GateHouse Media, a newspaper conglomerate operating 75 daily newspapers and over 200 weekly newspapers, is adding the “Creative Commons” license to all of its news organizations, allowing anyone to freely redistribute their content for non-commercial purposes (for a list of those dailies, go here). Although it is the most restrictive “CC License” available, as it does has the “non-commercial” attribute, and you are not allowed to change or alter it, it represents a landmark move by an American newspaper chain to explicitly make their previously copyrighted content available in this fashion.
Prior to the establishment of this version of the CC License, there was an understanding that newspaper materials COULD be used — if you got permission. Now, with the CC License, there is no need to ask for permission, effectively removing a large practical and psychological barrier to redistributing the news. And GateHouse Media is the first mainstream outlet to do allow it.
While its not completely “free”, I think this is a huge step for digital publishers, as with a simple credit and link back to the original publisher, they will be able to provide rich and relevant content for their blogs and news organizations.
But, are there any potential pitfalls?
There are a couple, if it is not thought out carefully enough.
- While it appears that making content freely available is a Google Link Juice windfall for publishers, it may also create a nightmare in terms of duplicate content; Google penalizes sites heavily for having reproduced content across the web. If a news site is reproduced in part many different times across the blogoverse, who knows what kind of implications this will have for SERPs and ranking?
- Free for redistribution also means that it is fodder for splogs and scraper bots; for anyone with more than a couple months of blog postings, you will be very familiar with sites that have non-sensical URLs that happily scrape your RSS feeds and sites for free content. They post your stuff on their sites … and some justify it with a link back to your page. Unfortunately, for the unsuspecting and unsophisticated (who don’t read the often-fine print) it means that many will unknowingly think your article was actually authored by the splog site; and furthermore, because they’re often plastered with Adsense, they’ll be making a buck off of it as well.
Making content “free” is a great step for digital publishers and bloggers alike; however, there has to be checks and balances in place to make sure that its not exploited by the ever growing problem of splog farms and their ilk. As the CC license spreads, and as ideas like user-generated content, and “radical transparency” take hold, I think it will, one hopes that Google and other search engines will chime in with their thoughts on the matter.
I, for one, would like to know what Matt Cutts, thinks on this aspect of newspaper evolution.