Traditional news publishers have struggled throughout the Age of the Web with the conflict involved in having to use the web to reach readers while still having to maintain at least enough revenue to support operations. The open web may expand readership, but the loss of control over content can eliminate revenue sources. News publishers and wire services have made attempts to exercise—and revive—their copyrights, including litigation. Now 29 major news and information companies have signed on as initial investors and participants in NewsRight, an independent digital rights and content licensing organization. It is in the early days, but NewsRight is working on two fronts to build content licensing services. On one hand, it is dealing with its publisher community to set licensing details for specific content. On the other, it is designing licenses for target businesses. The first target will be content aggregators who re-package news for subscribing institutions, the so-called closed web aggregators. They will also provide publishers with analytics for where and to whom their news flows.
NewsRight’s president and CEO, David Westin, was ABC News president from 1997 to the end of 2010. While there, he directed the launch of ABCNews.com and the live, streaming 24-hour news service, ABC News Now. Westin is an attorney, as are most of the small staff at NewsRight. However, he makes it clear that NewsRight is not a “litigation shop” looking to chase down or close down users of news content, such as past activities of outfits such as Righthaven. Instead, Westin states, “NewsRight’s mission is to make sure consumers continue to benefit from all the original news reporting they want while ensuring those who republish content do so with integrity.” Licensing content through NewsRight, according to Westin, will guarantee “canonical” versions from the original publishers.
The 29 founding organizations that NewsRight will tap for its content offerings handle more than 850 websites with a total daily readership of 147 million Americans and a monthly content viewership of 170 million web readers. The initial investors in NewsRight are: Advance Publications, the Associated Press, Axel Springer Group, A.H.Belo Management Services, Belo Management Services, Business Wire, Community Newspaper Holdings, El Dia, Galveston Newspapers, Gatehouse Media, the Gazette Company, Hearst Newspapers, Journal Communications, Landmark Media Enterprises, the McClatchy Co., Media General, MediaNews Group, Morris Communications, Morris Multimedia, NPG Newspapers, the New York Times Co., Ogden Newspapers, Pioneer Newspapers, Schurz Communications, E.W. Scripps Co., Stephens Media, Swift Communications, Times Publishing Co., and the Washington Post Co.
Westin described the tiered membership of NewsRight’s investors, divided by investment amount. The three levels for investors were $2.4 million, $1 million, and $300,000. For example, the McClatchy chain announced it had invested $150,000 and planned to add another $150,000. On the 14-person board of directors, investors in the first two categories get 12 seats, while smaller investors vote on the remaining two directors. Bob Nutting of Ogden Newspapers is chairman of the board.
Although Westin hopes that all news consumers will ultimately benefit from NewsRight’s services, he sees the company as a business-to-business (B2B) organization. It will ease the way for third parties to obtain legal clearance to use news content from participating publishers, while providing the publishers with licensing support. NewsRight will also create analytic tools and data collection that should allow publishers and third parties to access and use the data in editorial, marketing, advertising, public relations, and other contexts involving the analysis of news events.
NewsRight’s operation will rely on the News Registry, a content measurement system developed at the Associated Press. According to Westin, “The News Registry was started roughly three years ago. The pilot project set up a way for a publisher to attach computer code to items as they were posted to the Internet. The software could then measure how the item was consumed, when it was taken and placed elsewhere. It started with a small group of publishers, but by July 2011 when it was transferred to NewsRight, it had from 500 to 600 websites, which is now up to north of 850. The way it works, when an item is read on a browser, it sends a signal to the database in San Francisco that attaches the origin of the item, what website it appeared on, and the geographic area. Every time the item is used, the data is gathered and sent to publishers. The code attached to the piece specifies the publisher, keywords, dates, and the author. It’s up to the publisher as to what they assign the code to. Initially most items were assigned to the complete document, but increasingly publishers are attaching once to the headline, once to the lead, and once to the text. This has the advantage of giving more nuanced reporting.”
Some in the blogging community have expressed initial suspicions of NewsRight. The title of one blog posting read “Traditional Media to Bully Bloggers with NewsRight?” Some have described it as a spin-off of the Associated Press and another round of AP’s relatively litigious activities in dealing with web news distribution. Westin did confirm that AP’s News Licensing Group, which handled the News Registry, was spun off into NewsRight. He stated, “AP has a minority ownership as they transferred the proprietary software of the News Registry.” A report from the Sacramento Bee put the funding from AP at $30 million and stated that publishers interested in registering with NewsRight could join for free through 2012.
NewsRight’s use of the News Registry currently opens up several billion impressions a month on news content from participating publishers. It would support NewsRight’s offering participants and clients real-time measurements about news patterns and use of registered content across digital platforms.
Although in business since summer of 2011, it’s still early days for NewsRight. The website homepage leads with the words, “Coming Soon,” which seems to characterize the operation so far. Westin stated that the site should be more complete by the end of the month. As yet, however, NewsRight is still in discussions with its publishers about what they would contribute to the effort.
“Legally, we need to go to all the publishers and get specific permission for each product. Each rightsholder can opt in or opt out of each customer.” He did not mention any specific news sources already signed up. Whatever content they get will be triggered by its appearance on an open website. Although they have discussed the idea of accessing archives, at present the reliance on the News Registry and its open web focus seems to put archive access on the back burner. Westin does hope to expand the service, e.g., beyond newspaper publishers to other general trade publishers, to entertainment, to conversations with Google News, etc. They have no immediate plans to establish sophisticated searching for content beyond broad tags supplied by AP.
Once they do get licensed content in place, Westin said the service to outside clients should be “real-time, no more than a day.” As yet they have not set any prices for the service, but the majority of revenue will go to the publishers with some to cover NewsRight’s costs. They do have a logo that Westin hopes will one day “appear on all opportunities to use part of our portfolio. It could become an emblem of quality assurance.”
Westin ended, “It’s a great idea, if we can execute it.”
One of the comments that appeared in response to a blog discussion of NewsRight pointed out the difficult reality of the conflicting relationship news publishers have with the web. The writer had just finished reading a story from the Washington Post, one of NewsRight’s founding participants. The article ended with the standard copyright warning against redistribution, in this case for an AP story. Right beneath the notice appeared the standard Washington Post encouragement to share the story by posting to Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.