For the 62nd episode of the Journalism History podcast, host Nick Hirshon spoke to award-winning author Will Slauter about the intertwining histories of journalism and copyright law in the United States and Great Britain, revealing how shifts in technology, government policy, and publishing strategy have shaped the media landscape.
Will Slauter is an associate professor at Université de Paris and a member of the Institut Universitaire de France. Slauter won the AEJMC History Division’s 2020 Book of the Year Award for Who Owns the News? A History of Copyright (Stanford University Press, 2019).
This episode is sponsored by Taylor & Francis, publisher of Journalism History.
Will Slauter: Once the news leaves its kind of safe home in the printed newspaper or its less safe home in the website of the newspaper and goes into this kind of much more protean and much more ever-changing world of social media, the question is, how do you, how do you maintain some revenue on that? And it’s, it’s not, it’s not one that copyright can easily solve precisely because there’s this desire to transmit the news and get it out there and be part of the conversation.
Nick Hirshon: Welcome to Journalism History, a podcast that rips out the pages of your history books to reexamine the stories you thought you knew and the ones you were never told.
Teri Finneman: I’m Teri Finneman, and I research media coverage of women in politics.
Nick Hirshon: And I’m Nick Hirshon, and I research the history of New York sports.
Ken Ward: And I’m Ken Ward, and I research the journalism history of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains.
Nick Hirshon: And together, we are professional media historians guiding you through our own drafts of history. This episode is sponsored by Taylor & Francis, the publisher of our academic journal, Journalism History. Transcripts of the show are available online at journalism-history.org/podcast.
The United States Constitution emphasizes the importance of copyright in order to “promote the progress of the sciences and useful arts.” Professionals in all sorts of creative roles have turned to copyright to protect their intellectual property: authors, musicians, filmmakers, painters, poets, photographers. But what about journalists? Facts can’t be copyrighted, so what of the news, and what is news?
What is it we are trying to protect? Against whom? And for how long? These questions have been debated from the 16th century through to the social media age. For as long as publishers have sought to treat news as exclusive, to protect their investments against copying or free riding, others have argued that newspapers play a vital role in circulating information – a role that might be hampered by copyright protection.
On this episode of the Journalism History podcast, we examine the intertwining histories of journalism and copyright law in Great Britain and the United States with Will Slauter, an associate professor at the University of Paris. Welcome, Will, to the Journalism History podcast.
Will Slauter: Thank you very much, Nick. It’s great to be here.
Nick Hirshon: Well, we’re here to talk about your book, Who Owns the News? A History of Copyright, published by Stanford University Press in 2019.
And not just any book, it is the winner of the book award from the History Division of the Association for Education in Journalism Mass Communications. So, first off, Will, congratulations on that. And early in the book, you write that the purpose is “to understand the recurring struggle to balance the interest of rival publishers and the public good in relation to long-term shifts in publishing and the law in Great Britain and the United States.”
And a key question in the book is whether news can be the subject of some kind of property right. So, before we get into the specifics here, what got you interested in the intersection between journalism and copyright?
Will Slauter: Well, that’s a really good question. The book project actually started in 2009, so over ten years ago. And at that time, one of the debates among several going on about the future of journalism was, how are you going to fund quality journalism? And one particular strand of that was, how do you deal with online aggregators like Yahoo and Google?
And how do you deal with unauthorized uses of journalistic content online? And I was struck during these debates by the – first of all, just I was curious as to in what sense news could be considered a form of property, and I didn’t know anything about the extent to which copyright law did apply to news reports and journalism. But I was particularly struck by the fact that there were references to a case going back to the era of World War I, and that was a case that pitted the Associated Press against one of its rivals, the International News Service.
And it just struck me as a historian that this was something I could do and go back and try to trace the origins of this – the very idea of having a property in news, and in particular try to understand the different strategies, not just legal strategies but also business strategies and cultural norms that news organizations have developed over time –
to try to maintain some sense of exclusivity, or to try to in some other way control the way their content is disseminated.
