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With Lawyers Like These, Newspapers Are Goners

Sometimes I stumble upon a proposal for how to save the newspaper industry that is so preposterously and horrifically wrong-headed, it leaves me speechless, or in this case, WordPressless. Such has been the case since reading a piece called "Laws That Could Save Journalism" in the Washington Post Saturday by two "first amendment lawyers" (who make their money off of newspapers) named Bruce W. Sanford and Bruce D. Brown.
Before recounting the illogical and misguided arguments advanced by these two suspendered gentlemen, let me explain that I am choosing to not link to their article. It's merely a symbolic step, but one used by Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge in his brilliant riposte to the lawyers published earlier today. Like Brodsky, I don't care to facilitate any traffic to the Post article -- that's how bad it is.

So, what kinds of "laws" do these purported legal experts advocate to help newspapers survive?

  • Remove the "immunity from defamation and other liability" protection that Internet sites have for hosting third-party content. This protection was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998.
  • Close the "safe harbors" on the Internet that carry UGC that may be in violation of copyright law: "These safe harbors have allowed companies from Yahoo to YouTube to prosper from the content they carry with little concern of being held accountable for it."
  • Redefine "fair use" to preclude Google and other search engines from being able to freely "crawl the Web and ingest everything in their path." The lawyers state that "the taking of entire Web pages by search engines, which is what powers their search functions, is not fair use but infringement."
  • Congress should pass a law to prevent "linksploitation" because "the Internet has made news vulnerable to pilfering because of the ease of linking from one site to the next."
  • Eliminate anti-trust rules that limit the concentration of ownership over media outlets in local markets.
  • Slash taxes on the press. "Congress could provide incentives for placing ads with content creators (not with Craigslist) and allowances for immediate write-offs (rather than capitalization) for all expenses related to news production."
Sanford and Brown's recommendations, if enacted, would not save the newspaper industry, which is dying because it has an outmoded business model, an over-sized carbon footprint, and an utter lack of creative leadership. But their prescriptions would have the effect of killing off the Internet, which is provoking the greatest democratization of information in all of human history. The barristers Bruce with their barely disguised scorn toward the free flow of information in a newly networked, interactive world reveal themselves as ignoramuses -- and therefore suitable representatives for a dinosaur industry sinking from relevance and from view.

With legal minds like these at their service, it's hardly surprising that the newspaper industry didn't foresee its present crisis back in the mid-'90s, when so many of us warned about what was going to occur. But most newspaper execs chose to bury their heads in the sand instead.


Now that the quicksand is burying the papers, let's just hope that it sucks away Sanford and Brown and their ilk as well.

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