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'Appraising Potential Legal Responses to Threats to the Production of News in the Digital Environment'


Grant Holder: Professor Ian Hargreaves, Cardiff University and Professor Lionel Bently, University of Cambridge

Researcher: (TBC)

Funder: Funded under the AHRC scheme 'Copyright Satellites'

Period: January 2014 to December 2015

Project on the problems facing print journalism in the digital environment and the prospects for copyright-based solutions.

Like music and other branches of publishing, news journalism has faced radical challenges over the last two decades. There is talk of the "death of the newspaper" and questions raised about the very future of journalism. While with music, books and films, the greatest threat to existing business models have been seen as the unauthorised and unremunerated home copying and peer to peer distribution, with news journalism the challenge derives from the fact that advertising has not followed the shift of print-newspapers to the Internet. Given that more than half of newspaper revenue traditionally comes from advertising, newspaper profit margins have suffered badly, many jobs have been lost and titles closed. Consequently, news journalists, including photographers and associated freelance creators, have expressed dismay at their increasingly fragile economic and unsatisfactory legal position.

But, if the central problem has not been copyright piracy, the big question is whether copyright-related business models are part of the solution. Certainly, some newspapers are starting to deploy copyright and para-copyright as part of their business strategies: using firewall systems, bringing actions against news aggregation sites (such as Yahoo!, Google News), which are seen as "siphoning off" advertising revenue; and, most radically, calling for addition legal rights, including rights in news per se. At the same time, aggregators and others are pursuing new business models arising from the use of news archives and other news text and image assets. Because on-line news organisations increasingly use multi-media techniques, there is growing overlap with copyright concerns in television and film.

The research is intended to have three dimensions:

  1. To explore and map the range of business models being utilised (advertising, subscription, firewall, freemium, metred, public funding, citizen journalism, charitable purposes) in order to appraise how the sector is adapting, and by producing an account of the experiences of various sub-sectors offer practical guidance to participants in the industry.
  2. To consider the methods of assessing these changes not just on the economy but on the society. What is the impact of these shifts on the “quality” of journalism and the level of access enjoyed by different sections of the public to news, analysis and debate? This analysis goes to the very heart of the core research question with which the CREATe is engaging: how can we judge whether levels of production of cultural and informational goods are optimal in terms of both the quantity of production and also its diversity and quality?
  3. Tol consider what useful role policy-makers play in this field. If concerns over the quality of journalism are real, they go to the heart of a well-functioning democratic system. Diverse answers may be given to this question, from the case for stronger restrictions on concentration of media ownership to the use of public subsidy. Some commercial players wish to explore the value of “ancillary copyright” and copyright protection for “hot news,” which in turn raises particular issues with regard to freedom of expression. Historical experience of such regimes can provide some guidance, both as to the issues at stake and the likely effects of such laws. The projet will also consider related policies that inform journalistic practice such as laws determining access to Government information and the law and practice of attribution.