So, it was really this contemporary debate that led me to want to go back and look at the longer-term history of these questions.
Nick Hirshon: And, of course, your book tells a bigger story than just copyright. That’s the main thread that weaves this all together, but as you mention, it gets into technology, newsroom practices, a lot of the dynamics between different news outlets. As a former reporter myself, it was a fascinating thing to dive into. But your book here is more than 350 pages, including a lot of citations to your sources in the endnotes. So, we won’t be able to cover all of that. But I’m going to try to touch on some of the highlights here. Who Owns the News? opens with a chapter on the 16th and 17th centuries, when the publication of news was regulated through a combination of censorship and royal privileges.
And you write that this combination made it possible to have exclusive rights over news, but it also restricted the sorts of news that could be published. So, you introduce a paradox from this period before the development of modern copyright. Can you tell us a little bit about that paradox in some of these early centuries in your book?
Will Slauter: Well, that the chronology of the book might surprise readers. But I felt that it was very important to go back that far, to go back before the creation of modern copyright as we know it, to see to what extent the invention of the first copyright statutes in the 18th century may have affected the world of news, how journalism is done, how the business of newspapers worked and so on. So, I felt it was important to go back to that earlier period, really before you even have regularly issued newspapers. So, news comes in lots of different forms, not just orally but already in print in the form of pamphlets and broadsides, which are simply, like, printed on one side of a, of a page, often with an illustration.
So, there were these various forms of printed news and eventually there was the creation of regularly issued newspapers. But all of this happens before the invention of modern copyright. So, I wanted to get back and see what happened. And you mention a paradox. Well, the, what, what’s happening there is that before the creation of copyright there’s a very strict licensing system in which authorization to print news, or authorization to print anything really, comes pretty much automatically with the exclusive right to do that. That’s the notion of a privilege. It’s the right to do something that other people don’t have the right to do.
And so, in this notion of privilege that were granted by Parliament or by the monarch or by various cities, such as the city of London, you could have an exclusive right to disseminate an account of recent events.
Um, but it was also a form of censorship, of course, because nobody else had the right to do that.
Nick Hirshon: It’s very interesting to think about that, something that, as we’ll start talking about, is hard to imagine some of those structures in place today and only one news organization having the right to report, let’s say on this big, breaking news story. Uh, but, as we move along here into the 18th century, you describe the significance of a law in 1710 named the Act for the Encouragement of Learning, also known as the Statute of Anne. And this recognized authors as the original owners of their writings and granted them exclusive rights without the need for prior authorization.
So, how did the Statute of Anne affect the dissemination of news? And as you answer this question, I wonder if you could also tell our listeners, ’cause you have this interesting story in the book about the first infringement suit under the statute involving a preacher who was tried for high crimes and misdemeanors. So, can you get us into the Statute of Anne?
Will Slauter: Sure. I just want to preface this by saying that, for me, there are two key policy changes at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. So, one is the end of pre-publication censorship. So, the breakdown of this licensing system or privilege system that I just described. And that happens in England in 1695. The existing legislation expires. Parliament cannot agree on whether to renew it or whether to modify it. And so, basically, this, this – there’s a legislative vacuum. And during fifteen years starting in 1695 is when you start to see the just dramatic proliferation of printed newspapers and literary journals.
Because before 1695, you had to have permission to issue a regularly scheduled newspaper or journal. And so, there really was only the official London Gazette and a few other things that were allowed. After 1695, there is no more of this monopoly.
And there’s also no regulation saying that only a certain number of people can be printers, and that they all have to be based in London. And so this is a period of tremendous growth in the newspaper press starting at the very end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. And it’s also coinciding with lots of rhetoric and lots of complaints about piracy. Precisely because the old system had broken down, a lot of publishers and booksellers and authors are complaining that there is no way to secure now investments in printed works, whether they be dictionaries or fictional works or engraved prints.
Um, so you have this call for some kind of legislation that would protect people’s investments in printed works and make them exclusive. But, at the same time there is a reluctance to return to censorship. So, the solution is this 1710 law known as the Statute of Anne because Queen Anne was the reigning monarch.
