Saturday, June 13, 2009

Loss of an information resource

Gort mentioned this a while back:
On a side note the Scranton Times recently changed it's online format demanding money to read it's articles more than a day old. Since the same company owns the W-B Citizens Voice we can expect that it will follow shortly. The only work around that I can think of right now is to save an article that interest me on a Word Document or Google Doc then reference it later but that is a lot of work. The Times-Leader has been charging for stories more that 7 days old for a long time. I wonder how many people actually pay them to read old news?
As expected, the Citizens' Voice has followed suit. Articles more than a day, or several days, old are archived and are only available for a price. And the archives are somewhat incomplete. I tried looking up Erin Moody's article about the Stained Glass Project and could not locate it in the archives. Nor could I fined a cached version online. Fortunately (for me), someone copied the entire article onto another website. So now I have an electronic copy for myself.

This is not entirely unexpected. The CD and DVD industry have been devastated by people pirating copyrighted material online. The book industry is suffering in the same way - I understand that an unauthorized copy of the first ten chapters of the next book in the "Twilight" series was released online, and now that book is indefinitely delayed. In a discussion on cookbooks in an NPR Facebook post, several commenters noted that they don't bother to buy cookbooks - they just go into bookstores and use their cell phone cameras to copy any desired recipes from the books.

But all this while, newspapers - many of them, anyway - have been giving away their content online for free. Now they have stopped that. They need to make the hemorrhaging stop somehow, before they are completely out of business.

Still, this is tremendous loss to anyone trying to look up information. Not just ordinary yutzes like me, but students, teachers, researchers - anyone with a genuine need for this information will now need to shell out for it - even just to find if what they're paying for is actually what they're looking for.

It seems that there should be another way that a pay-by-article system. How about a "free to subscribers" system? But this is very easily gamed. How about a system where all articles are free to libraries, schools and other places where people traditionally conduct research?

Unless newspapers adopt some alternative system, I fear we will see the rise of online archivists who copy page after page of copyrighted text and then provide it free of charge after the toll gate has closed on the official source of the information. If the desire is strong enough, people will find a workaround.

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