Friday, November 11, 2005

Is Reposting TimesSelect Material Theft?

The once venerable and now somewhat laughable New York Times put some of their columnists' online work into a paid area called TimesSelect six weeks ago (notice they didn't dare attempt to charge for their news articles). Since then, several other Internet sites have been reposting certain columns (i.e., those in ideological agreement). In response to a commenter, Eric Zorn claims that those sites have no right to steal copyrighted material that the NYT is selling and then give it away for free. He continues
You may not LIKE that those who own it are charging for it, but does that give you the right to swipe it any more than a similar gripe would give you the right to shoplift a book or newspaper from a store?
That is a simple response that doesn't consider other "distribution channels." For example, the local diner has the Chicago Tribune on the counter. Assuming that the diner hasn't purchased subscriptions for the several dozen patrons who read that newspaper, does that mean the diner is engaging in a criminal activity? What if I read the newspaper on the train on the way to work and give it to a co-worker gratis to read on the way home? What if someone reads a poignant Zorn column, cuts it out, and tacks it on the bulletin board at work? And at the crux of Zorn's comment quoted above is the age-old question of whether it is ethical to read a magazine or newspaper at the store (far more likely and logical than shoplifting) instead of buying it.

Assume that those sites redistributing this material are not charging for (reselling) it, and assume that they are not breaking into NYT servers to get it. Somebody paid for access to those columns, and that person is sharing them with other interested readers.

Another aspect of TimesSelect that is rarely discussed is a writer's need to be heard. The NYT claims that their columnists are influential, but how did they become influential? Certainly not by having their audience restricted. If those columnists are so popular, why can't the NYT charge more for advertising on those particular Web pages? That would accomplish the same goal without the self-important, ill-will-generating move of creating TimesSelect.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but one could argue that there is a precedent for this sort of sharing. The only possible counter to that would be to say that it's different because those sites are using the same "channel" as nytimes.com. There is one thing that bugs me about the current TimesSelect set-up: I wouldn't mind paying for the insightful Paul Krugman and the lovely and talented Maureen Dowd, but I would hate to think I was subsidizing boneheads like Thomas Friedman and David Brooks in the process.

3 comments:

David Johnsen said...

Eric Zorn replied to a slightly edited version of this post:
"The difference in degree creates a difference in kind, I guess is the answer... Because at some point -- and I can't say exactly where that is -- you are depriving the Tribune of revenue and copyright protections.
'Sharing' becomes aggressive re-distribution, even when it's not strictly for profit. And the long-term problem with it is that it can remove the incentive companies have to sponsor creation, etc.
Cut-and-paste posting of restricted, copyrighted content to get around a for-pay system crosses the line, in my view, and exceeds by a good bit the boundaries of 'fair use' and common sense."

Anonymous said...

Of course, neglecting that magazines and newspapers include a second-hand number as part of their circulation numbers ...

lenni said...

From Lennilenape
Mrs Dowd's popularity is based solely on her number of readers. It got that way by many reading her columns anyway they could get it. It is correct to assume that her numbers are down dramatically since those who made her popular feel resentment that they now have to pay for making her famous. Her being famous has kept the NYT readership up where has been, now they want to slap us for choosing their paper over others because someone in their company had the salesmenship to hire Dowd in the first place. Currently, the MIGHTY NYT is not doing so good with their own popularity. Their only possible way out of this (unless they can overnight improve their lot) is to let as many as possible access to her columns. By doing so, they raise the chances of "pass-on readership," that is, reading some of the rest of their paper simply by having it in their hands to read Dowd's columns. Makes sense to me. Lennilenape