Blunt Instrument for Content Licensing

Michael Geist posted on another stupid idea a publisher has had to mess with copyright.  I’m no copyright scholar so I’ll leave that discussion to them.  It certainly strikes me that a newspaper who sought to license in this manner is overlooking fair use/fair dealing.  But the other element that irked me was the ham-handed technical way they were attempting to do this.

The National Post is a “national” – and my favorite Canadian – newspaper so I expect a certain level of sophistication that this particular attempt is missing.  If you visit a page and highlight text on the page, it prompts you to buy a license to use the content.  You can click yes to buy, no to not buy, or quit asking me.  The site uses javascript to disable the cut/paste functionality of the Web browser.  Clicking no returns you to the page with cut and paste disabled; quit asking me returns you to the page with it enabled.

National Post license pop-up on a National Post article indicating that Canada is becoming more user friendly when it comes to copyright

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to scratch your head on this one.  The comments to Mr. Geist’s post outline a whole variety of ways to end run the pop-up:  disable javascript, look at the source HTML of the Web page, etc.  But for the average user, they’re going to try to work through the pop-up.

I was curious about whether the licensing plea was being transmitted through the RSS feeds that I use.  I knew the javascript couldn’t be transmitted but perhaps there was now a warning not to cut and paste anything.  When I looked at Chris Selley’s feed, there was nothing to warn me not to cut and paste.

Here’s the thing.  Putting aside the reality that the newspaper is probably using a very blunt instrument to effect their goal, and its bluntness is probably treading on fair use/fair dealing:

  1. publishers shouldn’t use some script a developer downloaded and implemented that can be so easily sidestepped, that doesn’t work the same in all devices or on all of their content channels.  Spend the money for the solution that can discern a cut/paste of a whole article from a snippet.
  2. content owners shouldn’t use a license request if they’re really comfortable with a “quit asking me” option.  People who need to license this content will know to ask.  People who don’t know they need to license the content aren’t in any better position to know with this pop-up.

Making content difficult to use is not the same as making content impossible to use.  I can screen capture a snippet, retype it, cut and paste it.  If the goal is to get more licensing revenue, then spend a bit of money to make a bit of money so that people who are using full pages of content are the ones who   appropriately get copyright warnings.