Media companies may challenge extract linking

Unnamed media companies may start taking to court blogs and sites that quote extracts and links, according to a report by the New York Times.

The report specifically names The Huffington Post and The Business Insider (formerly Silicon Alley Insider) as being particularly guilty of the practice. What both sites do is run an extract of a post or article on another site, then link to that article at a certain point. The argument is that by printing only an extract of the original article, the method is legal under fair use doctrine. The problem being is that fair use under US law has never been really clear on how much content is acceptable.

Without wanting to extract too much (ironically, I picked the NY Times article up on an aggregator site), here’s some choice parts:

But some media executives are growing concerned that the increasingly popular curators of the Web that are taking large pieces of the original work — a practice sometimes called scraping — are shaving away potential readers and profiting from the content.

With the Web’s advertising engine stalling just as newspapers are under pressure, some publishers are second-guessing their liberal attitude toward free content.

“A lot of news organizations are saying, ‘We’re not willing to accept the tiny fraction of a penny that we get from the page views that these links are sending in,’ ” said Joshua Benton, the director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard. “They think they need to defend their turf more aggressively.”

There’s wrong on one level though. What the Huffpost and AlleyInsider do isn’t scraping, it’s a manual selection of interesting content. Scraping is what a spam blog does when they pull the full content automatically.

The bigger question though is will this discontent result in further legal action to test what constitutes fair use in a court of law? The New York Times sadly settled with Gatehouse Media when the question was last raised.

Where we’ve done a similar post here we’ve always done so with permission of the author, on the basis that we wanted to be on the safe side, and I’ve said previously that I found it interesting that The Huffington Post was acting in this way without permission, given how many sites would beg them to be included. Lets hope someone sues so we can settle what’s acceptable once and for all.