Posts about linkeconomy

The right to link

My column in the Guardian argues that we have a right to link and that the link is the basis of freedom of speech online. The issues are important and so I’m posting the entire column here:

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Linking is more than merely a function and feature of the internet. Linking is a right. The link enables fair comment. It powers the link economy that will sustain media. It is a tool for accountability. It is the keystone to free speech online.

But News Corporation has made good on its threat to fight the link, preventing the UK aggregator NewsNow from linking to several of its newspaper sites.

It’s true that internet protocols make it easy to block crawlers from search engines or aggregators; one simply adds a line to the robots.txt file on the web server. And News Corp’s rationale regarding NewsNow seems on the face of it to make sense: the argument is that NewsNow charges for its service, separating it from free aggregators such as Google News and Daylife (in which – disclosure – I am a partner).

But NewsNow has fought back, launching a campaign in support of the link at right2link.org. “Linking is not some kind of digital theft,” the NewsNow founder Struan Bartlett says in a video. Linking via headlines, he adds, “is not substantial reproduction of a newspaper’s intellectual property, so it’s perfectly legitimate fair use”.

Right. Linking is not a privilege that the recipient of the link should control – any more than politicians should decide who may or may not quote them. The test is not whether the creator of the link charges (Murdoch’s newspapers will charge and they link). The test is whether the thing we are linking to is public. If it is public for one it should be public for all.

We in the media tend to view the internet in our own image. But the internet is not a medium. Instead, as Cluetrain Manifesto author Doc Searls argues, it is a place. Think of it as a public park. You may not be selectively kept out because of your association with a race, religion … or aggregator. “Linking,” says Bartlett, “is a common public amenity.”

I fear that what is really in danger here is the doctrine of openness* on which journalism and an informed society depend. Pertinent are the arguments around Google’s Streetview, which takes pictures of buildings and the people who happen to be in front of them. Some object that these photos violate their privacy. But they are in public. What they do there is public.

I understand that people caught on Streetview might not want us to see them strolling into a drug den or brothel. But if we give anyone the right to restrict our use of that image or information, then we also give the mayor the right to gag us when we want to publish a picture of him skulking into that opium parlour.

What’s public is public – that is, we, the public, have a right to observe, point to, share, and comment on it. And the internet is public.

Mind you, neither NewsNow nor I are arguing that being in public gives anyone the right to copy and steal content. We both agree that copyright and intellectual property must be respected. But linking is not stealing.

Indeed, in the link economy I’ve written about here, linking is distribution; it is a benefit. That’s why I argue News Corp is a fool not to welcome, encourage and exploit links to its content. Links do not stop people from reading it; links bring readers to it.

As Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed response to Rupert Murdoch on the value of search and aggregation, it’s up to the recipient of the link to take advantage of the relationship it creates – and Google creates 4bn such opportunities for publishers a year.

By trying to cut off links, News Corp is also endangering journalism. As an economic matter, the link is how our work will gain audience.

As a journalistic matter, we reporters depend on the ability to read and analyse public statements and documents – from government, corporations or newsmakers – and it should make no difference whether that reading is done by a person or their agent, an algorithm. We depend on the right to quote from what we find – and online, the link is our means of doing so. In fact, linking to source material – footnoting our work and the provenance of our information – is fast being seen as an ethical necessity in digital journalism.

In the end, this fight is over control. News Corp is desperately trying to maintain its control over access to and packaging and pricing of information that now flows freely from many sources. Thanks to the internet, it is losing it – in more than one sense.

* Note that in my draft, I wrote “publicness.” It’s not a word in the dictionary and so it was edited, changed to “openness.” I should have perhaps phrased it, “the public.”

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Tim Berners-Lee on the right to link (via Thomas Stadler):

The ability to refer to a document (or a person or any thing else) is in general a fundamental right of free speech to the same extent that speech is free. Making the reference with a hypertext link is more efficient but changes nothing else. . . . We cannot regard anyone as having the “right not to be referred to” without completely pulling the rug out from under free speech. . . .It is difficult to emphasize how important these issues are for society. The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States, for example, addresses the right to speak. The right to make reference to something is inherent in that right. On the web, to make reference without making a link is possible but ineffective – like speaking but with a paper bag over your head.

