The war that has erupted between FaceBook and the Australian Government has opened up a can of worms as regards the future of Internet. The proposed law envisages that news producers get rewarded for the news to be picked up by other content aggregators. Google appears to have negotiated a price and accepted it but Face Book has resisted it. It is understood that the Australian PM has sought the assistance of other Global leaders to support his move to make Tech Companies pay news generators.
The issue is however not simple and has its roots in the Copyright law and the argument on free speech and the status of Internet in the global information dissemination system.
When Internet was born, it was a “Free” medium of information. People voluntarily put up content accessible to others and it was considered an “Information Super Highway”. It soon acquired the status of “Free Speech” and “Fundamental Right”. The “Search Engines” like the old Alta Vista helped news to be accessed in an orderly fashion by the general users and the popularity of Internet exploded.
However “Money” started spoiling the beauty of Internet. Commercialization corroded the principle on which World Wide Web was set up and things got sour. Initially “Advertising” appeared to help bring Internet free. There were browsers which displayed advertisements on the top and internet access credits were provided when the internet access was expensive. That was the time when 14.4 kbps access was available at Rs 16000/- per year from VSNL in India. The access was so slow that the volume of data accessed was not a criteria for charging.
As time passed, internet access became less and less expensive, speed of access increased and the payment system switched to time plus data based costing. Comparatively we have today Fiber connections at enormous speed (200 Mbps+) and 1000 GB plus data access per month around Rs 1500-2000.
As Users did not need the support of advertising to defray cost of access, they started looking at it as an intrusion to their browsing experience. Since then, “Advertising” is only considered as an unavoidable evil.
Today the dispute has arisen between content owners and the tech companies like Google and Face Book whether news access by Google and FaceBook should be paid for. This is a “Copyright” issue similar to the “Deep Linking” disputes that erupted in the NewsBooster.com case in 2002.
There is no doubt that publishers have a point that they have a cost in producing content and the platforms like Google or Facebook are making what they consider “Disproportionate” profit.
But the entire system of content generation and delivery to the end user is a chain of services and different people are making different profits. The concept of Copyright was to ensure that the first generator of a literary content gets the right to license and every body else pays for the use. But “Data” is not static and is like a growing organism in which different people add value and therefore claim benefit. Hence progressively the data value has to be shared by different persons. The search engines and platforms like Face Book have their own contributions to make in the last mile delivery of news.
(Please refer to the Theory of Data propounded by Naavi on the life cycle hypothesis and Additive Value hypothesis)
Hence it is difficult to summarily reject the claim of these platforms that they also have a claim on the profits of business. We can always discuss the fairness of distribution of profits and ultimately there has to be a commercial equilibrium established.
Today technology permits a content publisher to block search engines and hence Google has decided to go along with the proposal to pay for content. But Face Book where content is contributed by the users has resisted the claim for payment. Perhaps Face Book can claim that it is not pulling the content and therefore it is different from a search engine. Content is being pushed into Face Book platforms by the users and hence Face Book may not be willing to take on the responsibility to make payments to the publishers for content published on its platform.
We need to wait and see how this controversy develops further.
But we also need to understand that this controversy while providing incentives for the publications, can also result in them becoming more commercialized. In due course they will become greedy. If content is paid by the advertiser whose only value perception is the “Viewership”, then porn and semi-porn content will have more value than serious content of use to the society. This will encourage “News Creation” based on how many clicks it would get. There will be more fake and speculative news than real news. This is not good for the society.
There is an example right here in the form of naavi.org which is driven by the passion of the content creator and though revenue by way of advertising is welcome, it cannot be allowed to dilute the cause. There are a number of requests for “Paid Articles” to be published on this website which would provide a good flow of revenue. But most such articles would like to promote products and services which may not be keeping with the general principles to which Naavi.org is committed and hence are being refused.
The so called “News Papers” once were developed by philanthropists with similar principles but have lost their commitment today and succumbed to the pressure of commercialization.
This degeneration started with Times of India introducing soft porn content and even converting the front page to an Advertisement.
It is better that we continue to resist the temptation to commercialize news creation. It was such a tendency that promoted Rihanna to tweet against India. Naavi.org therefore is apprehensive about the content law of Australia for the possibility that it may corrupt the content creators by a direct commercialization.
Let true journalism be driven by principles and not by money.
At the same time, platforms that distribute the news should be encouraged to pay a fair price to the content generators through persuasion and negotiation.
(A more detailed explanation of a suggested system that could contribute towards finding a solution to this controversy would be provided in the follow up articles..Naavi)
Let us watch how this controversy develops. India should not jump into taking position in this regard at this juncture irrespective of the differences we may otherwise have with Mark Zuckerberg. While the arrogance of FaceBook to take on a sovereign nation has its own implications like the controversies surrounding Twitter in India, the issue of Twitter Management being biased against Indian Government and Face Book resisting the content legislation in Australia are driven by different basic issues. We need to focus on issues rather than personalities if we want to avoid coming to wrong conclusions.
Theory of Data