Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Internet's New Highway: Writing for free takes a detour

Internet's New Highway: Writing for free takes a detour
Writing for free on the Internet, new copyright lawsuits, and the Wikileaks saga chart a new course for Internet news
By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

Just when you thought you knew your way around the Internet, everything changes. This includes three areas: Who you can trust, the danger of ignoring copyrights and giving your carefully-penned word songs away for free, for the sake of the cause, any cause.

Although Wikileaks claims most headlines these days, the sale of Huffington Post, made popular by writers working without pay, and new copyright lawsuits for posting news stories on blogs without permission, are important developments for writers, bloggers and everyone on the web.

Writing for free quickly became known this week as the way to get duped by big business on the Internet. The Huffington Post began as a sort of ragtag news site. AOL is purchasing Huffington Post for the inflated price of $315 million, without compensation to the writers. The writers who have been posting there, working there for free, quickly began removing their posts.

Ethically, and legally, the question remains: Can the Huffington Post sell the contents of the website since the articles remain the property of the writers?

Meanwhile, new lawsuits are being filed by several major newspapers against bloggers who post news articles and graphics without permission. The lawsuits include small time bloggers without funding, non-profits and even the people interviewed in the same articles, if they posted any amount of content, or a graphic, without permission.

One striking difference in these lawsuits is this: There is no take-down notice, no warning to remove the content. Bloggers are paying between $2,000 and $5,000 to settle out of court.

This round of lawsuits is viewed as the demon itself. However, in the end, it may work for writers and photographers whose content has been stolen and is now being used for advertising without permission. It could also benefit writers and photographers, whose work is being used without compensation, by major news outlets for profit.

There is another shady area of emerging web journalism.

In the age of Internet news, there is a grey area of plagiarism. Here's how it works. Armchair journalists extract info from the web and rewrite it. If desperate they make a phone call, or just rewrite a written document. They use the photo of someone who was actually present, who gives it up for the cause. The armchair journalist turns out this story in less than an hour and smiles all the way to the bank. It is not journalism, it is exploitation.

Meanwhile, the writers and photographers whose work the armchair journalists are profiteering from receive no payment. These articles appear with the byline of an armchair journalist, or simply say "Staff Report." ("Staff Report" usually means that the editor did the profiteering from others work.) The way to expose the writers, and editors, is to write or call, and ask them if the reporter was actually there, present, to cover the news story. Especially when there are victims involved, it seems important to prevent writers and editors from cashing in for profit, with no real attempt to be present, find out the facts and talk with the family.

In earlier times, articles and photos on the web were considered there for the taking. This is no longer the case. But what is troubling about the new developments is that a chosen few are the recipients of million-dollar sales, as with the case of Huffington Post, while writers are making less than ever.

Photographers, too, now have to constantly track their photos to ensure those are not being used without permission on websites set up purely for advertising purposes. One of the new gimmicks is for people to set up websites with Google ads and use articles and photos without permission to attract hits. It takes vigilance to halt this when one's work is being exploited.

Not all the news is bad. The ever-changing technology of the web came to the rescue last week, when Google invented Speak2Tweet, as Egypt attempted to cut off Internet access. It was created to provide, free of charge, a way to post voice messages, tweets, to the world.

Of course the big news is Wikileaks. The parameters for whistleblowers and how the media deals with news leaks, along with the definition of what can be prosecuted, are all being redefined. Although the knee-jerk reaction is to blame the messenger, in the end, those who have been benefiting from deception, those who have carried out their crimes with impunity, will be held responsible.

Sometimes, it is a matter of time. Former President George Bush is now wanted for war crimes based on his admission of torture in his new book. A new indictment is waiting for him and led to Bush canceling a trip to Switzerland.

The world, and the Internet, are changing at a fast pace. The news makers writing for free, along with the corporate profiteers and the old guard politicians, are all players, setting the foundation for the future of news, and perhaps for the future of mankind.

Brenda Norrell has been a reporter in Indian country for 28 years, writing for American Indian newspapers and mainstream news. She is publisher of Censored News, which has no advertising.

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About Censored News

Censored News is published by censored journalist Brenda Norrell. A journalist for 27 years, Brenda lived on the Navajo Nation for 18 years, writing for Navajo Times, AP, USA Today, Lakota Times and other American Indian publications. After being censored and then terminated by Indian Country Today in 2006, she began the Censored Blog to document the most censored issues. She currently serves as human rights editor for the U.N. OBSERVER & International Report at the Hague and contributor to Sri Lanka Guardian, Narco News and CounterPunch. She was cohost of the 5-month Longest Walk Talk Radio across America, with Earthcycles Producer Govinda Dalton in 2008:
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