When does curation become scraping?

Curation has become a popular term in media circles, in the sense of a human editor who filters and selects content, and then packages it and delivers it to readers in some way. Many people (including me) believe that, in an era when information sources are exploding online, aggregation and curation of some kind is about the only service left that people might be willing to pay for. That’s why it’s been interesting to watch one prominent website — All Things Digital, the online blog property that is owned by the Wall Street Journal, but run as a separate entity by Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg — wrestling with how to handle that kind of aggregation, amid criticism from some prominent bloggers that it has been doing it wrong.

As described by Andy “Waxy” Baio in an excellently reported roundup of the brouhaha, the fuss seemed to start with comments from Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thompson about how Google and other aggregators of news are “parasites” in the intestines of the Internet, because they republish the content of others and then make money from it. Pretty soon, some bloggers were pointing out that All Things Digital did exactly the same thing in a section called Voices — namely, published long excerpts from a variety of prominent bloggers, displayed in exactly the same way as the rest of the site’s content, and surrounded by ads.

Josh Schachter, founder of Delicious, noted this behaviour in a Twitter message, and Metafilter founder Matt Haughey said that “apparently The Wall Street Journal’s All Things D does a reblogging thing. I sure wish they asked me first though. That’s a hell of a lot of ads on my ‘excerpt’.” Merlin Mann, who blogs at 43folders, said on Twitter that “republishing online work without consent and wrapping it in ads is often called ‘feed scraping.’ At AllThingsD, it’s called ‘a compliment.”

(please read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab)

RIAA switches to “three strikes” approach

The Recording Industry Association of America, which has spent the past five years suing tens of thousands of individual file-sharers for copyright infringement, has apparently decided to change tactics, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal (hopefully this one is a little more reliable than the recent story about Google’s views on net neutrality). The good news is that they are going to stop suing 13-year-olds and retired war veterans and single mothers for downloading music. The bad news is that their new plan involves cutting sneaky backroom deals with Internet service providers to take a so-called “three strikes” approach: They let the ISP know when they think you’ve been sharing copyrighted material, and the provider agrees to send you an email warning; the second time, you get a letter; do it again and your Internet access gets cut off.

(read the rest of this post at GigaOm)

Law: Kal Raustiala on intellectual property

Kal Raustiala is a law professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, and talked in a recent video interview about piracy, intellectual property and the “fashion paradox” for the website Big Think. The term “fashion paradox” was coined to describe how the fashion industry has very little protection for intellectual property — new designs are copied almost the instant they hit the runway — and yet there is no shortage of creativity, or money, in that business (supporters of strong IP protection laws usually argue that without them, many artists would no longer create).

Raustiala also talks about how industries often assume that technology such as the VCR will decimate their business, only to find out that they can actually make far more money with such technologies than they did before. The video is definitely worth a watch if you have some time. The site that it comes from, Big Think, is a kind of intellectual version of YouTube, featuring one-on-one interviews with leading thinkers and authors. Co-founder Victoria Brown — a Canadian — started the site earlier with support from Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard University, and Facebook backer Peter Thiel.

(hat tip to Hypebot for the link)

LimeWire media deal: It’s no joke

According to a report in Fortune, the file-sharing network LimeWire has signed a deal with Comedy Central that will make it easy for users of the peer-to-peer application to find and buy legal versions of comedy videos from Lewis Black, Mitch Hedberg (who appears in the video embedded here, a clip from the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal) and others. LimeWire opened a download store in March, but until now it has consisted primarily of content from small record labels and independent artists. The addition of licensed content will make for an interesting test: Are LimeWire users willing to pay for content that they like, provided it’s easy to do so? Or are they dedicated to pirating it no matter what?

Jack Vaughn, head of Comedy Central Records, said that the network doesn’t like piracy, but that it is looking for ways to expose its content to as many new audiences as possible, and LimeWire fits that bill: “We looked at the Lime Wire Store, and we said, ‘Are they going to pay? Are they going to pay on time, and are they going to expose our artists to a new audience?’ The answer was yes.” Whether this attitude shift will help the P2P network in its ongoing fight with music labels over the copyright-infringing content on the system remains to be seen. In an unrelated move, the co-founder of the Kazaa P2P network is also trying to help such networks go legit.

Google: Start up those book scanners!

I just got an email from Google PR, saying the company has settled its long-running legal battle with publishers and authors over its ambitious book-scanning project, a settlement that was rumoured to be in the works for the past month or so. The project has been under a cloud since 2005, when the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild filed two class-action lawsuits alleging that scanning books without permission amounted to large-scale copyright infringement. The Web company said it would remove books from its index on request, but authors and publishers said this reverse-onus approach was unfair.

As part of the settlement, Google is paying $125-million to settle the legal claims, pay legal costs for the two groups, and — more importantly — will set up a new entity called the Book Rights Registry, which will be responsible for distributing payments that come from online access to books provided through Google (and through any similar programs created by other providers). The registry will also be responsible for locating rightsholders for old and out-of-print books, collecting and maintaining accurate info, and for providing a way for rightsholders to “request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.” In effect, Google is setting up a body that does what ASCAP and similar groups do for musicians.

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