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Google, Microsoft, Newscorp – whose news is it anyway?

Henry Elliss
Henry Elliss
Managing Director
23 November 2009

murdoch_wideweb__470x336,0Another day, another chapter in the exciting story of Newscorp vs Google – summarised nicely by Neil in his post “Do no evil? Now who is playing dirty?” – so I won’t go over the details again here.

Apart from the obvious arguements of who is right and wrong, who is stealing whose revenues and what is best for the users, one thing that is really frustrating me about this whole affair is the concept of “stealing news”. One of the reasons that Newscorp regularly offer for their stance is that Google is basically “stealing” their content for its news results pages, with users sometimes not having to even visit their site to read the story. But who actually owns the news?

A glaring omission to this debate is the symbiotic relationship the newspapers and social media sites have now developed – and this seems to have been hastily glossed over in the moral debate.

Only last week I was having this conversation with my learned colleague Milly. As a regular blogger and blog reader, Milly pointed out that the people Murdoch should *really* be annoyed at are the bloggers who are not just linking to, but full-scale stealing his content on their own blogs – often with more effect than the originals. You only have to look to the “Cheat Sheet” section of the Daily News to see story aggregation in action. Almost every story in the Huffington Post originates from sites like the Guardian and New York Times – often mashing together multiple news stories to give even better coverage.

It’s not just the news blogs that are at it either. Just browse through the early editions of Gawker or dlisted to see how much of their “exclusive” content actually originates in the UK tabloids.

But before the Murdochs of the world start getting on their high horses, why not look at how much of their own news they’re getting in the other direction…

empire awards 6 100308Just last week saw the perfect example of this, when Director and writer Edgar Wright (he of Shaun of the Dead / Hot Fuzz fame) had an obituary he had blogged for the lateEdward Woodward sneakily reprinted in the Times, both without his permission and having been hastily edited without his knowledge.

Twitter (and to an equal extent, sites like Twitpic) are regularly the source of “news” for newspapers. Just type in “Schofield Twitter” on the Daily Mail‘s website and you’ll see that this year they’ve written over a dozen stories based purely on Schofe‘s tweets and musings on Twitter. It’s the same with Stephen Fry. It’s not just the tabloids either – as you can see from these stories on The Guardian and The Independent.

Social photo journalists seem to have it even worse – Janis Krums was on the scene of the US Airways Flight 1549 emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York, and knows first hand how keen the traditional media outlets can be to take content from Twitter:

“Initially I spoke with AP but I did not like the terms that they tried to get me to sign and I decided to retain the rights to the photo. I’ve received compensation from some newspapers and television productions that have used the photo post the event. Most newspapers did not ask my permission;”
Source – Twitterville Notebook

So it seems that news-nabbing is fair game in both directions, or at least that’s the impression I get from the current state of the game. So why are Newscorp suddenly getting all moral about content stealing? The answer of course is our old friend/enemy, money. They used to get lots of it, now they don’t get so much. But when you compare that to how much money most online journalists are getting for their efforts, is the current solution really that fair?

(The answer, by the way, is no)

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