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New York Times advances weird, self-destructive trademark theory to prop up its paywall

FreeNYTimes writes, "The twitter account I set up to broadcast data from the NY Times API, @freeNYTimes, was recently suspended, ostensibly for trademark infringement. But I set up a mirror at @freeUnnamedNews, which should be good to go because it doesn't use the paper's name in the feed. Right?"

Some background: the new NYT paywall allows for unlimited free article views for people following links from Twitter. The @FreeNYTimes feed created links to all the NYT stories, which meant that you could read the whole paper gratis, simply by following the feed (presumably, you could also create an index of Twitter URLs that corresponded to all the URLs on the Times's site, a kind of codex of free backdoors to the paper).

The NYT has many options to fight this sort of thing. They could program their firewall to restrict Twitter referers, or to simply block anything from the @FreeNYTimes account. Instead, the Times lodged an utterly bogus trademark complaint with Twitter -- bogus because trademark doesn't generically give you the right to stop people using your product or company's name; rather, it stops people from doing so deceptively. The Times's position effectively was that Times readers would mistake @FreeNYTimes for a big-hearted gesture from the Times itself, operated by the Times in order to defeat the Times's paywall. This is a stupid thing to assert.

It's also damaging to journalism: there are many trademark holders, from Sarah Palin to Dow Chemical, who'd love it if the NYT could only use their name with permission. There is no trademark confusion when the Times prints Sarah Palin's name; there is also no trademark confusion with @FreeNYTimes.

So now there's @FreeUnnamedNews, and there's no trademark basis to use to stop the account. The next step from the Times may well be to object on the basis "deep linking," and that is a doctrine that is nearly as damaging to journalism as the exotic trademark theory the Times has already advanced: for if plain true facts ("this page exists at this URL") are property, then the Times had better get its checkbook out, as there are plenty of true facts in every edition of the Times whose putative owners would love to get paid rent for them -- and there are plenty of true facts whose "owners" would love to deny to journalists altogether (think, for example, of the true facts surrounding political corruption). And, of course, in order to sue, the Times (whose reporters have gone to jail to protect their sources) will have to demand that Twitter turn over the personal identity of the FreeNYTimes/FreeUnnamedNews person.

On the other hand, the Times might just add more complexity (and more brittleness, expense, and false positives and negatives) to its paywall by instructing it to inspect Twitter referers in detail and reject those coming from @FreeUnnamedNews. Over time, the paper will compile quite an enemies list in this fashion, a long catalog of people who are not allowed to refer other people to NYT stories.

Commercially, this is not good. As I wrote before, the mental state that the Times paywall strives to evoke in its reader is "Hey, I'm getting so much value from this site, I think I'll sign up as a paying customer," not "Oh, those bullies at the Times have clobbered another programmer and this is the fifteenth time this month that it mistook me for a freeloader. Screw them!"

The Times's staff have tweeted that they are glad to have traffic from users who leap the paywall -- a visitor is a visitor -- and implied that I've mis-stated the nature of their strategy. However, this trademark theory, hostile to free speech and an open society, belies their bravado. The problem with the Times's paywall isn't (just) that it won't work -- it's that it will lead an institution whose mission is free speech, transparency and due process into a war with its readers that demands that it oppose these values to hold its ground against them.

New York Times paywall: wishful thinking or just crazy?

The New York Times just announced a new paywall that will let you see 20 articles a month and thereafter redirect you to a signup for paid access.

Read the rest

Evening Standrd: anonymous satirical newspaper headline posters


Some anonymous genius has been postering my neighborhood in east London with satirical posters featuring headlines from the "Evening Standrd" (sic) (the Evening Standard is a ubiquitous London tabloid freesheet). So far, I've spotted four of them (along with this possibly related Daily Mail parody). I don't know who's behind it, but they've got my vote for God-Emperor of British Media.

Evening Standrd

Dan Gillmor's Mediactive: masterclass in 21st century journalism demands a net-native news-media

Dan “We, the Media” Gillmor’s latest book, Mediactive is a master-class in media literacy for the 21st century. Gillmor, a former star reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, serial entrepreneur, and journalism professor, has produced an extraordinary text that disrupts the current poor-me narrative of failing journalistic business models and counters it with a set of sensible, entrepreneurial proposals for an Internet era news-media that invites broad participation without surrendering critical thinking and healthy skepticism.

Read the rest

Kremlinology with Rupert Murdoch: what do the Times paywall numbers mean?

