Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

New York Times to the Web: Careful With Our Copy!

new-york-times-buildingEarly on in today’s well-written story about Web aggregators, New York Times reporter Brian Stelter notes that “some media executives are growing concerned that the increasingly popular curators of the Web that are taking large pieces of the original work…are shaving away potential readers and profiting from the content.” And he notes that “some publishers are second-guessing their liberal attitude toward free content.”

He’s right. But Stelter’s piece doesn’t mention one of the publishers that has been increasingly vocal about aggregators–his bosses at the New York Times.

Over the past few months, the paper has reached out several times to aggregators for a variety of offenses, and asked them to cut it out. To date, the Times hasn’t done anything more threatening than mailing a formal letter. But some other publishers, who see the Times as a leading voice for “old media” institutions on the Web, are hoping they might.

• In November, Times officials angrily complained to executives at the Huffington Post after that site republished a complicated graphic the paper had created for its coverage of the 2008 elections. HuffPo CEO Betsy Morgan says the issue was resolved, and that she considers the paper an “important partner.”

• The paper has also complained to Silicon Alley Insider editor Henry Blodget this year after he excerpted one of its stories at length. Blodget refers to the incident in a post he wrote today about the site’s excerpting policy: “We have been publishing for 20 months now–more than 25,000 posts–and we have been asked to shorten excerpts only twice. (We did so immediately.)” (Disclosure: I am a former employee of the site’s parent company, Silicon Alley Media, and own a small number of shares in the company.)

• In February, the Times complained to Michael Wolff’s Newser aggregator about the site’s use of a Times photo and its continued use of the paper’s iconic “T” to identify Times stories it summarizes. Wolff says he’ll stop using the logo if the paper insists.

Does any of this represent a concerted effort by the Times to dissuade sites from linking to and excerpting its copy? I asked spokeswoman Catherine Mathis this last week, and she demurred: “We are not taking a different stance toward aggregators,” she said, via email.

That hasn’t stopped other Web publishers from wishing the paper would do so. They’re hoping that the Times, which publishes the world’s best-read online newspaper, will somehow lead a charge to make it harder for aggregators to use their work.

Keep dreaming. Even if the Times wanted to do bottle up its content, it couldn’t–like it or not, information really does want to be free on the Web, no matter how much it costs to create it. And I get the impression that the paper’s executives, who are frequently lampooned as clueless dinosaurs who “don’t get” the complexities of the Web, understand that.

You can, however, effectively control how quickly the bulk of your proprietary stuff gets released to the public, if you really want to. That’s what The Wall Street Journal (owned by Dow Jones, the News Corp. property that also owns this site) has effectively done so far with its free/pay hybrid model. And the Times may one day try a version of that–again–itself.