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article imageOp-Ed: Open questions for the Fair Syndication Consortium

By Paul Wallis     Dec 3, 2009 in Internet
The Fair Syndication Consortium, (FSC) is the consortium pushing for pay per view on news articles representing 1500 publishers. FSC found websites plagiarized over 112,000 articles in one month. These were near-exact copies from US newspapers.
In all fairness, that’s an astonishing amount of plagiarism and a sickening statistic. This particular piece of information also highlights the unfashionable but very relevant point made by many quality publishers about the blatant use of their materials.
Not unexpectedly, the finding (PDF document) was that Google and Yahoo account for a total of 72% of unlicensed “monetization”. Monetization is the principle of applying monetary values to property, securities, and other assets. For news, it’s the intrinsic value of their materials, expressed as sales values.
For example: This rather complex and arbitrary theory holds that any news article is naturally worth $X, based on sales and/or as pure commercial property. If you sell a million copies of a newspaper for $1, the article can be valued as a percentage of that. Perhaps not very accurate, but it’s a working principle of valuation, as distinct from a guess.
Unlike the newspapers, it also returns a positive value every time, despite the sales black hole now in effect.
Syndicated news, in contrast to local content, has a definite dollar value, both in terms of rates paid and sales values, much easier to define.
Are we going to have actual valuations on content, yes or no? Unclear, needs explaining.
The pity of it is that it’s also no great surprise that this much material is being “recycled” by the net. It’s also a fantastic lack of journalistic talent, which would astonish nobody who's ever been inflicted with these materials. It keeps journalists out of work, too, so it's hardly an asset to anyone in news media.
The theory of “fair use”, based on the right to comment, and explain what you’re commenting about, was never intended to cover plagiarism. No actual writer or journalist would disagree for a second. It's not even part of the equation, in terms of journalistic interest in content values. Real journalists, by definition, aren't regurgitators.
There's a double standard that needs a look, while we're on the subject of ownership of content and who gets paid for what.
While it’s equally true that a lot of “journalists” appear to earn salaries for attaching their names to AP, Reuters, AAP, AFP an other agency news articles which are copied verbatim, apparently that’s OK. No howls of rage for the rehashed typo-riddled, continuity-devoid, slapdash garbage which is sometimes described as legitimate news.
That's journalistic content? Since when, and according to whom?
Nobody, incidentally, so much as blinks when online content is cited by MSM? It appears to have been overlooked that we’re news sources, too. I got sourced by the Wall Street Journal while working for a site in New York a couple of years ago as a source on PetroChina’s float, so do I get paid for things like that, now or later?
Fair Syndication Consortium is an interesting organization, with some ideology that might seem strange to online writers and journalists.
Writers will be interested in the new feature the FSC has dreamed up, Fairshare, which is a RSS based syndication offer for ad revenue sharing. The problem is the thing isn’t operational yet at the time of writing. Looks like a server error.
This is apparently based, from the very limited copy available, on the principle of fair compensation for materials. Anyone who’s ever used Adsense and Kontera will know exactly what that means. A salary, it ain’t, but it might be a step in the right direction if it can be turned into real money.
What seems to be missing from this idea is the concept that writers and journalists may want to make a living, not a statistical impact.
The gap between a wage and a wail is pretty easy to measure. For example, in my case, I start at $45 an hour. There’s a reason for that.
I like eating.
God knows, I may even do it again sometime.
How many A grade journalists would be happy to work on CPM (cost per millard/thousand) rates? If you worked for The New York Times, selling a million copies a day, depending on CPM rates, you could make up to $40 a day, maybe. Assuming every single reader hits your page and your ads.
That’d pay the rent on a grating in NYC somewhere, but you could see the future Pulitzer potential dropping off a bit as a result of malnutrition and recurrent death waiting to hit the magic $10 payout minimum.
Or am I wrong, and there's more to it than that? This needs spelling out, please, FSC.
Fair Syndication’s guidelines make interesting reading. (PDF document)
Starting with the basic fact that there are currently no uniform rules for reuse, FSC defines what it means by reuse, which is at least an encouraging step in some sort of useful direction. FSC is talking about a form of compensation, as well as a purely monetization, motif.
That may get somewhere, because the concept of living on newspaper ads will take too long to become digestible for writers and journalists. FSC acknowledges that the current idea parallels Adsense.
There’s no space to do a complete analysis, but the working principle of syndication and compensation at least theoretically translates into something that could be “fair”. It might actually be “fair” in a sense nobody currently has even suspected on the basis of the bitchy current debate, if it’s viable in dollar terms.
So here’s a return concept for the FSC:
You show us online writers some real money, real protection for our work, acknowledgement of our materials, and decent rates, and we’ll get interested.
Writers and journalists aren't charities. My name is Paul, not St. Vincent De Paul. You want to talk business, let's see some solid propositions.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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