In my latest Guardian column, "News Corp Kremlinology: what do the Times paywall numbers mean?" I have a good rummage around the mysterious figures released by The Times earlier this month on the performance of its vaunted pay-for-news scheme. The Times released the numbers with a lot of triumphant accompaniment, but I'm not clear on whether their figures can be taken of indication of anything, except, perhaps, a reluctance to report in full on their experiment's performance.
Here's what the Times will say: about 50,000 of the current paid users are on a monthly subscription of some sort: £8.66, £1, or free with a TalkTalk subscription. They will not disclose how many £1 trial users turn into £8.66 users, or how many sustain their £8.66 subscription into the second or third month. However, the anonymous official spokesperson did say that whichever users are remaining after three months are more than 90% likely to stump up for a fourth month. From this, I think we can safely assume that lots less than 90% of paid users stick around for a second month, and of those, less than 90% sustain themselves for a fourth month.

But the Times isn't saying.

The remaining 50,000, of course, are people who paid £1 for a single day's access. Some number of these converted to monthly subscribers.

Some number bought a second article. How many? The Times isn't saying.

So, best case: there are 50,000 paid subscribers, all of whom got there by paying £1 for an article, converted immediately to £1 monthly subscriptions and now pay £8.66 every month (or £9.99 in the case of iPad users who want to pay extra for the privilege of not being allowed to access the website).

Worst case: 50,000 people tried a day pass and left. 20,000 TalkTalk subscribers got a free subscription with their phone which they may or may not know or care about. 5,000 people use it with an iPad.

75,000 people tried a £1 month trial. 40,000 of them signed up for a second month, 30,000 of them for a third, and 25,000 stayed on for a fourth month.

News Corp Kremlinology: what do the Times paywall numbers mean?

Irish journalism's trenchant criticism of govt bailout plans

The low-brow "red-top" tabloids of the Commonwealth (and the former Commonwealth) are not much for journalism, but they sure know how to lay out a front page. Case in point: the Irish Daily Star's commentary on the Oireachtas's bailout plan: USELESS GOBSHITES.

USELESS GOBSHITES (via @pongogirl)

Shirky: Times paywall is pretty much like all the other paywalls

Clay Shirky's latest essay, "The Times' Paywall and Newsletter Economics," examines all the ways in which Rupert Murdoch's Times paywall is pretty much like all the other paywalls, and failed like pretty much all the other paywalls.
The classic description of a commodity market uses milk. If you own the only cow for 50 miles, you can charge usurious rates, because no one can undercut you. If you own only one of a hundred such cows, though, then everyone can undercut you, so you can't charge such rates. In a competitive environment like that, milk becomes a commodity, something whose price is set by the market as a whole.

Owning a newspaper used to be like owning the only cow, especially for regional papers. Even in urban markets, there was enough segmentation-the business paper, the tabloid, the alternative weekly-and high enough costs to keep competition at bay. No longer.

The internet commodifies the business of newspapers. Newspapers compete with other newspapers, but newspaper websites compete with other websites. As Nicholas Carr pointed out during the 2009 pirate kidnapping, Google News found 11,264 different sources for the story, all equally accessible.* The web puts newspapers in competition with radio and TV stations, magazines, and new entrants, both professional and amateur. It is the war of each against all.

None of this is new. The potential disruptive effects of the internet on newspapers have been observable since ClariNet in 1989.* Nor has the business case for paywalls changed. The advantage of paywalls is that they raise revenue from users. The disadvantages are that they reduce readership, increase customer acquistion and retention costs, and eliminate ad revenue from user-forwarded content. In most cases, the disadvantages have outweighed the advantages.

The Times' Paywall and Newsletter Economics

Cut-up artist alphabetizes the newspaper

Kim Rugg is a Canadian visual artist with a very sharp knife and a lot of patience and glue: she newspapers, stamps and other paper ephemera up, letter by letter, and makes does delightful and demented art like newspapers in which all the type has been rearranged in alphabetical order. The work is a beautiful and provocative commentary on the form and content of print media.

Kim Rugg - A London artist's knife skills and knack for precision

Kim Rugg, Mark Moore Gallery

Winds howl over the deserted moonscape behind Rupert Murdoch's UK newspaper paywalls

Newser's Michael Wolff has a report from behind Rupert Murdoch's notorious UK paywalls which went up this month around The Times and Sunday Times's sites, which are apparently ghost-towns, unpeopled even by the print subscribers who get free access but can't be arsed to log in (and never follow links to Times stories, since chances are anyone in a position to make such a link doesn't have an account for the site).
The wider implications of this emptiness are only just starting to become clear. A Murdoch and Fleet Street veteran with whom I've been corresponding about the paywall reported to me on his recent conversation with an A-list entertainment publicist: "What was really interesting to me was that this person volunteered a blinding realization. 'Why would I get any of my clients to talk to the Times or the Sunday Times if they are behind a paywall? Who can see it? I can't even share a link and they aren't on search. It's as though their writers don't exist anymore...'"

