they will and won’t sue or send their threatening letters. That’s not saying whether they’ll win or should. It’s not so much a safe harbor as slightly shallower water. See fellow big-media blogger Matthew Ingram:

But that’s kind of the point: the AP doesn’t have to offer a “safe harbor” to bloggers or other media sites under certain circumstances. The fair use exemption under U.S. copyright law already does that, whether the newswire likes it or not (and clearly it doesn’t). If it wants to get someone to say whether a few sentences excerpted on a blog qualifies or not, then it can go to court and try to get a judge to do so. But sitting down and trying to negotiate some kind of blanket pass for something that is already permitted under law seems like a mug’s game.

Finally, Saul says it’s silly to talk about boycotting the AP because bloggers don’t pay it (yet). That’s where Saul is farthest off the mark. He’s ignoring the value of links. More on that in the next post.

A proposal to the Associated Press: A link ethic

I propose to the Associated Press that it immediately begin linking to all its sources for stories, especially to members’ original journalism because:

* This will support journalism at its source. As I’ve written here, it is vital that we link to original journalism so it can receive traffic, audience, branding, credit, conversation, and advertising.

* This will provide a better service to readers and clients, enabling them to find, read, and link to original reporting.

* This will be an act of transparency that everyone in journalism should be practicing. As they say in the math test, we should show our work. The AP can provide an example that other news organizations should follow.

This comes out of the ethic of the link and quote that I have learned from blogs. It says to our readers: Don’t take my word for it, go see for yourself. And: Here’s what the source said; I won’t rephrase it but I will quote it directly so you can see for yourself.

The Associated Press, like its industry, has been operating under a different ethic for a different time: the ethic of ownership and control.

These two systems are coming into conflict now, but they need not conflict. As Prof. Rosen has been trying to teach journalists in another context: “Newsroom people, hear me out. You don’t have to leave the moral universe you grew up in. Just admit the possibility of another valid one beyond yours.”

The AP sent Drudge Retort and Rogers Cadenhead takedown notices for brief excerpts from and links to its stories. I reacted strongly but I’ll now try to explain calmly what’s at stake here.

The AP was calling bloggers unethical even while the bloggers were operating under their own ethic of the link and the quote. The bloggers believe they are doing the right thing in quoting directly and they think they are doing the generous thing — generous to both their readers and to the AP — in providing links to the source material. The bloggers will also say that this is an ethic the AP itself violates when it homogenizes and commodifies news, rewriting it and stripping it of the identity — and now the address — of the original reporting done by its members and other sources.

But the AP will say that it has a right to own that content and others, including bloggers, do not, so it believes it is protecting that license. That is its ethic.

Of course, these two ethics need not be mutually exclusive.

Bloggers should not quote excessively from others’ content and when they quote it should be for a reason — to agree, disagree, comment on, recommend, correct (there can be many reasons). This is fair use and fair comment. There can be no word-count limit because it depends on the use. If I want to fisk a story, I may well quote the whole thing because I am commenting on it all. The test is reasonableness: a fuzzy test, but life is fuzzy.

The AP, for its part, should recognize that they and their members now live in a new media ecology constructed of links, one they do not and cannot control any longer. To be good citizens in this new economy, the AP should respect the rights of readers who write and recognize the benefits of receiving links and credit, as the bloggers give it. They should further extend this ethic to their own work. And if there is conflict or questions, their reflex should not be to send their lawyers to write letters. Remember that you are dealing with individuals, not corporations. This was a hostile act and that is why it was met in return with hostility, deservedly so.

Now let me make clear that the AP is no idiot. Jim Kennedy, its head of strategy, who responded to my rant in the comments and has done so on other blogs, has the best strategic mind in the industry (if only there were more of him). He has inspired much of my thinking about the ecology of links in news. Tom Curley, his boss, has spoken eloquently about the need to separate content from the container — to, indeed, look at new means to distribute news (by blog quotes and links among them, I’d say). The AP has been dealing with issues of credit for years when TV stations pick up stories reported by newspapers and then rewritten by the AP, giving no credit to the source; the same happens with photos, as someone said in my comments.

No, the AP is no fool. But it acted like one in this episode. I wanted to throttle them. And so I did. My problem is not just that they threatened bloggers foolishly and needlessly and assaulted the right to fair use and fair comment but that it made them appear so clueless. I believe what they did could harm both the AP and the foundering news and newspaper industries.

How could it harm the AP? Well, I return to the case of the Ohio rebellion, where papers are now sharing their original journalism without the AP and its content mill. I think there well could come a day when local papers decide to share their own content around the AP and even to do without the AP state wire. Those same papers may decide to stop covering the world or at least to do it with links instead of syndicated, commodified, expensive wire content. At the same time, as Jon Fine says in his column this week, newspapers will shrink (or disappear). So I suggest that the AP had better reconsider its relationship locally and it may need to be more of a curator than a mill. It may need to provide not rewritten stories but instead selected quotes and links — as bloggers do.

I also believe that in an economy of links, the AP should reconsider its role. Many years ago, when I still worked for a newspaper company, I told the AP that I thought it should become an ad network; that’s what we need. Maybe it should be an aggregator, or perhaps a curator. But I do not think there is a future in acting as an owner of recycled content in an age when the link also commodifies all information in an instant. That becomes a pointless game of wack-a-mole that turns us — the AP’s readers and promoters — into moles.

My suspicion is that it’s the lawyers who got the AP into this mess. My best advice for the AP’s executives is that they should try to practice the bloggers’ ethic of the link and quote themselves (updating their news values with one more value). My next-best advice is that they should walk down the hall and tell the lawyers to put a damned sock in it or send them off for a very long off-site on a golf course where they can do no harm. This is not going to be resolved enforcing the fine print of outmoded laws built for an extinct age. This is a constantly changing landscape that must be maneuvered with flexibility and openness. But if those lawyers continue to threaten bloggers who know more about this new age and are only practicing their appropriate ethics, I will continue to use this space to suggest where socks should go.

[Disclosures: I have many dogs in this hunt, which I try to point out whenever I write about this but I'll make a fuller statement here. I am speaking for myself and none of those dogs. I am a partner at Daylife, which collects news and is a platform for links among news sources. I am on the board of Publish2, which will provide a platform for journalists to provide links to their sources. I am a member of the Media Bloggers Association, whose founder, Bob Cox, a more reasonable man than I, is talking with the parties in this story. I am writing a book about Google and believe that its role as aggregator, linker, scraper, and search engine is vital to the new ecology of media. I quote from and link to AP and others' stories constantly. I have worked with and consider myself a friend of the AP, though they might disagree right now.]