The Golden Link

Thomson Reuters digital boss Chris Ahearn stands up in favor of the link economy (as opposed to someone else we know). It’s sensible talk and he suggests we have more such talk about how best to link. I agree.

As soon as I can, I’ll set a date in October to hold a symposium on the link economy and to present the work of the New Business Models for News Project at CUNY. Also I’ll set up a conversation space at CUNY’s site to discuss the link economy as Ahearn suggests; it will be up later today at wiki.newsinnovation.com. Stay tuned.

Here’s what Ahearn had to say (and I’ll bet he won’t mind my quoting a lot of it):

Blaming the new leaders or aggregators for disrupting the business of the old leaders, or saber-rattling and threatening to sue are not business strategies – they are personal therapy sessions. Go ask a music executive how well it works.

A better approach is to have a general agreement among community members to treat others’ content, business and ideas with the same respect you would want them to treat yours.

If you are doing something that you would object to if others did it to you – stop. If you don’t want search engines linking to you, insert code to ban them.

I believe in the link economy. Please feel free to link to our stories — it adds value to all producers of content. I believe you should play fair and encourage your readers to read-around to what others are producing if you use it and find it interesting.

I don’t believe you could or should charge others for simply linking to your content. Appropriate excerpting and referencing are not only acceptable, but encouraged. If someone wants to create a business on the back of others’ original content, the parties should have a business relationship that benefits both.

Let’s stop whining and start having real conversations across party lines. Let’s get online publishers, search engines, aggregators, ad networks, and self-publishers (bloggers) in a virtual room and determine how we can all get along. I don’t believe any one of us should be the self-appointed Internet police; agreeing on a code of conduct and ethics is in everyone’s best interests.

Our news ecosystem is evolving and learning how it can be open, diverse, inclusive and effective. With all the new tools and capabilities we should be entering a new golden age of journalism – call it journalism 3.0. Let’s identify how we can birth it and agree what is “fair use” or “fair compensation” and have a conversation about how we can work together to fuel a vibrant, productive and trusted digital news industry. Let’s identify business models that are inclusive and that create a win-win relationship for all parties.

This is not code for some hidden agenda – it is an open call for collective problem solving. Let’s do it wiki-style and edit it in the public domain. Let’s define the code of conduct and ethics we would all like to operate under.

My suggestion is we start with “do unto others” as our guiding spirit – I bet it would make all of our mothers proud.

How (and why) to replace the AP

The Associated Press is becoming the enemy of the internet because it is fighting the link and the link is the basis of the internet. From Richard Perez-Pena’s New York Times story today:

Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.

Them’s fightin’ words: quoting an article’s headline while linking to it would require licensing? This means we would have to get permission from and negotiate with sites before linking to them. That would kill the internet. It also would kill the Associated Press and the news organizations it cons into joining its dangerous crusade – make that its cartel – for no one will link to them and they will not be heard.

There has been much stupidity lately about how news should operate in the ecosystem in the internet – threats to try to extend copyright, the ominously named and ambiguously written Hamburg Declaration, the ACAP “standard” that would be a boon to spammers – but the AP’s shot across our bow is the most destructive and ignorant of them all. The AP doggedly refuses to understand the link economy of the digital age and its imperatives.

The AP would rather destroy the link economy. Oh, it probably won’t succeed, just because what it suggests is so impractical and illegal and ultimately undemocratic and unconstitutional. But like a bull in a knowledgeshop, it could do a lot of damage along the way, trying to rewrite the fair use that is the basis of the democratic conversation and rushing its members to even earlier graves by hiding their content from the readers it is meant to serve. Note well that most news organizations depend upon fair use every day when they quote somebody else’s story or comment on somebody else’s content. The AP is dangerous.

But that’s not the reason to replace it (it’s merely a bonus). No, the reason to replace the AP is because is that it is hopelessly, mortally outmoded for the digital age and its ownership structure – I blame its board of newspaper owners more than I blame its management – won’t let it be transformed for our new reality. We need a replacement that will better serve journalism and the public, not to mention the democracy.