What's Really Going on Behind Murdoch's Paywall? (via /.)

(Image: Desert Moon Rising, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from joshsommers's photostream)

Berlusconi tries law prohibiting reporting on corruption investigation; Italy's press refuses to report any news in protest

Italy's media is going on strike today, and practically no news will be reported. This is in protest of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's plan to ram through anti-wiretapping legislation that includes a gag order on reportage concerning government investigation (especially investigation of corruption).

Berlusconi's notoriously corrupt government has been the subject of numerous scandalous investigations, and the media oligarch previously passed legislation prohibiting the courts from prosecuting him while he was in office (this law was struck down by the courts, prompting Berlusconi to denounce his country's judiciary).

The media would only be able to publish a summary of the findings of an investigation after it had ended. While that may be no more onerous a restriction than applies in Britain, the editor of Italy's biggest-selling daily, Corriere della Sera, Ferruccio de Bortoli, argues it is "a bill tailor-made to shield members of the government from unwelcome investigation".

He added: "If this were a normal country, and there were not these interested attempts to make the work of the prosecutors more difficult, we would be readier to countenance a measure to protect the privacy of individuals."

Silvio Berlusconi's 'gag law' sparks media strike in Italy

W00t! sends Associated Press a bill for quoting its blog

When W00t! posted its delightful notice about being acquired by Amazon, it was picked up and re-run by blogs all over the net. Not wanting to miss out on the action, the Associated Press ran the story and the text, too.

One problem: the AP has previously told bloggers that quotations -- however brief -- should be licensed before publication. They even offer these licenses. For a small fee, AP will generously allow you to quote one of its articles on your blog (provided that you don't do so in a way that criticizes the AP, of course, and they reserve the right to take the quote back at any time).

So W00t! sent the AP a bill for $17.50 for the quotation:

The AP, we can't thank you enough for looking our way. You see, when we showed off our good news on Wednesday afternoon, we expected we'd get a little bit of attention. But when we found your little newsy thing you do, we couldn't help but notice something important. And that something is this: you printed our web content in your article! The web content that came from our blog! Why, isn't that the very thing you've previously told nu-media bloggers they're not supposed to do?

So, The AP, here we are. Just to be fair about this, we've used your very own pricing scheme to calculate how much you owe us. By looking through the link above, and comparing your post with our original letter, we've figured you owe us roughly $17.50 for the content you borrowed from our blog post, which, by the way, we worked very very hard to create. But, hey. We're all friends here. And invoicing is such a hassle in today's paperless society, are we right? How about this: instead of cutting us a check for the web content you liberated from our site, all you'll need to do is show us your email receipt from today's two pack of Sennheiser MX400 In-Ear Headphones, and we'll call it even.

Woot To AP: You Owe Us $17.50 For Copying Our Content

New York Times headline writer allergic to the word "liar"


Connecticut Attorney-General Richard Blumenthal gave a speech to military vets in which he claimed that "I served in Vietnam." However, Blumenthal "obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970" and "landed a coveted spot in the Marine Reserve, which virtually guaranteed that he would not be sent to Vietnam. He joined a unit in Washington that conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive."

The New York Times has an excellent story on this.

But as John Naughton points out, the Times' headline writer didn't get the memo. The story is headed "Candidate's Words on Vietnam Service Differ from Reality."

Euphemism, NYT-style

Financial Times chickens out, refuses to run Amnesty's anti-Shell Oil ad


Fiona from Amnesty UK sez,
After raising £30,000 to support an ad campaign exposing Shell's damaging practices in the Niger Delta, Amnesty International and its supporters were sorely disappointed when the Financial Times took a last minute decision to pull their ad.

Tim Hancock, Amnesty International UK's campaigns director, said: "The decision by the Financial Times is extremely disappointing. We gave them written reassurances that we would take full responsibility for the comments and opinions stated in the advertisement. Both The Metro and The Evening Standard had no problems with running the ad.

"The money to pay for the advertisements came entirely from more than 2,000 individuals online, who we'd asked to fund an ad campaign targeting Shell's AGM -- and it really caught their imagination. And I am sure these supporters will share with us our sense of deep disappointment."

Amnesty 'disappointed' by FT's decision to pull ad targeting Shell

UK election drama gives newspapers a front-page mediagasm


Here's a zeitgeisty little collage of the full-on media freakout the UK papers are indulging in as the UK election mess drags on (for those not following UK politics: no one party won enough seats for a majority, and now the two biggest are jockeying around the left/libertarian-leaning LibDems to see if an alliance can be forged).

(via Memex 1.1)

"The Internet may kill newspapers; And that might not matter"

Can a world without newspapers survive? Sure, says The Economist. What matters is the availability and quality of the news, not the medium that delivers it.