And it’s known as the first copyright law, and indeed it, it completely divorced censorship from intellectual property by creating a mechanism whereby anybody could, as long as they could find someone to print their work. Uh, you still had to do that. There were still gatekeepers in the form of printers. But there was no requirement for prepublication censorship or authorization. And if you were an author, you could register your work and benefit from the exclusive right to, to print and sell this work for a limited period of time. So, that’s the beginning of copyright. It’s recognized as an author’s right. It’s recognized as something that’s limited in time.
Um, and at first there’s no clear sense that this is going to apply necessarily to news reports, but, there’s also no explicit indication that news reports or newspaper articles would not be eligible for protection.
So, much of the, the second chapter in my book tells the story of the extent to which news publishers were or were not interested in this new legislation. And for the most part, they were not. And I argue that the, the business model that they created around newspapers, which is, which is coming closer to a form that’s now familiar to us, namely a regularly issued newspaper that bundles together all sorts of stories and advertisements and letters to the printer and essays. It bundles this together and issues it regularly and helps – and use advertising to help subsidize the process.
So, the business model that they, that they built around news during the 18th century didn’t necessarily make copyright very attractive because, in fact, a lot of these newspapers were treating news as a shared resource that they could borrow and comment on, –
copy what the, the evening papers would start to copy what the morning papers were doing and the weekly papers would copy what the daily newspapers had reported.
And so, this, this kind of freedom to copy and comment on and critique what had been printed in other newspapers basically became a kind of a culture of journalism that fit. And it seemed to be conducive to the business model that they created.
Nick Hirshon: And that one infringement suit that you mention about the preacher who was tried for high crimes and misdemeanors, can you tell us a little bit more about the people involved in that one?
Will Slauter: Oh, yeah. I’m sorry about that. So, Henry Sacheverell had been accused of high, high crimes and misdemeanors for a pamphlet that he had printed, which wasn’t exactly a news pamphlet, but it was a very religious, a religious-based controversy. And what I talk about there, and I base some of this on the research of Tomas Gomez-Arostegui, who is a law professor who looked really in depth at this first copyright suit.
And what he found was that there, there was basically – it’s sort of a moment where that old system of privileges is making way for this new model of copyright protection. Um, a particular printer named Jacob Tonson had been awarded the sole right to publish an account of the trial. And of course, that’s something that’s hard to believe today. Why would you give only one person the right to produce an account of a trial that was of such public interest?
Well, it was sort of a legacy of that old model where authorities and houses of parliament and monarchs would give a printer the exclusive right to produce a particular kind of work as a kind of patronage, in a way. And also as a way to control accounts, right? To restrict who could produce an account of a very controversial religious issue that was, you know, deeply involved in the politics of the day.
So, Tonson, much to his much to his chagrin, noticed that other printers were also producing accounts of the trial, including ones that were clearly infringing of his own. So, he went to court, and he was able to stop another printer from simply copying verbatim large parts of his account. But he was not able to stop others from producing independent separate accounts. And so, that to me is an important turning point because it’s a shift from a world where the exclusivity that you have is basically a monopoly, a right to control all accounts of a particular event to a world where you could have the exclusive right to the particular text that you produced. But you couldn’t stop others from producing another version of that same event.
Nick Hirshon: Well, I’m glad you tell us that story, and that’s why I kind of wanted to ask about that. Because you obviously had to wade through so much research just to figure out the permutations of copyright law in these two countries over the centuries.
And I’m sure that was exhaustive, and that’s why you were mentioning starting this project so many years ago, but you also do a very good job throughout the book of showing us some of the personalities involved, and it just makes it feel more tangible and real. So, I appreciate you kind of balancing that in the book really well. And you go on to explore how newspaper printers and editors dealt with questions of copying in the earlier public and antebellum eras. You were talking right now about some of the copying issues, and you note how scholars have been able to study this era more easily in recent years, of course, because there’s computer algorithms to locate similar strings of text across these collections of digitized newspapers.
