The Internet has always been about sharing information. Blogging, RSS feeds, social networks and other social media have added another dimension, and the practice of finding interesting content online and sharing it with contents is more prevalent than ever. However, the internet is also a crucial publishing platform for many businesses, for whom controlling use of their copyright work is central to survival.
Paper.li, a relatively new service which allows users to build online ‘newspapers’, pulls in content from across the web and republishes excerpts and images from other sources. Finding snippets of other websites on sites we use is a familiar occurrence by now: you often find two or three lines of a newspaper article in your Facebook feed where a friend thought it was an interesting read; Twitter users regularly accompany links with a brief quote; even Google gives you a couple of lines from each site in its search results. However, Paper.li has been getting a bad rap of late. Some commentators have taken a negative view of the service, for example RobertScoble accused it of generating spam, Robert Scoble worries it will litter the internet with re-generated content, and other writers argue it is a risky tool for businesses and can lead their clients to competitors.
Creating good content takes time and effort. Even finding good content to share takes work, particularly if you want to avoid distributing old news. For businesses hoping to distribute good content through social networks, and ultimately gain more followers, Paper.li might seem like a fantastic service. You type in a few keywords, pick a handful of renowned Twitter users, and apply a filter or two and you can serve up an attractive fix of timely news to your followers every day without lifting a finger. Right?
Aside from arguments about redundant content, spam or leading customers astray mentioned above, businesses serving up Paper.li’s ought to be wary of copyright infringement. Republishing a substantial part of copyright work owned by others, without authorisation, can expose you to liability. This is an area of heated debate. Some commentators are taking to blogs and forums to express opinions on whether publishing a Paper.li gives rise to infringement, and it remains to be seen whether anyone will take action.
In slightly different circumstances, companies like Meltwater, the Newspaper Licensing Agency, and the Associated Press are fighting it out in the courts, both in the UK and in the US (you might be interested in the more in-depth articles Azrights has written on the UK battles previously: Linking and Copyright post Meltwater v. NLA, Managing Risks of Copyright Infringement When Linking post Meltwater v. NLA).
It’s the norm for popular sites which republish content to link to the source, and many writers are delighted to find their material syndicated through social networks and other services, but that shouldn’t give you too much comfort if your grand plan relies on leveraging original work for your own gain. While some owners might be in favour of these practices now, others are not, and there is a certain fragility to business models which hinge on the decision of rights owners not to enforce them. That is not to say Paper.li is in a risky position, just that it is important for businesses to be aware of the issues early on. For an insight into Paper.li co-founder Edouard Lambelet’s views on the issues, head over to IP LAW 101 (though bear in mind that the US fair use exception does not translate into UK law, where the defenses against copyright infringement are narrower).