The Plastic Hippo

February 24, 2014

Here is the 10 o`clock aggregation

Filed under: Law,Media — theplastichippo @ 11:28 pm
Tags: , , , ,
Image via

Image via

You have to admit that we have been spoilt rotten recently with the salacious details of celebrity court cases where soap opera becomes indistinguishable from the legal system, but one largely unreported court case will have major implications for the fourth estate and for anyone tempted by self-indulgent social media.

The case of Svensson and others v Retriever Sverige before the European Court of Justice might not have contained lurid tales of dressing rooms, hotels, Rolls Royce`s, massive egos, drugs, coitus and irrelevant emails about phone calls from alleged former Prime Ministers but it does indicate the direction of travel for the appallingly named “new media”. Svensson and others earn a crust at Goteborgs-Posten. For the record, Retriever Sverige is not a breed of Scandinavian dog and Goteborgs-Posten is not the organisation that Pingu`s dad works for. Instead they are a news aggregation website and a newspaper respectively. It seems that respectable, professional highly trained journalists at Gothenburg`s premier “liberal” printed news outlet took umbrage at having their carefully crafted prose offered for free on the internet without financial remuneration. They challenged the upstart aggregating news site Retriever Sverige in the Swedish courts and basically lost. Undeterred, they appealed and the case ended up in the EUCJ and they basically lost again. The judgement concludes that linking via hyperlinks and RSS feeds to freely available net content is now considered perfectly legal. No, I don`t understand it either but it means that once something is on the internet, it`s fair game to be shared feely. Unless the content is behind a paywall, once the author, or the IT department, clicks the “publish” button, copyright and intellectual ownership ceases to be.

In the great scheme of things, all this might not seem terribly significant but if the EUCJ judgement had gone the other way, the result would rule most of social media illegal. Any link in a blog post or tweet, any RT of a newspaper article, video clip or yet another picture of a sodding cat would require the detailed and explicit permission of the copyright holder in order to reproduce the work. Quite how that would be policed and enforced is anyone`s guess and the court ruled that Retriever Sverige did not break the law by linking to the newspaper articles because they were already freely available on Goteborgs-Posten`s website. The court statement said: “The owner of a website may, without the authorisation of the copyright holders, redirect internet users, via hyperlinks, to protected works available on a freely accessible basis on another site.”

The appallingly named “old” media is in something of a quandary over this new fangled aggregation malarkey. After attempting to ignore it as a passing fad, some old school editors and proprietors hark back to days when it took three weeks to learn of the relief of Mafeking and still describe such events as breaking news. Others, all too aware of how radio killed the music halls have attempted to embrace user generated content by desperately pleading on Twitter and Facebook for pictures of fires, floods, fallen trees and RTAs. Local rags in particular trawl blogs for issues and stories that they cannot be bothered to investigate and even as they cut and paste without acknowledging the source, scream blue murder when the copied content is aggregated elsewhere.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my admiration for the excellent YamYam and the expanding stable of titles including the Brummie, the Staffie, the Peeping Tom and the EastEnder. Readers in Handsworth, Halesowen and Hackney can access not only aggregated news but also aggregated blogs, sport and the latest waffle from local politicians all on the same web page. All the contributors, from worthy national broadsheets to bobble-hatted fruitcake keyboard warriors like me, are fully credited and the hyperlink directs traffic and, where applicable, advertising views to the original website. The complete article is not reproduced and the “clickable link” includes only a short extract from the original piece. It seems to me that aggregated sites offer a wider range of opinion than newspaper sites that only offer the opinions of an editor or proprietor.

Yet newspapers and even some bloggers still regard aggregation with deep suspicion and occasional malice. The EUCJ ruling will do little to assuage the doubts of miffed bloggers complaining of a lack of context and content “theft” even as the traffic levels directed to them increases and newspaper will remain unsure because they don`t really understand how it works. Put simply, it`s not that difficult to work out. If you write something on a lavatory wall, you can`t complain when somebody reads it and you most definitely cannot charge people to enter the urinal to look at your master work.

In attempting to protect their copyright, Svensson and others might have been more successful if they had sued Goteborgs-Posten rather than Retriever Sverige because it was the newspaper and not the aggregator that published their work on the web and it was the newspaper that paid the journalists for that work. With Al Jazeera journalists current facing charges of terrorism in Egypt and the Miranda affair still unresolved, it is unlikely that Julian Assange will be visiting Gothenburg in the near future. Unless aggregation is embraced, the only people reading any online content at all will be the NSA and GCHQ in between reading all our emails and tweets.

Be careful what “like” and be careful what you RT.

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