So, of course, this copying raises questions about the need to acknowledge one’s sources, something that we’re seeing a lot today in journalism and to give credit to the first newspaper that published something. So, how did this play out? And I know we’re kind of hopping around the globe, sometimes here, and we’re going between Great Britain and the United States.
But, how did this play out in the first century of the United States with these printers and editors who were copying so much from competitors?
Will Slauter: Well, this was really one of the central concerns that got me interested in this book, is the question of, in what context, in what situations is copying actually understood to be beneficial or useful for the people who are doing it, but, also perhaps for the public access to information? Um, so, we, we used to think of, you know, of, of copyright and plagiarism as norms that are, they’re very strict and so on. And we teach our students the value of citing your sources, and this is not just to avoid cheating. It’s also so that the reader has direct access to where the information is coming from, and the reader is able to participate actively in the debate by going back to the source of the information, right? So that it’s not just a kind of misleading text that, that will close down the chain of evidence.
So, we, we have that perspective now, but if you look back at other periods, they’re, there are many contexts in which the journalists themselves, that is to say the printers and editors of these early American newspapers actually built up a kind of shared set of norms in which copying was, was largely seen as beneficial. But, as long as it happened on certain terms. So, they recognized that they were interdependent, and they couldn’t simply have reporters in all these various cities. It would be way too costly and, and wouldn’t really be, be practical given their business model.
And so, what they did is they took advantage of a postal law that said every printer had the right to send a copy of his or her newspaper to every other printer free of charge. Um, and so this free postal exchange of newspapers meant that the, one of the primary sources for most newspapers around the country was other newspapers from other cities. And so this informal exchange was open to certain abuses.
Like, if somebody copied in a same city and was seen as competing directly with you for readers, that would not be many, many printers and publishers look down upon that and complained about that. Whereas, if it was a a comrade in another city who was correctly citing the source and therefore giving some publicity to your newspaper, that was actually a very welcome way of using copying, because it allowed news to spread, and it also could boost the reputation of your newspaper.
So, in this fifty years or so between the founding of the American republic and the middle of the 19th century when a very different model is going to come into view with the telegraph and press agencies, you have this period of about fifty years or so where you have, you see editors becoming increasingly interested in developing shared norms of what you can copy and how soon and what kind of credit you need to give.
Um, but you don’t have any formal law about it, and you of course don’t have anything like professionalization in the form of journalism schools yet.
Nick Hirshon: Sure. Well, as we go back here to Great Britain – because in roughly the same period here in the 1830s, a small group of London newspapers made the first attempt to enact a special copyright law for newspaper articles, and they were concerned that changes in taxation and postal policy would create cheap newspapers. They called them pirate newspapers that would thrive on copying and undermine investments in news gathering. So, I’m sure a lot of the same issues are playing out simultaneously here in Great Britain and the United States.
There were campaigns to secure copyright protections for news again in the 1850s and the 1890s in Britain. So, how did copyright evolve there during the 19th century?
Will Slauter: Well, one of my main points about the chapter on 19th century Britain is, it’s not enough to just look at the technology of the telegraph and say that changed everything.
And, as you’re, as you’re pointing out, if you compare the U.S. and the UK in the 19th century, you see important differences. Even though the chronology of the invention of the spread and invention and spread of the telegraph is quite similar in the two countries, the way that news organizations use the telegraph and the way that the government regulated the telegraph was very different. So, you mentioned in the middle decades of the 19th century, some London publishers become increasingly interested in the idea of a special copyright or property right in news.
And that’s because they’re noticing that the whole media landscape nationwide is changing. They’re noticing that if, if the government stops taxing newspapers, which was a big campaign during the middle decades of the, of the 19th century, if the government stops taxing newspapers, then there are gonna be all sorts of new entrants. The barriers to entry are going to be reduced, and they, they worried that there would be a flood of cheap pirate newspapers.
