Will Slauter

Will Slauter,

“How News Becomes Property”

Periodicals devoted to current events have been around since the beginning of the 17th century, and the first copyright statutes appeared in the 18th century, when many of our most fundamental ideas about authorship and ownership took shape. Yet no news writer or publisher seriously claimed a property in news reports until the middle of the 19th century. As the geography of news in America shifted from a decentralized model in which newspapers exchanged news with each other to a centralized model in which press agencies contracted with individual papers around the country, newspaper proprietors sought legal remedies against news piracy. They argued that news—the factual details of reports as well as their literary expression—could be owned. The attitudes of editors also changed during the 19th century, but most of them remained uninterested in finding a legal remedy for what they saw as an ethical problem—the need to give “credit where it is due.” Studying journalistic practice alongside case law reveals a basic distinction between news editors, who tended to claim that copying was beneficial to a democratic society because it enabled the news to spread, and business managers, who sought protection against competitors in order to guarantee a return on investment.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • PDF
  • Add to favorites
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us

Leave a Reply