The AP’s primary job is to distribute content. In a content economy, that worked well. In the link economy, what the AP does is a disservice to content because it cuts the links to the source by rewriting news. The AP also translates content from one medium to another, rewriting newspaper stories so they can be read on radio or TV; that, too, cuts the link to the source (and note that rip-and-read has been the worse enemy of original reporting since the invention of broadcast, long before the internet). And the AP adds some original reporting to the ecosystem but it can’t monetize that value in the link economy because to do so would compete with its owner/clients.

What we need is an infrastructure for a content marketplace online that rewards the creators of original reporting – not the copiers or the commodifiers (that is, the AP) – by exploiting the essential nature of how the internet operates, that is, the link.

I’ve called one fundamental example of this structure reverse syndication – and Politico has started implementing it. Look at it this way: In the old days – in the AP’s ways – Politico would have syndicated its story to other papers, which would have sold ads to earn the money to pay Politico. Now, of course, Politico’s story is just a link and a click away. So now another paper – say, the Chicago Tribune – can just link to Politico’s story. That rewards Politico for creating the story. But what about also rewarding the Tribune for adding value through the link, sending audience to Politico? It would be in Politico’s interest to pay the Tribune a share of its ad revenue for the article to encourage it to send more traffic and add more value. That is the missing piece.

Now imagine this Politico story sits out there on the internet with an ad on it and it is sharing that revenue with the Tribune proportional to the traffic the Tribune brings. Politico could sell that ad. But if the Tribune could get higher value, then it should sell the ad and share the revenue with Politico. Or a third party – oh, I dunno, Google – could sell the ad and share revenue with both. Whatever makes more money – that’s the question we should be asking; that’s what’s going to save the news business.

At the CUNY New Business Models for News Project, we are modeling the news ecosystem that we believe will emerge when a metro paper fades away. For our next project – when funded – I’d like to tackle this content marketplace infrastructure to look at what is needed: systems to track and pay and conventions to label content and draw audience to – and thus support – journalism at its source. With or without an AP, we need to improve the means by which original reporting is found and supported.

Another project I’d like to tackle is The New York Times’ favorite subject: how to support a Baghdad bureau in this new ecosystem. I don’t know that I have the answer or that there is one. Global Post is one try. There may be a need for support from charitable sources (the subject of my Monday Guardian column, which I’ll link to later). The AP and large, ambitious news organizations like The Times report from places where others can’t afford to go; we need to look at how to continue to do this.

That leaves the AP’s other role: translating content among media. Well, there’s an entrepreneurial opportunity. On Twitter, Reuters’ Chris Ahearn volunteered to step in. And online, there’s really no need to do that anymore; it takes all media.

Could the AP remake itself? Doubtful. Its owners won’t let it be run as a rational business – redefining rational for the link economy. It also isn’t structured to help its members remake themselves. I told the AP a decade ago, when I was still working for a client, that I wished it would start a national ad network for news sites, to help them succeed. But that’s just not the way they think.

I’ve also speculated with folks with money about buying the AP and remaking it for the digital age, without the handcuffs of its ownership structure. But every time, we come back to the gigantic wind-down costs that would entail, getting rid of parts of the operation that aren’t needed anymore. And that’s the problem: much of it isn’t needed anymore. Just ask the many newspapers that are canceling the service along with their $1-million-a-year bills. (See the Star-Ledger that was produced with a single AP pixel.)

So I think there are entrepreneurial opportunities to replace the AP and bring far greater benefit to content creators online – all content creators, not just the old news oligopoly. It’s time to break out the hammers.

(Disclosures: I am a partner at Daylife, a news aggregator. I was an advisor to Publish2, which also traffics in links. I was on the board of Moreover, which aggregates and creates feeds of headlines and links. I did all that because I see the potential of the link economy, by the way. I also wrote a book about Google – have I told you about that? – and have discussed many of these ideas with people there.)

: MORE: Note that the New York Times Company’s chief counsel does not think aggregation is a copyright issue.

: Note, too, that the “problem” of copyright violation is misdefined (a headline and a link is clearly not theft), and overstated (show me the millions of sites- other than spam blogs – that are copying whole articles), and wrongheaded in the idea that there’s a pot of gold here that will save the news business. It’s a big red herring. It’s a diversion from the real issue: the failure of the news industry to transform itself for the new economy. I guarantee you that if the AP goes ahead with this, it will pay lawyers more than it could ever earn. And it will hurt the industry and its brand in the process.

