What’s the saving throw against a chaotic-evil digithief?

by Colby Cosh

Speaking on the first day of the World Newspaper Congress in Hyderabad, India, Rupert Murdoch’s US leader accused the press of being the “principal architect of its greatest difficulty today”. …”We are allowing our journalism—billions of dollars worth of it every year—to leak onto the internet. We are surrendering our hard-earned rights to the search engines and aggregators, and the out and out thieves of the digital age.” [link]

There is something remarkable about this quote from Les Hinton that perhaps nobody has noticed. If the “and” in the last sentence is accurate, Hinton is not suggesting that search engines and news aggregators are thieves: he is specifically stating that they are NOT thieves, or not quite. This is an opinion that is the direct, 180-degree opposite from the one his boss has often expressed. Considering which boss we’re talking about, you never saw a bigger “and” in your life.

Hinton is right to speak carefully, of course. Theft is the taking of property without consent, but the big windmill Murdoch is tilting at, Google, still requires his implied permission as proprietor to engage in all that linking he so objects to. (To get the full effect, imagine that word “linking” spoken in a sneering, sulfurous Montgomery Burns voice. Linnnkinnng.) Blocking Google’s robots from crawling a website and scraping data for its main search engine takes about 30 seconds’ work. The process of having a site removed from Google News can be initiated in another 60, with a simple e-mail.

So what’s the holdup on Murdoch’s side? Obviously his wrath at “thieves” is properly understood as a negotiating stance, not an inflexible philosophical position. Newspapers have problems, but as far I can see or have seen, they can’t complain of very widespread intellectual-property takings of the sort that are arguably helping to kill the “music business” (i.e., an infestation of parasites whose interpolation between musicians and their audiences no longer offers any benefit). If only the poor record companies could have fought off Napster and its successors by changing one line in a robots.txt file!




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What’s the saving throw against a chaotic-evil digithief?

  1. "We are surrendering our hard-earned rights to the search engines and aggregators, and the out and out thieves of the digital age.”

    If not search engines and aggregators, who are the 'out and out thieves'? It sounds like he's implying internet readers and "geeks bearing gifts" but I am not certain.

  2. Murdoch surrogate whining about the cruelty of the marketplace? Oh, my tears flow freely.

  3. "Google is offering news publishers a way to attract paying subscribers without having to remove their content from Google News search results, after some media companies accused it of profiting from their online news." Reuters, Dec 2 '09

    http://www.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idU

  4. "Google is offering news publishers a way to attract paying subscribers without having to remove their content from Google News search results, after some media companies accused it of profiting from their online news." Reuters, Dec 2 '09

    http://www.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idU

  5. It's the same with radio. They put their signal out there and anyone can pick up their programming!! All without paying a cent!!! It's an OUTRAGE that this content isn't protected. If journalism is to return to its former glory, they need to find a way to prevent people from watching, hearing or reading it.

  6. I loves the attentive textual analysis. Good catch

  7. This is the silliest spat ever. Go ahead, pull your stuff off of Google all ready Rupert. I'm sure you won't lose much traffic to your sites. Hardly anyone searches with Google these days. It's clearly a brilliant business move. After all, besides the NewCorp properties, there's very few other places I can go to get news. How will I ever find out about the day's events if all I can see with a Google search is CNN. And NBC, ABC, and CBS. And the BBC and CBC. And Macleans. And pretty much every blog in existence. And…

    The stupid, it burns.

    Rupert's just mad that Google's market cap. is 6 times that of NewsCorp's.

  8. He also apparently thinks "fair use" can not only be challenged legally, but utterly abolished. So, who are the out-and out thieves? Well, pretty much everyone I know, and pretty much every reporter everywhere, including those working for Rupert Murdoch.

  9. There are more or less literal out-and-out thieves out there, so he may well be referring to something like the content-stealing automated reblogging sites that exist purely to support linking-and-spamming scams. A little searching on the subject "black hat SEO" will illuminate you.

  10. Awesome casual D&D reference!

  11. "Black Hat search engine optimization is customarily defined as techniques that are used to get higher search rankings in an unethical manner. These black hat SEO techniques usually include one or more of the following characteristics:"

    http://websearch.about.com/od/seononos/a/spamseo….

    Thank you, I had no idea.

  12. Murdoch's media is now so pervasive that he regards anyone not currently giving him money as an out and out thief.

  13. For sure. They make a few billion dollars and then whine that things are not going their way. Businesses can be the most anti-capitalist organizations.

  14. Yet his empire is small enough that he's also likely quite jealous of a company like Google, who could buy and sell him a few times over.

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