The Rise of News Aggregation and the Race for Information in the Digital Age

The Rise of News Aggregation and the Race for Information in the Digital Age


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New York, Nov. 12, 2010—The legal controversies surrounding news aggregators such as Google News, The Drudge Report and was the subject of a lively debate hosted by Columbia Law School’s Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts.

News aggregators often copy and display headlines, lead paragraphs, even entire stories from other websites, including those run by newspapers such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, prompting claims about copyright violations.

Bill Grueskin, Dean of Academic Affairs at the Columbia Journalism School and a former editor at The Wall Street Journal, moderated the Oct. 26 event. He explained that younger consumers prefer to get their news online through social media or sites that filter information into a manageable volume, often with a focus on a single topic.

This has led traditional news outlets to seek out revenues from online use. At the same time they want their stories disseminated widely, they also want to be compensated for each viewing, Grueskin said.

Yahoo Senior Legal Director Wendy Halley noted her company often finds itself on both sides of the debate as both a content creator and an aggregator. Halley said Yahoo is also concerned about legal developments in the field as whatever party emerges a winner could affect Yahoo’s business practices.

Bruce Brown, a partner with the law firm Baker Hostetler LLP, took up the case for the newspapers, arguing that lawmakers, who have protected online publishers through the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Communications Decency Act, must help the industry survive.

However, William Patry, senior copyright counsel at Google, countered the law was not a useful approach to a solution.  Instead, Patry suggested that nothing short of an overhaul of the newspaper industry could help it adjust to the new media landscape in order to survive. 

David McCraw, Assistant General Counsel of The New York Times Company, agreed, noting the most-pressing challenge for newspapers remains a new business model that fully reflects how readers consume news.

McCraw said the Times is not opposed to aggregators taking headlines from the paper’s website, which the company deems fair use and would be permitted under copyright law. While the Times is a paragon of old media, the company has been sued for its role as an aggregator by Gatehouse Media, a newspaper consortium. Gatehouse objected to The Boston Globe, owned by the Times, linking to Gatehouse stories from the Globe’s homepage.  The case was settled out of court.

While McCraw acknowledged that blogs and aggregators serve an important role in news dissemination, he cautioned they would never replace the investigative journalism newspapers are known for because of the economic investment such in-depth reporting requires.  He said it is important for papers to find a way to monetize their content, not only for their own survival, but for the public good. 

The Kernochan Center regularly holds conferences and workshops that address the legal aspects of creative works of authorship, including their dissemination and use. It encourages the development of instruction at the Law School in topics such as intellectual property, copyright, trademarks, the regulation of electronic media, and problems arising from new communications technologies.
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