So, they – that’s a kind of familiar story in the history of, of business, when you’ve got entrenched interests, and you’ve got the threat of new players coming in. Um, these entrenched newspapers in London, they saw themselves as having the market, right? And they wanted to keep that market. And as the telegraph came in, they noticed that, oh, well, now it’s going to be possible for small operations based in smaller cities around the UK to set up cheap newspapers that will rely on copying what we collect here in London and using the telegraph to basically transmit our stories out to these provincial newspapers.
So, they were very concerned about it, and they lobbied for a special copyright in news, but what the book shows is that the arguments against that were very powerful. There were political arguments against it. There were economic arguments against it and cultural arguments against it. So, part of what the book is trying to do is show that there were these sort of, these roads not taken in terms of copyright history.
There were moments where copyright might’ve become even, even stronger and applied to areas that, that we, at the time didn’t seem possible and that the effort to resist that is also part of the story. Um, and so what ended up happening is that the taxes were lowered. There was no special copyright created for news at that time, but, basically, the London newspapers found new ways of you know, asserting their dominance in the market. They could not stop newspapers around the country.
Those newspapers organized in the form of a cooperative known as the Press Association, and that enabled them to share the cost of gathering news. So, they didn’t need to copy from London newspapers. They found their own way of gathering news in cooperative arrangements, and they made deals with telegraph companies and with the agency, Reuters, so that you had a complete restructuration of the news industry in the 19th century in Britain.
But, it didn’t rely on copyright. They didn’t need copyright in order to make it work.
Nick Hirshon: And it makes sense as you’re talking here that, obviously, copyright is involved with so many other aspects of culture and society, as we’ve said technology. You’ve mentioned politics in giving that answer, but I just think it’s great that you put that together because there’s some nuances here. When someone picks up a book on copyright, they might just think it’s going to be a bunch of the rules, and to really understand how it’s a reflection of what’s going on.
And as we return here to the United States, so there was a push in the United States to create a special copyright law for news that did not begin until the 1880s, which is almost fifty years later, you write, than in Great Britain. So, the United States is a little bit later in the game. And the circumstances in the two countries were different. You explain how in Britain, newspapers were motivated to see copyright because of the reduction and repeal of the stamp duty.
But American newspapers had never taxed. So, why do newspapers in the United States finally come around to pushing for copyright in the late 19th century?
Will Slauter: Well, I think the key shift in the, in the middle to late 19th century in the United States is a shift away from that decentralized model that I described where editors were exchanging newspapers with each other, towards a more centralized model in which agencies and cooperative associations and the big cooperative association that we all know today is the Associated Press, which traces its history back to the late 1840s and early 1850s.
And, and basically the reason that there was a push in the 1880s by the Associated Press – well, actually it’s two of its ancestor organizations, the Western Associated Press and the New York Associated Press. Those two organizations worked together to lobby for a special copyright for news because they were particularly concerned about the rise of other press agencies. There was an agency called United Press that was formed in the early 1880s by combining existing agencies.
And this, this agency was, was coming to look increasingly like a threat, and the Associated Press and its affiliates were very concerned that the rules that they had developed and the business arrangements that they had developed would be threatened by this rival news agency if there was no legal protection to stop competitors from copying newspaper articles and, and – and so that’s what they, what they pushed for.
The problem was that there had been this long, long tradition of exchange practices and this long tradition of being able for small-town newspapers, for example, to copy news that had been relayed by larger organizations that had more resources. And there was also – it was also a period in which the anti-monopoly movement was gaining steam.
You know, it’s the era in the end of the 19th century where these big corporations are starting to test the boundaries of government regulation in terms of the size of these organizations and their potential to control an entire market. And so there were lots of concerns that, if the Associated Press were given this special copyright in news, that they would have an ability to monopolize the flow of information.
And so the central function of journalism being to relay information and put it in context and interpret the events of the time for voters and for decision-makers and to watch what those in power are doing and saying, if that information was somehow a form of property, a lot of small newspapers that were not members of the Associated Press and a lot of rival newspapers that were not allowed to join the Associated Press would’ve, would’ve been blocked out.
