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A rather unpragmatic idea from Richard Posner

Posted by Christopher Shea  July 7, 2009 11:06 AM

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As journalists and cultural commentators debate whether, or how, in-depth, expensive reportage can be saved from the tsunami of blog culture, along comes Judge Richard Posner with a novel idea.

His proposal, however, which he floated recently on The Becker-Posner Blog, has received early reviews that make those for "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" sound enthusiastic.

After sketching the familiar present scene (newspaper revenue falling, media start-ups building online publications on the backs of links to print publication), Posner proposed a substantial expansion of copyright law:

Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder's consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from … impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations … [emphasis added]

The predominant reaction to the first part of the proposal was: if newspapers don't want people linking to them, then they shouldn't put their stuff on the Web (or they should demand payment to view it). Some newspapers do this, of course, at least for some content.

But the idea that a law could be written, in compliance with the First Amendment, forbidding even paraphrase of published material? That struck many readers as even more far-fetched.

The reaction of journalist Tom Scocca, at the Web site The Awl, was typical: "The idea of outlawing paraphrase is unbelievable. I mean, I actually cannot believe it. And I say this as someone who thinks HuffPo [a site with many links to newspapers] is a nest of thieves."

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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