Harvey Weinstein, an Oscar winning producer and prolific proponent of Obama, told Deadline that he is going to push for legislation that would force websites to pay for linking to news articles. This legislation would require news websites and blogs to pay a monitoring organization a fee for every link to an article written by a journalist.
Should news sites, bloggers and other sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google pay for the privilege of including snippets and links to news stories? Also, should YouTube or sites that include embedded videos of movie/TV clips pay every time somebody views them?
Weinstein said, “Journalists don’t benefit when their stories are taken, and given a link. It would be like me launching a newspaper–call it Link—where I can have the greatest journalists in the world working for me without paying them. It’s inconceivable. If BMI and ASCAP can monitor the music business, we need a BMI and an ASCAP to monitor these businesses. This will be the one legislation for our industry that I’ll press.”
This would be part of a broader law that where a monitoring organization would also monitor the web for video clips and require websites like YouTube to pay this organization a fee for each view of a clip of a movie or television show.
As the publisher of WebProNews and a long-time advocate of the right to link, in my opinion Weinstein’s idea would destroy the internet as we know it today. The internet is based on the idea of linking, that’s why it was originally referred to as the World Wide Web! If you make publications, blogs, Google, Twitter and Facebook pay for linking to a news story, how many of them would still do it. The answer is none.
Weinstein may think he’s only talking about making news linking giants like Google News pay, but laws against free linking could not just apply to them. His proposed legislation would also have to apply to Reddit, Stumbleupon, Facebook, Twitter and news publishers and bloggers who routinely republish snippets of news articles with links to the original. Many of these sites also inbed video clips as well.
Weinstein challenges the assertion by publishers that linking and taking small snippets of articles is not stealing content but is actually promoting the content. Weinstein equates linking and publishing as one and the same. Weinstein also told Deadline, “When it comes to journalists and journalism, I’m with you. It is important they get paid for good work, and wrong that others just take it, with a link.”.
Since most articles have numerous social buttons encouraging “sharing” their articles via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, you would think it would be obvious to Weinstein that publishers and journalists want their stories to be linked to. The definition of going viral is mass sharing on social media sites which pushes huge numbers of people to a journalist article if he is so lucky. Linking drives traffic to an article which theoretically can then be monitized by the publisher. If the publisher doesn’t want the traffic he can put up a firewall login and charge visitors to read the sites content.
If a news site like Deadline doesn’t want its articles linked to then it shouldn’t publish them on a linking platform called the Web. Weinstein may be surprised to learn that Deadline and most news sites are quite happy that their articles get free traffic driven by links!
Just like the music industry, which has in the past sued the parents of kids who downloaded music without paying for it, Weinstein proposes that those linking to content should also have to pay up. He wants to do it a bit more tactifully than the RIAA, but still wants to collect nonetheless. His idea I presume is to first change the definition of fair use which is permitted per U.S. and many international copyright laws, where a website can take snippets of content and reuse it to a certain extent.
Theoretically, considering Weinstein’s personal connection with Obama, he could persuade the President to tighten this definition via some minor changes in regulations and rules and bypass Congress. The definition of fair use as written in U.S. copyright laws is vague and could easily be redefined via regulation. This is a scary proposition considering that linking and discussing news articles is integral to free speech.
Once fair use is redefined to allow copyright holders the ability to charge websites a retroactive fee for each time a visitor viewed a news summary and link, that’s when a new organization similar to BMI would emerge to ensure that journalists are paid for their work. BMI has people going into businesses, such as bars and restaurants, all around the country looking to see if music is being played without their license. When it catches a business playing unauthorized music it forces them to pay based on a variety of factors such as number of seats in a restaurant and number of songs played.
If a bar doesn’t join BMI and agree to pay a monthly fee up front, then often BMI will sue for huge amounts. For instance, one restaurant in North Carolina was order by a court to pay the BMI $30,450 for playing just four unauthorized songs.
This is what Weinstein wants for publishers and writers of news content! If you are a blogger that makes a small amount of money from ads and you include a snippet from a news article in your story you could be sued if you didn’t already agree to a monthly payment.
For Facebook, Google and Twitter the ramifications of this kind of heavy handed legislation could be huge. They are the YouTube of written content since so many of us share snippets and links via them. If sites like these need to license links with a BMI type organization, it’s likely that they would just eliminate news links and snippets altogether which would change the web forever… don’t you think?