Monday, May 05, 2003

The value of content II
The war of who owns online content is getting increasingly aggressive. In Denmark Newsbooster, a media monitoring firm electronically doing the job that used to be done with scissors, have been sued for using what (in Norwegian) calls deep links and make money selling other people's content. (Along meandering paths by way of Rune Røsten).

I wrote about the rising value of academic content in February, and now it is obvious that content - academic or not - is what net-businesses need. Friendster, the social network site (or more appropriately dating site) where several prominent bloggers have profiles, makes it clear that they own all content generated in their space. There is also obviously a discussion going on about the ownership of content in comments which Mark Bernstein refers to, and it links to my own misgivings about the ownership of the content in the blogs that will be started using Dagbladet's future weblogging software (also in Norwegian, small note towards the end).

I find that this is tricky. While I have always said that others are free to use what I write here, both to quote and to develop ideas into their own independent work, the idea that others will own things I have written is disturbing. But at the same time: isn't this the familiar conflict between copyright and copyleft? Academic writing, at least in little state-sponsored academic ivory towers like Norwegian higher education and research, is more like copy-left writing. As long as people 1) cite me properly and 2) use what I have written to develop something independent, I don't want to claim ownership of my thoughts and ideas. But if the middle man - in Friendster's case the software provider - strips away the right to re-use what I have created, then yes, I have a problem with that.

The Danish journalist union won their case against Newsbooster. They claimed that doing electronically what monitoring firms have done by hand for decades is stealing content. To a certain degree I can agree with that, the monitoring firms at least buy the paper, and then put in the labour of reading, cutting and mailing, all of which are automated online. But I can't help cheering Newsbooster on when they set up their service so that their users can do their own searches - which is not yet forbidden by Danish law. When I buy a newspaper, the paper gets paid twice: from me and from the advertisers. I figure that just by reading a paper online I generate hits which the paper or magazine can use to sell ads, and so I have already paid for the paper just by reading it - by way of the cost of products I buy, as the cost of advertising is already integrated. It's a complicated economy of goods and information, as rhizomic as any non-linear text we can dream of.

In this conglomerate of interdependent economies, I can't see any other logic than copyleft for texts as well as software. Otherwise, as Mark says, the intellectual property will become useless, either because intellectual will stop providing content for the benefit of others, or because there will be no way at all to use, claim and benefit from it.

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