Who owns the news?
The FTC is mulling a “Drudge tax” on websites like The Drudge Report that aggregate newspaper links, which would require aggregators to pay the newspapers to link to articles.
Is this is a question of individual rights, whereby a newspaper as a matter of copyright law and morality ought to have some ownership over not only their articles, but also over links to their articles? Or is it merely a case of pure government intervention in the marketplace to prevent something bad from happening, considered from a broad, nation-wide, consequentialist perspective (e.g. the disappearance of newspapers)? Or maybe it’s both. Copyright as a field is interesting in the way that it balances individual ownership rights over one’s creative products with nation-wide, consequentialist concerns with other people having access to those products and promoting new innovations based upon the earlier work. It’s through this reasoning that copyrights exist, but only last for a limited period of time.
Here it seems to be much more about keeping the newspapers in business than protecting their ownership over links to their work. It’s not unattributed use of their work, merely links to their work. If the newspapers were flourishing, the notion that, as a matter of moral right, they should have ownership rights in links to their stories would hold even less water. And if their is such a moral (copy) right, then it would hold in that context, too.
As a matter of policy conceived holistically, with the special role the press plays in holding politicians accountable and serving as a place for reasoned discourse, it nevertheless seems like a good idea to provide newspapers with some such form of ownership rights. It’s a case of consequentialist concerns (e.g. it’s good for the country for newspapers to stay in business) demanding and creating individual rights (e.g. ownership rights in links to their stories).