In Bid to Survive, Newspaper Industry May Steal Play From Music Publishers


Details are beginning to emerge from the meeting we told you about last month involving some of the nation's biggest newspaper publishers -- including Lee Enterprises owner of the Post-Dispatch

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that the newspaper honchos brought with them to Chicago an anti-trust attorney just to make sure they wouldn't run afoul of collusion laws as they discussed ways to save their beleaguered industry.

One idea discussed at length at the meeting would be a system by which newspapers could collect blanket fees from Websites that republish their stories. The idea is modeled after a similar arrangement in the music industry in which agencies such as ASCAP and BMI collect royalties for songwriters for the public airing of their songs -- be it on the radio or at the corner tavern.

Notes the Journal:

The news industry's versions of radio stations and nightclubs are the Web sites that rerun stories, or big chunks of them, copied from newspaper sites. What portals like Google do -- run headlines and snippets of stories -- so far has been immune to copyright claims, though the argument has been made successfully in Europe that even that type of reuse entitles publishers to a fee. Some publishers hope to make the same case in the U.S.
One caveat, notes the paper, is that the courts have upheld ASCAP and BMI because the individual artist has no way of tracking down the use of his (or her) music in every jukebox and radio station in the world. Copy-and-pasted news articles, however, are much easier to search out on the Internet, perhaps negating the need for a third-party company such as ASCAP to collect fees on behalf of newspaper publishers.

Still the possibility exists that these intermediary fee collectors might just help save the newspaper business and be perfectly legal under the law.

"My guess is it would go just fine in front of the courts," Herbert Hovenkamp, a law professor at University of Iowa, tells the Journal.

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