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Copyrights and Wrongs

By Roberta Beach Jacobson
Posted Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Somehow we have come to believe more is better, that it‘s a good thing if a search engine pops up with 27,999 entries on a given subject. Yet it‘s because of this very "too muchness" that many journalists have found themselves entangled in the Web.

Writers believe they‘ve sold one-time rights to articles, which then are left indefinitely on Websites or in archives - trapped without their permission, often times even without their creator's knowledge. In all but a few cases, writers have not been compensated financially for this prolonged use of their work.

These days every tiny business, every magazine and newspaper, wants a Website. Editors who would probably hand back the coin to the supermarket cashier who gave them too much change apparently think nothing of decorating their Webpages with "donated" articles.

Copyright is copyright, folks, be it bleached pulp or cyberspace. Cyberspace is just more complex.

The Internet is like a train out of control, running away with writers rights. Because the Web is in its infancy, these working conditions can be improved. We still have a chance to patch things up and head that train in the right direction.

Discovering a freshness Even some journalists who once turned up their noses at the new medium are curious enough to flag down the train, not even sure where it‘s bound. The Internet has been said to provide some old-fashioned print journalists the rush of excitement they once felt when they started out as cub reporters so many moons ago.

There‘s plenty of uncharted territory to cover and new rules to learn such as creating shorter sentences and paragraphs. This can lend a certain freshness to a stale career.

Web managers do have a problem on their hands. Practically overnight, they have been expected to become HTML savvy and produce fully-functioning, competitive sites with plenty of toots and whistles.

Often they have little or no staff. They are supposed to intelligently address an international audience, wow them, and somehome make a profit at the end.

To disguise the function of journalists by referring to them as "content providers," "word architects" or mere "slot fillers" is a disservice. With the new titles, it ‘s easier to imagine them mindlessly churning out piece after piece to hand over without comment or concern. Instead of sitting in first class, "content providers" end up chasing after the caboose.

Let‘s explore and celebrate this new medium together, but there‘s no passing the buck. Let‘s not allow the practice of fair compensation for good journalism to be thoughtlessly tossed out the train‘s window as we sit back and enjoy the ride.

We editors and publishers are the ones with the authority to make positive changes and we certainly have the responsibility to know exactly what‘s posted on our Websites, under what conditions it got there, where it goes next - and why.

About the Author
Roberta Beach Jacobson lives on the tiny Greek island of Karpathos and is the editor of Kafenio (, the free monthly e-zine focusing on European life and culture.


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