And so, they basically led a campaign against this bill, and it’s another example of a case where a fairly strong organization was unable to impose this new property right because of the backlash and because of the fears of monopoly and the fears of controlling information.
Nick Hirshon: And so, you’ve been talking here about the Associated Press, and you mentioned at the beginning that one of your inspirations, maybe one of the first things you were hoping to get into in this book when you started your research was this case involving the Associated Press. So, in 1918, the Supreme Court established a remedy against piracy in the case International News Service v. Associated Press.
And the court said that readers were free to discuss and share news, but press agencies, unlike readers, were not allowed to reproduce news gathered by a competitor unless its commercial value had passed. So, Will, what was the significance of this case?
Will Slauter: Well, this is a case that most first- or second-year law students in law schools learn as a kind of landmark case in intellectual property. Because it’s, well, it’s a Supreme Court case involving property rights. It’s a case in which you’ve got very powerful dissenting opinions by leading figures like Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Um, and you’ve got also the creation of a new property right or what the court called a quasi-property right. The basic story behind this case is that the Associated Press and, and big newspaper publishers in the United States by the turn of the 20th century had realized that copyright wasn’t going to be particularly useful for protecting the time-sensitive nature of news.
They realized that court decisions and doctrine in copyright was moving in the direction of recognizing protection only for the expression of news stories and not for the actual factual details.
And that’s consistent with the basic principle of copyright that’s developed over time that you can’t protect ideas or facts, but you can have a limited right over the particular way in which those ideas or facts are expressed. So the Associated Press is worried that if you print, like, a two-paragraph story or a three-paragraph story it would be very easy to simply take the same facts which have been gathered through extensive use of resources and telegraph fees and having reporters on the ground and having correspondents abroad.
If, if anybody could simply just copy or rewrite slightly this text, then all of the investment in gathering news would be impaired or would be, would be threatened. And so, the Associated Press was interested in finding some kind of property right that would perhaps only apply to competitors, like other news agencies.
It wouldn’t stop individuals from being able to relay information, for example. But it would stop direct competitors from being able to free ride on their labor investment. And that’s basically what the court in 1918 gave them. But what I try to show in the chapter is that the decision has always been controversial and actually quite difficult to translate into industry-wide norms.
Melville Stone, who was the managing director of the AP at that time, actually admitted almost immediately that now that they had this court victory, they were going to have to be really careful and not ever simply rewrite stories that they got from other newspapers or other agencies or even foreign newspapers that they needed to be consistent with their own arguments and that other rival agencies and newspapers were not going to hold themselves to this standard.
So, the basic principle that, you know you can have protection for something more than the expression has made it always controversial in light of the fact that news is one of the, one of its key characteristics is that it’s time sensitive. And if you can’t relay and share the news immediately, you feel impeded in in terms of, in terms of freedom of expression and in terms of access to information.
So, for that reason, the decision has always been controversial, and although it still exists, it’s still recognized by certain state courts in the United States. It hasn’t played the part that many people back in the early 2000s and around 2010 when I was starting this book thought it might play. It was a thought, Oh, this could be a potential remedy to stop news aggregators or to stop blogs or to stop people from even rewriting stories.
And in the end, that hasn’t really been a powerful, a powerful instrument in my view.
Nick Hirshon: Well, and as you mentioned, even at the time that you were beginning the research for your book, that’s kind of the beginning of the social media age, and of course, a lot has changed in the last decade as all of that research was coming together. So we’ve talked about now news dissemination over those centuries. But the epilogue of your book is titled, “A View from the Digital Age.” And I’m sure many of our listeners are wondering how copyright law works in the digital sphere, so maybe some of them are even journalists themselves.
What does the law say today about copyright on social media, for example? Are news organizations able to sue each other for violating copyright on Facebook posts and tweets? And if you, Will, were to report a story and break news on your Twitter feed, and then I come in and don’t do any of that legwork that you did, but I post the same newsworthy information on my feed without crediting you, have I broken the law?