: Here’s a quick Marketplace story on the AP.

: TechDirt has some advice for Reuters: Go for it.

Politics makes….

When she pushed her dangerous agenda to change copyright law through Congress to protect her industry, company, and job, Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz got all huffy with me when I suggested that she should register as a lobbyist because she was trying to influence legislation in which she had a direct interest and benefit while being married to a U.S. senator.

Well, now she reveals in a puffy P-D video (at 4:50) that her husband will have to recuse himself from voting on her protectionist legislation – if, God and good sense forbidding, it ever comes to a vote – because he has a beneficial interest in it through her newspaper salary. Seems to prove my point, but nevermind. Note also that I asked her husband’s office to whether he was supporting the legislation and never got the basic journalistic (blogs are journalism, too) and governmental (they work for us) courtesy of a reply.

Schultz says that if she should have to register as a lobbyist, then so should I and other columnists and bloggers. Except, of course, I don’t have personal ties to Congress. Hell, I can’t even get them to answer questions.

At 20:55 in the video, Schultz says, “We’ve been hearing some things behind the scenes where the people who need to be paying attention to this proposal are.” Hmmm. Considering that this is legislation she’s trying to push and the people who matter in legislation are in Congress, one could be led to believe that she’s talking about lawmakers and one wonders whether she’s hearing these things, behind which the scenes. But she doesn’t say. So, nevermind.

Schultz also complains (at 23:40) that I didn’t pick up a phone to call her before commenting on what she said before all the world in her column. I didn’t see the need to call her; her opinions and relationships were clear. Again, I did try to report as I said in that post, asking her husband a question he did not answer. I’m told Schultz is writing her Sunday column on this and me again this week and she hasn’t picked up the phone, either. But nevermind.

Schultz is trying to say that I made this personal because I dared to bring up her marriage. That itself is a dodge. It’s not personal. It’s about our government and our laws – about our most precious law, the First Amendment. I believe she is proposing something very hazardous to the health of the First Amendment, the internet, and, ultimately, journalism as it must evolve online. I also think she should be scrupulously transparent not just about the fact that she is married to a senator – which she is – but also about every conversation about this legislation she has had with him and with other people in and around Congress – because she does have exceptional access.

Now, I hope we can return to the substance of the discussion and I hope she will respond to the my argument that the fundamental economics of media and journalism have shifted and that such attempts at protectionism would ultimately shut off newspapers and their journalism from the conversation that will distribute it. Let’s have a talk about the imperatives of the link economy.

(To repeat my relevant disclosures: I worked for almost 12 years for the parent company of the Plain Dealer, as president of Advance.net and, where I started the paper’s affiliated web site, Cleveland.com, gaining some resentment from staff at the paper because it did not control the site. I am a partner at Daylife, an aggregator but one of the sort – like GoogleNews – that Schultz has no problem with because it sends traffic to journalism at its source. I am directing the New Business Models for News Project at CUNY, where we are attempting to outline sustainable models for journalism. And I’m a blogger and twitterer who quotes from and links to journalism and believes that is a good thing.)

: LATER: Here’s Schultz’s next column, out through the syndicate. She doesn’t deal with the issues and discussion at all but tries to hide behind her own distortions to make this personal. She says I’m acting as if it’s news that she’s married to a senator. Of course, it’s not. But a columnist trying to push protectionist legislation to benefit her industry, company, and job while married to a legislator, yes, that’s news. And since I complained, it’s news that her husband will now recuse himself from voting on this dubious legislation. She and her idea are still dangerous.

Distributing investigations

I’m delighted that the Associated Press is going to distribute the reporting of four nonprofit investigative news organizations: the Center for Public Integrity, the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and ProPublica. That will get their work seen in many more print outlets. Print.

Except — and I hate to have another exception with the AP — online that isn’t necessarily the best service to the work. In a search-driven ecology, the better thing to do is to send all traffic to the reporting at its source so that can rise in search. It also means that as stories are updated, readers can get the latest. And it gives these centers the opportunity to raise money with readers who care about their work. So I hope that the papers that print these stories online also link to the source.