With Rupert Murdoch’s announcement that News Corp will start charging for content on the internet, there has been much talk about what the implications are in a society that is used to accessing such content for free. Whilst it is only News Corp at the moment who are looking at this, it will almost certainly lead to other newspaper groups considering their options. Will others follow suite? Or will Murdoch’s media empire be the sole crusader against free news? As a library student, I will be hoping that it is the latter rather than the former (although I also don’t think it makes much business sense either – it won’t increase revenue as long as other groups keep content free).
One of many problems associated with this move is the impact it will have on public libraries. For years now, public libraries have been able to access news content on the internet from reliable sources free of charge. Suddenly, that looks like it could be threatened by this move. How will public libraries be able to afford to subscribe to a range of newspapers should others follow suit? Certainly it seems unlikely that they would be able to subscribe to every national newspaper. But cost isn’t the only concern.
Although the idea is to charge for news content, ensuring that only subscribers can access it, in practice this will be very difficult to manage. In an era when anyone can publish information for all to see, what is to stop a subscriber from copying chunks of news content and publishing it on a blog? Very little. Sure, it risks breaching copyright, but as we saw with the distribution of music files it still happened. Once these extracts are published on blogs they will be distributed far and wide making it virtually impossible to prosecute everyone involved in its distribution. And therein lies the other problem for libraries: the temptation to rely on blogs for news content. It would be very tempting to rely on a freely accessible blog rather than worrying about having to pay for content – quite possible leading to inaccurate information being disseminated. Good news for bloggers who want to make a name for themselves, bad news for those who require access to accurate information. (Although that doesn’t mean that I have a problem with allsuch content. There are some excellent blogs out there and I also see the value of resources such as Wikipedia, it just means more care needs to be taken.)
It will be interesting to see if anyone else does follow suit or whether this is a massive error by a newspaper owner who has never really got to grips with the internet. Personally, for the sake of access to information, I hope that the majority of newspapers continue to carry freely accessible content.