Perhaps it is fitting that what Donald Rumsfeld once disparagingly called “Old Europe,” should seek to impose a “Drudge” tax on the powerful new world system of news aggregating and commentary.
Although some might see The Washington Times itself as part of the Old World dinosaur media, they penned an excellent editorial highlighting the essence of bureaucracy and crony capitalism in Germany’s push for a tax which actually punishes those providing a service that the public clearly desires: independent news service.
This action has far more to do with protectionism than protecting intellectual property rights. Websites such as the indispensable Drudge Report, Times 24/7, Real Clear Politics, Digg, Fark and Reddit collect news from sources spread across the Web. These sites are wildly popular because they draw the important stories together in one convenient place, fulfilling a very specific need among a news-hungry public. (Source)
The war on news aggregators by government interests should be the clearest sign of all that this is a product we must defend.
The WT editorial is shortsighted in only one respect: they imply that Google is a stalwart of the entrepreneurial spirit, and the great protector of the common man fighting against government bureaucracy and overreach.
Google has repeatedly done the bidding of those who would silence the voice of alternative media. Back in January 2011, Google changed its algorithm to punish the loosely defined “content farmers;” 12% of search results were affected.
Google has also been exposed as having connections to U.S. intelligence agencies, and now DARPA, which has all but guaranteed that aggregators of anti-establishment articles will be targeted. The result has been that even massive websites like Infowars have been de-listed from Google News.
Agree or disagree with Alex Jones, but his sites receive hundreds of millions of views on their many media platforms; that they would have their news and commentary de-listed, as well as censored from Google-owned YouTube, illustrates exactly how corporate-owned media silently colludes with government to silence alternative voices even when overt government regulation is absent. Furthermore, Google has responded to an increasing number of U.S. government content removal requests, and they have complied with recent country-wide censorship in India, while having an on-again, off-again relationship with China.
YouTube in particular has employed a strategy of restricting certain videos critical of government to the over-18 category, even though many of these do not contain profanity, or anything that would normally be interpreted as offensive — except the criticism itself. In doing so, potentially viral videos like the one below have been relegated to common status. Luckily, mirror videos are being posted:
Additionally, given recent developments by mega-media corporations colluding with the government to “combat piracy,” independent bloggers and small aggregators have every reason to demand more clarity of the rules that should apply to aggregation.
Here are just a few of the reasons that concerns are warranted:
- The Department of Homeland Security began arbitrarily seizing websites for merely linking to copyrighted content.
- A flurry of draconian anti-piracy legislation like SOPA and the international ACTA will eventually be passed in some capacity.
- Copyright trolls like Righthaven were popping up looking for any excuse to shakedown innocent bloggers for copyright infringement settlements, or simply bog them down in legal fees.
- The Associated Press and a consortium of major news publishers formed a “news registry” called NewsRight which some fear will be used as a stick to beat aggregators with.
David Carr reported in the New York Times that a group of website owners and bloggers are seeking to create a “Code of Conduct” to guide content aggregators how to repost material in a manner acceptable to all publishers. Carr asks:
So where is the line between promoting the good work of others and simply lifting it? Naughty aggregation is analogous to pornography: You know it when you see it.
Obvious suggestions for self-policing include author attribution, a linkback to the source, only using extended excerpts with permission, and maintaining all original embedded links. This common sense approach forms a type of cooperative aggregation based upon how most would want their own original content to be shared, and how Creative Commons license with attribution currently works.
Slightly more controversial is the formation of a Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation. As highlighted in the New York Times article, this would be similar to the accepted editorial guidelines of the American Society of Magazine Editors. Whether or not this voluntary measure would be practical to apply across such a massive and diverse spectrum as the Internet remains to be debated, but the fact that private solutions are being offered, rather than calling for government intervention, is a correct first step in our view.
One thing is for certain: the crippling effects of government intrusion are a guarantee. Hopefully Europe takes a stand against Angela Merkel’s tax on productivity and innovation in the same way America did against the FTC’s similar attempt referred to as the “Drudge” tax.
We are currently witnessing the economic fallout of the crony capitalist model as it plunges toward full spectrum failure. Any initiative to “reinvent journalism” should not come from corporate and government mouthpieces, but from those seeking freedom of thought and expression within the only free-market economy left: the Internet.
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