A rather unpragmatic idea from Richard Posner
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."
The author is solely responsible for the content.
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.