I know there’s a lot of kind of questions here, but can you just give us a sense of what copyright law means for journalists in the social media age?
Will Slauter: Well, I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t even do the standard disclaimer that what I’m providing here is not legal advice.
You know, I’m not a lawyer; I’m a historian. So, it’s even more so not legal advice. But what really complicates the social media issue in terms of copyright is the fact that, as a user of social media, users of social media are also adhering to the terms and conditions of the platform. And so, it’s, it’s actually – there’s – the point at which copyright law and this contract law or this terms and conditions intersects is what’s, is what makes it really complicated. So, in principle, any news article that is published is protected by copyright.
So, the expression of your news article, whether you publish it on a blog or whether you publish it in a, in a mainstream newspaper is protected from the moment of its creation without any formality of registration or anything like that now. Um, but then when you participate in social media and you choose to be indexed on search engines and things like that, then there’s all this gray area that emerges.
Well, if you are inviting your readers to share stories on Twitter and Facebook, are you then, in a way, giving permission for this to be copied and disseminated again and again on in the form of retweets, in the form of re-disseminations via social media? In a way, that’s what you’re doing. So this is a very tricky issue because news publishers want to take advantage of the visibility that social media gives to their to their content. They also want to be part of these conversations because imagine a world of social media where there were no newspapers and no radio stations and no TV network news broadcasters participating in the conversation.
That would be a very impoverished version of the public sphere. So, of course, they want to find a way to be part of that and to have their stories be involved in this conversation without –
giving too much free access and without opening themselves up to losing all the revenue that could be associated with that. It’s particularly tricky because if you look at the simple case of a newspaper website, for example. The newspaper that runs the website can, of course, charge advertising revenue, can collect money from advertisers on the website.
But, as soon as the story is traveling on Facebook or Twitter, the question is, well, shouldn’t Twitter or Facebook be sharing some of the advertising revenue with the publishers? And that’s where the conversations are now. I mean, that’s where the kinds of negotiations and attempts and sometimes litigation and sometimes lobbying for new laws in order to try to recognize this problem that, you know, once the news leaves its kind of safe home in the printed newspaper or its less safe home in the website of the newspaper and goes into this kind of much more protean and much more ever-changing world of social media, –
the question is, how do you, how do you maintain some revenue on that? And it’s, it’s not, it’s not one that copyright can easily solve, precisely because there’s this desire to transmit the news and get it out there and be part of the conversation.
Nick Hirshon: Well, there’s so much more we could get into in your book. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time to go through all of it. But we thank you for taking a half hour to kind of summarize all of these key points. And we remind our listeners, Will’s book is Who Owns the News? A History of Copyright, published by Stanford University Press. So, they should pick it up and read more. And as we thank you for appearing on today’s podcast, we want to ask you the final question that we always give to guests. This is the Journalism History podcast. Why do you think journalism history matters?
Will Slauter: Well, I think journalism history matters because journalism matters. If I were studying another subject, I could give you a similar answer of why history matters. But I think in the case of journalism, it’s being able to understand where information comes from, how it’s put in context, how it’s presented. All of this clearly matters for people being able to be informed about what’s going on in the world. It shapes our conversations. It shapes our decisions, and so it’s extremely important to know what the factors are that have, over time, shaped what journalism is and the complexity, some of the things we’ve been talking about today. The role of political choices, the role of technology, the role of business models.
Some of these are very deliberate choices, other times there’s maybe accidents of history or contingency that matter. But it all adds up to determining the kind of journalism that is available to us and the kind that we, that we need.
Nick Hirshon: Well, thank you so much again, Will, for joining us on the podcast.
Will Slauter: Thank you very much for having me. It’s been a real pleasure to discuss this with you today, Nick.
Nick Hirshon: Thanks for tuning into this episode of the Journalism History podcast, and additional thanks to our sponsor, Taylor & Francis. Until next time, I’m your host, Nick Hirshon, signing off with the words of Edward R. Murrow: “Good night, and good luck.”